Hong Kong is home to over 190 species of ants, with many more expected to be found, according to university researchers who have discovered 27 new species in less than a year.
Fifteen of the species have been brought to light since November, with potentially a dozen new to both Hong Kong and science.
Some of the never-before-seen insects include a species of spider egg-eater ant, mini trap-jaw ants and the dracula ant, according to the research team at the University of Hong Kong’s school of biological sciences.
The researchers were even able to find a species from an entirely new genus and subfamily of ants – the dactaria templaris and leptanilla. The latter was found in Lung Fu Shan Country Park just a few hundred metres from the team’s HKU laboratory.
“It’s astonishing to be discovering new life almost every week,” team member and assistant professor Dr Benoit Guenard said.
Guenard estimated there could be upwards of 250 ant species in the city.
“People think that to discover new life, we have to go somewhere like the jungles of Borneo … But who knows, maybe the next discovery will be made by a six-year-old in a park.”
The researchers drew their samples from more than 100 locations in the city.
The world is home to more than 15,000 recorded species of ants, which play an important ecological role for the planet, from recycling and aeration of soil nutrients to seed dispersal.
The HKU team, in collaboration with the Okinawa Institute of Sciences and Technology, has also created the world’s first “antmap” – an interactive online database and map showing how and what species of ants are distributed across the world.
The platform is built on 1.6 million records of ant distribution worldwide and from synthesised information from 8,500 publications.
It allows a user to see where an ant originally comes from and where the species has spread.
Out of the 1.8 million of described species of life on earth, roughly one million are insects, compared with 310,000 types of plants, 10,600 kinds of birds and just 5,900 species of mammals.
“There is very limited understanding of the biodiversity of the most diverse and dominant species on the planet,” Guenard said. “Most of these insects have actually not be discovered. That’s why we must study insects.”
The world's first ever ant map showing the distribution of the tiny industrious creature around the globe was launched Thursday by the University of Hong Kong in a bid to shed more light on the insect world.
The colourful interactive online map (antmaps.org), which took four years to complete, displays the geographic locations of nearly 15,000 types of ant with the Australian state of Queensland home to the highest number of native species at more than 1,400.
"(Insects are) one of the main groups we need to focus on when we talk about biodiversity," Benoit Guenard, one of the co-founders of the map, said.
"Ants are very important in most ecosystems," Guenard added, as they cycle soil nutrients and help in seed dispersal.
"They are one of the best studied groups of insect."
'Antmaps', a joint project between HKU and the Okinawa Institute of Sciences and Technology, also differentiates ants which are native to a region and species which were imported.
Guenard, a professor at HKU's school of biological sciences, said the map would provide an important record of insect life around the world and would aid research and wildlife conservation.
"It will help us in approaching the question of how well we are doing in protecting certain regions," he told AFP.
Work on the map is ongoing with new species of ants discovered frequently, Guenard said.
He leads the university's study of ants in Hong Kong and said his team believed they had discovered 12 new species in the city in the past year.
"We are finding and describing new life almost every week... that's what I find absolutely astonishing about the work we do."
In a recent study by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel published in July, ants were found to have an astonishing ability to mix collective muscle with individual initiative for heavy lifting.
In experiments, researchers showed how a dozen or more ants working in unison to haul, say, a large insect can adjust their course based on intelligence provided by a single ant joining the effort.
[AFP - Dr Benoit Guenard (C), Assistant Professor at the HKU School of Biological Sciences, and his t]
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[AFP - Hong Kong ant species are displayed at the Hong Kong University (HKU) in Hong Kong on August 6]
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Xoni 時間: 2015-8-6 23:56
An international team from HKU and OIST launches the first online “antmaps” to visualise the global distribution of ants including 170 species from HK
August 6, 2015
Loss of biodiversity is a major concern for scientists and most governments around the world. Nevertheless, the understanding of the composition and geographic distribution of global biodiversity is still largely incomplete. This is best exemplified by the absence of synthesis on global distribution of insects, though their exceptional biodiversity of over 1.1 million species represents the vast majority of species on Earth (with 50% to 90% of insect species still undescribed/unknown). This knowledge gap represents one of the fundamental questions to be addressed in the frontier of macroecological studies, facilitating the devising of efficient conservation plans.
Dr. Benoit Guénard, Assistant Professor of School of Biological Sciences, in collaboration with Dr. Evan Economo from the Okinawa Institute of Sciences and Technology (OIST) Graduate School, have spent four years addressing the knowledge-gap problem by building a global distribution database and a website to visualise their results. Since studying all insects would be an insurmountable task, they are focusing on ants, one of the most abundant and ecologically important group of insects. With 15,000 species described, and another estimated 10,000-15,000 more species to be described and categorized, ants are ubiquitous and one of the best studied among insect groups, making them a perfect system to approach this question.
