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New global map of ant biodiversity reveals areas that may hide undiscovered species

Published:04 August 2022

Ants make up a large fraction of the total animal biomass in most terrestrial ecosystems, but researchers say that an understanding of their global diversity is lacking. This new study provides a high-resolution map that estimates and visualizes the global diversity of ants.

International researchers have combined data from around the world to establish the first ever global, high-resolution map for any major insect group: ants.

Released today in the scientific journal Science Advances, the world-first map of ant diversity was created using predictions from machine learning and has revealed areas that should be the focus of exploration and research.

Led by Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (Japan) postdoctoral fellow Jamie Kass, the paper is co-authored by researchers from around the world, including CQUniversity Australia’s Professor Simon Robson.

In the paper, the group of researchers address challenges for ants and provide a uniquely comprehensive, high-resolution global biodiversity map for the major invertebrate taxon.

“Invertebrates constitute the majority of animal species and are critical for ecosystem functioning and services,” Prof Robson explains.

“Nonetheless, global invertebrate biodiversity patterns and their congruences with vertebrates remain largely unknown.”

As a result, the team of experts resolved the first high-resolution (~20 km) global diversity map for a major invertebrate clade (ants) using biodiversity informatics, range modelling and machine learning to synthesise existing knowledge and predict the distribution of undiscovered diversity.

“Ants are ecologically dominant and economically important insects that play critical roles in ecosystems,” Professor Robson says.

“They are globally widespread and abundant, and their known species’ richness is comparable to birds and mammals combined.”

The paper presents the most comprehensive ant occurrence dataset to date, using a multifaceted informatics and modelling pipeline (image attached) to reconstruct a global biodiversity map at arcminute resolution (~20 km at the equator).

“There’s been a lack an understanding of the patterns and dynamics of Earth’s invertebrate biodiversity, including basic questions such as which areas have the most species, which areas harbor concentrations of small-ranged species, and even whether there is a major global decline in insect biomass underway.

“Through this research we found that richness and rarity patterns of ants and vertebrate groups each have distinct features, underscoring the need to consider a diversity of taxa in conservation.”