Nearly 100 new ant species discovered in Queensland

By Angela Heathcote 21 June 2017
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Ants are becoming a popular way for scientists to monitor land managements, as the insect is reactive to changes to the ecosystem.

NEARLY 100 NEW ant species may have been found by a recent CSIRO-led study.

Overall the research, which was part of a much larger Queensland Murray-Darling Commission (QMDC) project, found 265 ant species, giving scientists greater insight into the invertebrate biodiversity of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Scientists surveyed ants from four different locations in Queensland’s Maranoa region. “I don’t think anyone would have expected [to discover] the place that ants play as a key indicator of bio-health,” Rhonda Toms-Morgan from the QMDC project told ABC Online News.

Ben Hoffmann, a principal research scientist with CSIRO, explained that ants are increasingly being used as key monitoring tools in land management because they have attributes that indicate environmental change. “Ants typically have high abundance, make a dominant contribution to species diversity and ecological function, are highly sensitive to environmental change, and are easily sampled,” he said.

“Ants have been successfully used as bio-indicators of mine site rehabilitation for over three decades, and have also been involved in many studies about fire and grazing.”

Ben added that ant species composition and abundance undergo significant changes according to the vegetation in a particular region. Ants, he explained, are the only terrestrial invertebrate group that have predictive community-level dynamics relative to environmental change.

“Essentially we haven’t found a scenario where they haven’t been informative,” Ben said. “There are now so many studies globally using ants as bioindicators that we can now conduct reviews to show definitive patterns and responses, and indeed ants do have strong and predictable responses to environmental change.”

As for the uniqueness of native Australian ant species, Ben said that, in comparison to other countries that only have a few hundred species, the CSIRO Darwin ant collection has about 7000 Australian species to date.

“Most species present in Australia are endemic, many of which are highly specialised, primitive or very notable for a particular biological feature,” Ben said. “For example, we have the world’s most heat-tolerant ant, which only starts foraging when soil surface temperatures exceed 50°C.”

The new species found in the Maranoa region are yet to be named. Charles darwin University ant ecologist, Alan Andersen explained to the ABC that due to the high numbers involved it was unlikely that each discovery would be given an official name any time soon.