Earlier this summer, a new key and review of the Ants of Alberta was published in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification. James Glasier, the lead author, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the work, and share some of the species he thought were particularly interesting.
1. What inspired you to produce this key?
The key was inspired by the difficulty of finding coherent, up to date, and all-encompassing keys for the ant fauna of Alberta. It started as a side project, to help me better understand the differences among ant species I was finding during my thesis research. As it developed, we realized that a key formatted for the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification would greatly benefit anyone who wanted to study ants in the province. So with the help, guidance, and contributions of my co-authors, we developed to identify all known ants from Alberta.
2. Who do you think is most likely to use your key to the Ants of Alberta?
The coauthors and I hope that anyone who is interested in ants uses the key. We think that in Canada, ants are too often ignored in biological studies and with this key we hope more people will include them in their research.
3. Rather than provide individual accounts for each species, you’ve linked out to the species profiles in AntWeb. Why did you decide to do it this way, and what advantages does AntWeb have over traditional publishing?
We decided to link the key to AntWeb, because AntWeb has fantastic photos of ant specimens and they are always updating their photo catalog. It is hoped that these photos work in concert with the key we have developed and better aid identification of ant specimens. Additionally, AntWeb has an online specimen catalog and natural history sections, which is easily accessed and continually updated to provide current information about each ant species.
4. Were there any ants that you were surprised to find in Alberta?
The most surprising was species was the neotropical ant Brachymyrmex obscurior; found in the Olds University Atrium by Dr. Ken Fry. For better or worse, the colony seems to have died out. Another surprising ant species was found by John Acorn, Dolichoderus taschenbergi. This ant is a rather obvious ant when you are out in the field; workers are black and very shiny, and in the morning will all congregate on their nest to sun themselves. The effect of hundreds of workers covering a ~30cm2 area is an obvious sparkling mass of black. Yet, with over 30 years of work by multiple researchers in the Opal Sand Hills, including John, no one recognized that this species was present until our ant project began.
Glasier, J.R.N., Acorn, J.H., Nielsen, S., Proctor, H. 2013. Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of Alberta: A key to species based primarily on the worker caste. Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification No. 22, 4 July, 2013. Available online at http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/bsc/ejournal/ganp_22/ganp_22.html. http://dx.doi.org/10.3752/cjai.2013.22
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