Saturday, February 19, 2005

ANT COURSE 2005 Announcement


Southwestern Research Station (SWRS), Portal, AZ, August 4-14, 2005

COURSE OBJECTIVES. – ANT COURSE is designed for systematists, ecologists, behaviorists, conservation biologists, and other biologists whose research responsibilities require a greater understanding of ant taxonomy. Emphasis is on the classification and identification of more than fifty ant genera of North America. Lectures will include background information on the ecology, life histories and evolution of ants. Field trips are structured to teach collecting and sampling techniques, and associated lab work provides instruction on specimen preparation, sorting and labeling. Information on equipment/supply vendors, literature, and myrmecological contacts are also presented.

COURSE SIGNIFICANCE. – Ant Course is a unique opportunity to acquire training that is unavailable elsewhere. This course will provide students with 1) the confidence and skills to identify the major ant genera of North America; 2) an understanding of modern specimen processing and curation techniques; 3) an appreciation for the biological diversity of ants, and 4) experience keying to the species level.

SPONSORS. –California Academy of Sciences and Museum of Comparative Zoology, with partial funding from The E.O. Wilson Foundation.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION. – ANT COURSE will be taught from August 4 – 14, 2005 at the Southwestern Research Station (SWRS) in Portal Arizona ( The Station is centered amid the richest ant fauna in North America. This is an ongoing course, offered annually.

PARTICIPANT ACCEPTANCE CRITERIA. – ANT COURSE is open to all interested individuals. Priority will be given to those biologists for whom the course will have a significant impact on their research with ants. An entomological background is not required. We aim to include students with a diverse interest in biology, including ant systematics, ecology, behavioral biology and conservation. The high instructor to student ratio will allow students to receive individual attention. ANT COURSE is presented in English and limited to 25 participants

COSTS. – Tuition for the 10-day COURSE is $475 for current students and $675 for non-students. In addition, Southwestern Research Station (SWRS) fees for this period, covering dormitory room and board, are estimated at $440. Transportation costs between home and Tucson (air) or SWRS (auto) are to be borne by all participants.

FELLOWSHIPS. – Four fellowships are available for 2005. Two fellowships cover tuition fees and two fellowships cover station fees. Foreign students may apply for additional fellowships to assist in travel. Those interested in attending the course should seek all possible avenues to secure funding for the course. You should only apply for the Ant Course fellowship if you can not find other support and it is essential for your participation in the course. Beware that if you apply for an ant course fellowship and you are not selected for a fellowship, you might not be accepted into the course. Please notify the course if your funding request changes before the application due date.

Brian Fisher (Coordinator), Dept. of Entomology, California Academy of Sciences, 875 Howard Street, San Francisco, California 94103; bfisher [at]
Stefan Cover (Coordinator), Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University,
Leeanne Alonso, Rapid Assessment Program, Conservation International
Gary Alpert, University Entomologist, Harvard University - EH&S Department
Lloyd Davis, Gainesville, FL
Mark Deyrup Archbold Biological Station
André Francoeur, Université du Québe
Bob Johnson, Dept. of Biology, Arizona State University
Jack Longino, Evergreen State College
Mike Kaspari, Dept. of Zoology, University of Oklahoma
Andrew V. Suarez, University of Illinois, School of Integrative Biology, Departments of Entomology and Animal Biology
Phil Ward, Department of Entomology, University of California

Special Guests
Roy Snelling, Raymond Mendez, Howard Topoff

Alex Wild, Department of Entomology, University of California

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Just when you thought ants couldn't possibly get any more amazing...

Yanoviak, S. P., R. Dudley, and M. Kaspari. 2005. Directed aerial descent in canopy ants. Nature 433, 624 - 626.
Numerous non-flying arboreal vertebrates use controlled descent (either parachuting or gliding sensu stricto) to avoid predation or to locate resources, and directional control during a jump or fall is thought to be an important stage in the evolution of flight. Here we show that workers of the neotropical ant Cephalotes atratus L. (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) use directed aerial descent to return to their home tree trunk with >80% success during a fall. Videotaped falls reveal that C. atratus workers descend abdomen-first through steep glide trajectories at relatively high velocities; a field experiment shows that falling ants use visual cues to locate tree trunks before they hit the forest floor. Smaller workers of C. atratus, and smaller species of Cephalotes more generally, regain contact with their associated tree trunk over shorter vertical distances than do larger workers. Surveys of common arboreal ants suggest that directed descent occurs in most species of the tribe Cephalotini and arboreal Pseudomyrmecinae, but not in arboreal ponerimorphs or Dolichoderinae. This is the first study to document the mechanics and ecological relevance of this form of locomotion in the Earth's most diverse lineage, the insects.

(photo of Cephalotes atratus from

The Australian populations of invasive fire ants appear to have been introduced from North America

Henshaw, Michael T, Kunzmann, Nicole, Vanderwoude, Cas, Sanetra, Matthias & Crozier, Ross H (2005) Population genetics and history of the introduced fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Australia. Australian Journal of Entomology 44 (1), 37-44.

Abstract. The red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, a damaging invasive pest, was discovered in February 2001 in Brisbane, Australia at two sites, Fisherman Islands and suburban Richlands-Wacol. Using four
microsatellite loci and the protein marker Gp-9, we compared the two infestations with each other, and with potential source populations in North and South America to better understand the history of their introduction to Brisbane. Based on an analysis of molecular variance, as well as a maximum likelihood tree of colonies from the two Australian sites, we found that the two sites were genetically distinct and were almost certainly introduced separately. All of the colonies at Fisherman Islands were monogynous, headed by a single queen, while the Richlands-Wacol site had a mixture of single-queen monogynous and multiple-queen polygynous colonies. However, the monogynous and polygynous colonies at the Richlands-Wacol site were not genetically distinct from each other, and probably constitute a single, mixed introduction. Based on allele frequencies at the microsatellite loci, and Gp-9, both Australian infestations were more similar to North American populations than to South American, though the Fisherman Islands infestation was intermediate, making it difficult to assign. Thus, there has been one introduction from either a North or South American monogynous population at Fisherman Islands, and one introduction from a mixed monogynous/polygynous North American population at Richlands-Wacol. These findings have implications for the control of the current infestations, as well as for the quarantine regulations necessary to prevent additional introductions to Australia.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Review article:

Jacobus J. Boomsma, Boris Baer, Jürgen Heinze. 2005. THE EVOLUTION OF MALE TRAITS IN SOCIAL INSECTS. Annual Review of Entomology 50, 395-420.

Abstract . Pair formation in social insects mostly happens early in adult life and away from the social colony context, which precludes promiscuity in the usual sense. Termite males have continuous sperm production, but males of social Hymenoptera have fixed complements of sperm, except for a few species that mate before female dispersal and show male-fighting and lifelong sperm production. We develop an evolutionary framework for testing sexual selection and sperm competition theory across the advanced eusocial insects (ants, wasps, bees, termites) and highlight two areas related to premating sexual selection (sexual dimorphism and male mate number) that have remained understudied and in which considerable progress can be achieved with relatively simple approaches. We also infer that mating plugs may be relatively common, and we review further possibilities for postmating sexual selection, which gradually become less likely in termite evolution, but for which eusocial Hymenoptera provide unusual opportunities because they have clonal ejaculates and store viable sperm for up to several decades.