Current progress on their results can now be tracked on antmaps.org (http://antmaps.org/). With just a few clicks, entomologists can inquire about the distribution of thousands of species, account for the species diversity for any region of the world, or compare the similarities of different regions with one another.
Tropical and subtropical regions like Hong Kong are not only home for the majority of species on the planet but also the least studied regions of the world. With the exception of a handful of well-sampled hotspots, most tropical regions of the world are in urgent need of ant (as well as other insects) exploration. This is especially pressing considering the small range of many insect species discovered and the increasing pressure of habitat conversion for urbanization of agriculture. Simply put, if no efforts are made, thousands of species will disappear before we even had the chance to look at them. By developing a new tool like antmaps.org, the research team aspires to foster species exploration and increase species description rate.
170 ant species recorded in Hong Kong
Locally, the website antmap.org informs us that 170 species and 228 species have been recorded in Hong Kong and Guangdong province respectively, of which 114 of the species are shared in both regions. Those who take the time to study ants in detail will be fascinated by their diversity of shapes, sizes, colours or behaviours.
The species named Pseudoneoponera rufipes produce foam as a defensive mechanism, other species known as army ants (species of the Dorylus and Aenictus genera) are able to capture prey a hundred times larger than a single worker, other ant species create complex nest structures the size of a rugby ball by sewing leaves together (the weaver ant Oecophylla smaragdina) or build tube-like shelters over the “cattle” insects they protect (Crematogaster species), while another species displays the fastest animal movement known (Odontomachus species) by completely closing its mandibles in about 0.4 millisecond (0.0004 second). All these natural wonders are happening right here and many more are waiting to be discovered in Hong Kong and all over the world.
Until a year ago, most of the work realized on ants in Hong Kong was done by Dr. John Fellowes, Honorary Assistant Professor of HKU Kadoorie Institute, nearly 20 years ago. In the view of this, Guénard’s team members in HKU’s Insect Biodiversity and Biogeography Laboratory recently started in Hong Kong the ecological and behavioral exploration of these astonishing creatures with the aim to further enrich the knowledge of biodiversity in ants in the territory. For less than a year the team has conducted several surveys to gain better knowledge of local ant fauna and the results are astonishing. While this work is still at its beginning and focuses only on species present in leaf litter, it has already allowed the identification of 15 newly recorded ant species and potentially a dozen of new species for science. This represents an increase of 16% of the ant fauna known in the territory and it can be expected that more will be discovered.
One of the most significant discoveries is the collection of a tiny new species of Leptanillinae (Figure 1), a subfamily of ants thus far unknown from southeast China, with the closest geographic records for this subfamily reported in Hunan province and Taiwan. Incredibly, this species was collected in Lung Fu Shan Country Park - just a few hundred meters from the Laboratory. Another newly recorded ant species from Hong Kong - the dracula ant, Stigmatomma rothneyi – is shown in Figure 2 below. Indeed, anybody in Hong Kong could find a new insect species in their backyard or in the park they visit over the weekend.
The surveys will also provide important information about the distribution of unwanted, invasive ant species in Hong Kong. The spread of the fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) or other non-native species is important to monitor, and we are in critical need of information on their impacts on native fauna and flora of Hong Kong. Most importantly, early detection of invasive species is vital for efficient control of these populations and prevents further spread. This can only be achieved through regular monitoring and development of solid baseline knowledge on both native and non-native species.
The team will extend its study to other parts of China and Asia as well, potentially some of the most diverse regions in the world. Information gathered will contribute to the continuous update of antmaps.org, while development of new tools such as high resolution imaging to highlight the diversity and complexity of ants and other insects will increase accessibility for students and a broader audience.
[The team of HKU Insect Biodiversity and Biogeography Laboratory introducing the newly launched antma]
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[Dr Benoit Guénard displaying exhibits of ant species with his student Mr Roger Lee and his research]
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[Dr Benoit Guénard demonstrating the search of ant species with the antmap.]
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[Dr Benoit Guénard introducing the common ants that can be found in Hong Kong.]
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[Figure 1: Two extremes in size within the Hong Kong ant fauna - A species of the genus Leptanilla sp]
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[The “giant” Pseudoneoponera rufipes (the foamy ant) is 20 mm long. (Photo courtesy: HKU Insect Bio .]
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[Figure 2: The dracula ant, Stigmatomma rothneyi, one of the newly recorded ants from Hong Kong - Hea]
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[Mr Roger Lee, PhD student at the HKU Insect Biodiversity and Biogeography Laboratory elaborating the]
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