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Archive for October, 2005

With over ten million workers in each colony, the Weaver ants, Oecophylla smaragdina, mastermind’s the activities occurring in the canopies of the tropical rain forests. Deadly bites, sharp tarsal claws, coupled with a blast of formic acid, makes these ants the most aggressive arboreal ants.

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Stopping in between the 6000 km drive from Sydney-Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin, deep in the outback, a few kms North of Wilpena Pound in South Australia, I found my first Australian Pseudomyrmicine, Tetraponera allaborans.

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DNA barcoding again!

What a coincidence it turned out to be! I read about DNA bar coding and ants just a few days back and I got to attend a seminar on DNA bar coding just yesterday, but it was not exactly on ants. Dr Faith from the Australian Museum, involved in the 2010 project, talked about pros and cos involved in addressing conservation issues by looking at a portion of a single gene called cytochrome oxidase 1. He gave us a glimpse of the kind of stuff they have been doing with webshots from their website “Barcode of Life“. To be honest, I am mighty impressed and see a lot of potential in this, because:

(a) species do not require a name..a problem when we are addressing most invertebrates,
(b) rather than looking at species richness, DNA bar coding provides us an opportunity for the first time, to frame conservation by addressing diversity in phylogeny.
(c) since the bits of genes which are used are from mitochondrial DNA they would be unique to each species, thus helping in identifying species,
(d) it will work like a dream with insects (that have been preserved in alcohol for ages) and example being the DNA barcoding project on Arctic Canadian Collembolans.

To chart conservation strategies by using DNA barcoding, rather than addressing all the fauna present in one place, addressing a few taxa alone might be adequate. However while selecting this elite group of taxa, we need to make sure they suit the criteria of being an ecological indicator and not because they are our favourite groups (our usual mistake!).

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Ant Posters

The first two in a series of ant posters (A3 size) have been printed and are up for circulation. The posters are aimed to aid in field identification of ants by watching their behaviour and nest architecture. The posters are distributed free, courtesy of a wildlife enthusiast Mr Prem Koshy. Anybody interested, kindly shoot an email to: antbook.india at gmail.com.

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A reason why community fluctuations in ant populations are unknown starts with the issue of identification. Alex Smith et al, ponder in their recent publication whether DNA barcoding of ants would help solve the problem. They do this by identifying ants to the generic level and then use a single gene (cytochrome oxidase 1) to identify species richness. A few more pilot studies like these should reveal the efficacy of the system to measure species richness.

from: Smith et al (2005), Phil Trans R Soc B 360, 1825-1834.

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A month in India took me away from the city down into the rain forests of Western Ghats looking for an elusive jumping ant. The hunt was for a black morph of Harpegnathos saltator, a morph known only from Shimoga, a district in the Western Ghats. This hunt however carried out in the monsoon periods helped only in sighting their nests but not the ants. These black morph ants construct distinctly different nests compared to commonly seen red morph of H. saltator. Though this ant remained unsighted due to the heavy rains, the forest floors was teeming with several other species.

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A recently discovered ant from Madagascar, a Proceratium, has its species name christened as “google”, a tribute to Google!! Introducing Proceratium google.

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