- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
- It's one of the habitats of the California state insect, the California dogface butterfly, Zerene eurydice, and its host plant, false indigo, Amorpha californica--or at least it was before massive wildfire swept through there on Aug. 19, 2020.
- It's one of 10 research sites of butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has monitored central California's butterfly populations since 1972 and maintains a research website at https://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/
And now, it's the home of a newly discovered ant species.
Myrmecologists Brendon Boudinot, Marek Borowiec and Matthew Prebus, all alumni of the Phil Ward laboratory, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, just published their collaborative research, "Phylogeny, Evolution, and Classification of the Ant Genus Lasius, the Tribe Lasiini and the Subfamily Formicinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)," in the journal Systemic Entomology.
The ant world on Twitter is crawling with congratulatory comments and how "awesome" the work is. Wrote one: "Congratulations! Lasius is a familiar genus in Japan, so I will let the Japanese entomologists know about it."
The story behind the story? It all began in the Ward lab. "The Three Ant Men" are now scattered from Idaho to Arizona to Germany.
- Borowiec, who received his doctorate at UC Davis in 2016, is an assistant professor at the University of Idaho.
- Prebus, who received his doctorate at UC Davis in 2018, is a postdoctoral scholar at Arizona State University.
- Boudinot, who received his doctorate at UC Davis in 2020, is in Jena, Germany on a two-year Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship to research evolutionary and comparative anatomy.
Looking back, Prebus and Borowiec said that they were both interested in Lasius atopus "due to its strange morphology and lack of phylogenetic data despite the amount of attention paid to the genus, and planned a collecting trip to the type locality in Mendocino County in 2013."
The collecting trip to Mendocino proved unsuccessful. "But because of Phil's extensive collections. we knew of a population of a closely related species in Gates Canyon near the city of Vacaville," Prebus said. This time the trio collected specimens from several colonies at Gates Canyon, which is located off Pleasants Valley Road.
"For all of us, this was a collaborative side project, so after the study was presented, submitted, and rejected, it took the back-burner while people finished their dissertations, got jobs, got married, had kids, and so on," Prebus recalled. "Speaking personally, the pandemic put quite a few of my postdoc projects on hold after the Arizona State University campus closed, but the small upside amongst the inundation of downsides was that I was able to focus on getting some long-haul projects into shape for publication, including the Lasius study. This involved a huge amount of reanalysis of data that we had already collected, but thankfully didn't require generating any new data."
See more on the ant research on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.
(Note that the 7.8 mile Gates Canyon Road, lined with residential homes (private property) and "no trespassing" signs, is a paved county road that leads to the top of Mount Summit, the highest point in Vacaville. It is narrow and hilly. Hikers, runners, walkers and bicylists consider it a challenge.)
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
You know you want to!
Did you own--and treasure--an ant farm kit as a kid? Did you ever follow them as they hauled off crumbs from your picnic? Did you marvel at the load they could carry?
“Ants are amazing because they're way more diverse than most people realize,” says UC Davis entomology doctoral candidate Jill Oberski. “Some are huge, some are tiny, some are blue or green, and a lot of them have crazy spines. There are ants that run farms with crops and livestock, and ants that can build bridges and survive floods, and ants that live in the highest treetops and never touch the ground.”
That's just some of the information to be showcased at the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Month program on Saturday, Feb. 13 from 11 a.m. to noon when three doctoral students in the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, take the helm. Oberski, a fourth-year doctoral student, and Ziv Lieberman, a first-year doctoral student, will talk about the diversity of ants and field questions, followed by doctoral candidate Zach Griebenow's presentation on his research.
Then on Saturday, Feb. 20, from 11 a.m. to noon, Professor Phil Ward will host "All About Ants," billed as a "fun and lively question and answer session." The programs are free and family friendly. See http://biodiversitymuseumday.ucdavis.edu/live-programs.html for the Zoom links.
Griebenow grew up in rural Kentucky and received his bachelor's degree in entomology in 2017 from The Ohio State University, undertaking undergraduate research with distinction on species boundaries in the Puerto Rican fauna of the subterranean termite Heterotermes (Griebenow et al. 2017).
"As so everyone in the Ward lab, I study how different groups of ants are related to one another, and why they look and behave the way that they do," he said. "Specifically I study an obscure group called the Leptanillinae, which have no common name. As ants go, they are strange, and we know very little about them. So far, I have confidently teased out the major evolutionary relationships among leptanilline ants (Griebenow 2020; Griebenow, in press), but there is a lot more work to be done, particularly in comprehending the often bizarre structural modifications seen in the male Leptanillinae (legs that look like toothbrushes, etc.)."
Lieberman, born and raised in California, studied at the College of Marin before transferring to UC Davis to major in evolution, ecology and biodiversity, with a minor in insect evolution and ecology. "Prior to UC Davis, I spent several years working abroad for the California Academy of Science documenting historical ant specimens," Lieberman said. "At the end of my undergrad, I published my first paper, a revision of the poorly-understood (and very cute) African species of the ant genus Discothyrea."
In the Ward lab, Lieberman studies "ant evolution, specifically focusing on connecting evolutionary relationships (the ant 'family tree') with anatomy, using a combination of next-generation imaging techniques and large-scale genetic analyses. In particular, I am interested in describing and comparing internal anatomical features which are usually ignored, and understanding how these traits contribute to biodiversity."
Oberski grew up in Minnesota. "I was fascinated by insects from a very young age," she said. "I attended Macalester College, spent a few confused years on a pre-med track, and ultimately discovered a career in entomology was feasible and worth pursuing. This has led me to Phil Ward's ant systematics lab at UC Davis, where I'm now a PhD candidate."
"My research centers on the ant genus Dorymyrmex, which is commonly found all over the Americas," she said. "Even though they're extremely common (Davis itself is home to two species!), we have no idea how many species there really are. In addition to discovering and naming these species, I'm really interested in biogeography and ancient history: Where did Dorymyrmex originate? How are the North American species related to the South American species? And how did they disperse before the isthmus of Panama was connected?"
Professor Phil Ward
Professor Ward teaches California insect diversity, insect taxonomy and field ecology, and introductory biology (the tree of life). His research interests include systematics, biogeography and evolution of ants; ant-plant mutualisms; phylogeny and speciation. He holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from Queens University, Canada (1973) and a doctorate in zoology from the University of Sydney, Australia (1979).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 10th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum program is all virtual this year via webinars and pre-recorded presentations, and takes place throughout the month of February. The science-based event traditionally occurs on only one day--the Saturday of Presidents' Weekend, when families and friends gather on campus to learn first-hand about the UC Davis museums and collections.
This year's biodiversity event is showcasing 12 museums or collections:
- Anthropology Museum
- Arboretum and Public Garden
- Bohart Museum of Entomology
- Botanical Conservatory
- California Raptor Center
- Center for Plant Diversity
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven
- Nematode Collection
- Marine Invertebrate Collection
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology
- Paleontology Collection
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection
For more information and the schedule, access these two formats on the UC Davis Biodiversity program website: (1) live talks and demonstrations and (2) pre-recorded talks and activities. Information on the biodiversity museum events also appear on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, @BioDivDay.
To help support the Biodiversity Museum event, contributions are being accepted through a month-long crowdfunding campaign program at https://crowdfund.ucdavis.edu/project/24310.