Why Ants

Diversity

Ants represent one of the most evolutionarily and ecologically successful groups of animals. The 120 million years of history and their complex sociality led ants to their high diversity, with more than 13,000 species described. The real number is probably much higher, maybe 20,000 or even 30,000 species.
Ant species richness mostly follows a latitudinal gradient, with more species occurring toward the equator. Around 600 ant species are present in Europe and every year many new species are discovered. Here, a higher number of species can be found in particular biogeographical and evolutionary areas: the Balkan, Iberian and Italian peninsula. Other types of areas such as islands (e.g. Crete and Sicily) also shown a high number of species and endemisms.

Number of ant species in each European country.
Considering only the study area, data from antmaps.org and antwiki.org.

Ecology

Ants play key roles in most terrestrial ecosystems. Although they reach the most astonishing biomass value in equatorial forests, they have a strong impact in temperate regions too, from forests to agricultural lands and even cities: they are among the most abundant generalist predators of other arthropods (sometimes controlling key pests), affect the soil quality through digging and cycling nutrients, disperse the seeds of several native plant species while consuming those of others, and they may be involved in complex mutualistic relationships with several other insect groups, as well as plants and fungi. Finally, they are also themselves the food of many among vertebrates and invertebrates!

Pheidole koshewnikovi sharing the nest with aphids and a myrmecophilid cricket (Myrmecophilidae sp.). Spot them all!

Behaviour

We can’t think of ants without thinking about their social behaviour on which their success is rooted. Ants have been a fascinating model for generations of scientists describing their complex social structure, communication system, foraging strategies, and so on.
European ants exhibit very diverse social systems, some living in monogynous groups of a few dozens and others in supercolonies of tens of millions with hundreds of queens. Some are social parasites, usurping the colonies of other species to found their own, simply acting as uninvited guests (inquilines), or even becoming slave-makers. There are ants that never leave the canopy of the highest trees and those who never emerge from the soil or from caverns to see the sunlight, those that fiercely bite, sting or spray toxic substances to their enemies, others that deceive predators by mimicking more aggressive ants and even some that flee adopting the shape of a ball with their body and rolling away. Phylogenetic patterns leading to this diversity of adaptations are yet to be documented in most cases.

Strongylognathus arnoldii is a slave-maker ant which parasitises Tetramorium colonies. In this picture a few Tetramorium workers can be easily spotted thanks to their smaller size compared to the slave-makers one.

And most of all, because we love them!

Project

Barcoding library

Of native and alien ant species
with an assessment of the intraspecific variability.

A tool for:

Alpha-taxonomy

Unveiling cryptic species

Detection of alien species

Comprehensive phylogeny

Integrating Ultraconserved Elements (UCEs)
and Sanger data.

A tool for:

Evolutionary research

Macroecological studies

Ecosystem research

Sampling

The first year of the project is the sampling time! Considering the European ant fauna composed of around 600 species, we planned to sequence 80% of it.

We will sample ant species across their European distribution range to assess the intraspecific variability and unveil potential cryptic species. We will travel in the most interesting biogeographic areas (e.g. islands, mountain chains, refugia etc.) and collect both the commonest and rarest ant species. No species is trivial!
We will also focus on collecting specimens of the species type localities and terra typica in order to find the “real ones”!

Winklers will be our companions to search for the most interesting and shy species, the hypogean ones! And of course, we will have to go to search for the local endemisms, even for the hardest ones!

Species collected ~ 60%
Species barcoded publicly available ~ 40%
Species barcoded objective ~ 80%
Sampling will end in
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Which type of samples?

Absolute ethanol

This is the best sample to use: multiple specimens collected in absolute ethanol (above 95%).

Pinned

Pinned material kept in dry conditions.

Ethanol

Specimens recently collected in ethanol above 70%.

Can you help us to collect ants from the farthest corners of Europe?
Or can you collect some rare species inhabiting your area?
We can provide you with the equipment to collect them.

SEND US AN EMAIL!

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Team

Mattia Menchetti

PhD student at the Butterfly Diversity Evolution Lab
Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF)
Barcelona, Spain

Roger Vila

Principal Investigator at Butterfly Diversity Evolution Lab
Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF)
Barcelona, Spain

Leonardo Dapporto

ZEN Lab,
University of Florence
Italy

Enrico Schifani

Myrmecology Lab,
University of Parma
Italy

Sämi Schär

Switzerland

Paul D N Hebert

Centre for Biodiversity Genomics,
University of Guelph
Canada

Sebastian Salata

University of Wroclaw,
Poland

Lech Borowiec

University of Wroclaw,
Poland

Kiko Gómez

Barcelona
Spain

Fede García

Barcelona
Spain

Jose Alberto Tinaut Ranera

Granada
Spain

Francisca Ruano

Granada
Spain

Tomasz Suchan

W. Szafer Institute of Botany, Polish Academy of Sciences
Kraków, Poland

Albena Lapeva-Gjonova

Sofia University “Sv. Kliment Ohridski”
Sofia, Bulgaria

Collaborators

Many other people are making this project possible, thanks to you all!

Leonardo Platania, Elisabetta Sbrega, Alessandro Canzi, Vincenzo Gentile, Elia Nalini, Dario Cioppa, Emiliano Mori, Nikola Balevic, Norian Saliba, Tomislav Kragujevic, Irakleitos Giotis, David Drinic, Emiliano Franci, Mattia Francesco D’Amato, Lorenzo Pelicella, Vincent Byström, Matt Hamer, Bernard Bal, Paolo Mazzei, Roberto Ritrovato, Martino Bolognesi, Deniz Göksel, Julien Stanley, Bogdan Radivojevic, Pierre-Louis Fauriac, Philippe Laroque, Nicolò Crosato, Tomasz Krzyżanowski, Eduardo Sequeira, Daniele Saracino, Michele Bertoncini, Tommaso Giorgi, Pau Balart, Adrian Villastrigo, Matteo D’Ambrosio, Elia De Lisi, Cathal Hilliard, Maria Serracanta, Björn Matthies, Marc Ramos Llorens.

Publications

  • Schär S., Menchetti M., Schifani E., Hinojosa J. C., Platania L., Dapporto L., & Vila R. (2020) Integrative biodiversity inventory of ants from a Sicilian archipelago reveals high diversity on young volcanic islands (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Organisms Diversity & Evolution, 20: 405–416. 🔗 LINK

Contacts

Just curious about ants or you have any specific question regarding the project?

Send an email using the

Contact Form

Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF)
Passeig de la Barceloneta 37-49 08003 Barcelona (Spain)

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Website created by Mattia Menchetti.

Pictures from iNaturalist users
Konstantinos Kalaentzis, Piergiorgio Di Pompeo, vyacheslavluzanov, melodi_96, jarvo, powaalife, alexis_orion, martin_galli, zmrdk, juanvi, janofonsagrada, thepalmproject.