Ants of the MesoAmerican Corridor (ADMAC)

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ADMAC (Ants of the MesoAmerican Corridor) is an NSF-funded project to better understand ant diversification in the thin connector region between North and South America. The project was created by Michael G. Branstetter, Philip S. Ward, and John T. Longino, as a continuation of a previously-funded project (LLAMA, Leaf Litter Arthropods of MesoAmerica) that sampled litter arthropod diversity in the region. Here, Jack Longino shares some pictures of the last years.

A Photoblog contribution compiled by John (Jack) Longino

Jack Longino at Danum (© Walter Tschinkel)

ADMAC has been applying phylogenomic methods that use Ultra-Conserved Elements (UCE; a region of DNA that is identical in at least two different species) to reveal phylogeny and species boundaries in a broad range of ant genera: Adelomyrmex, Belonopelta, Cryptopone, Hylomyrma, Perissomyrmex, select groups of Pheidole, Ponera, Pseudomyrmex, Rasopone, Rogeria, Stenamma, Syscia, and Temnothorax. We have also facilitated others’ work on Apterostigma, Fulakora, Gnamptogenys, and Prionopelta. The focus has been on mature wet forest habitats over the full range of elevations in which ants occur.

The ADMAC grant also sponsored molecular workshops at the University of Utah, organized and run by Michael. Here is the 2015 workshop. ADMAC has been instrumental in helping many labs get started using UCEs in their work. (© Michael Branstetter)

Both ADMAC and LLAMA have involved field expeditions in which international teams of students, mostly undergraduate level, have carried out a quantitative sampling protocol at multiple sites. Over the life of both projects, Michael, Phil, and I have sampled in Mexico (Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Chiapas), Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. We have always worked with local universities and institutions, gaining new professional connections, collaborators, and friends. Field expeditions have involved driving, boating, and hiking to remote sites, setting up field camps, taking hundreds of Winkler samples of sifted litter, setting up malaise traps, baiting for ants, and beating vegetation. Expeditions always end with a 10-day sample-sorting party at our host institution.

The most recent ADMAC expeditions were a collaboration with INECOL, in Veracruz, Mexico, in 2015. Here we are at Los Tuxtlas Biological Station, our first site (notice all the T-shirts are clean). Left to right, back to front: Mario Augillar Mendez, Matthew Prebus, Phil Ward, Kyle Gray, Rhea Cone, Brianna Bartholomew, Gabriel Somarriba, Dennis Infante, Anamin Saraí Lizama Ramírez, Milan Janda, Michael Branstetter, Madai Rosas Mejía, Ligia Benevides, Jack Longino, Jorge Valenzuela. (© Michael Branstetter)
Happy PIs (Michael Branstetter, Phil Ward, Jack Longino) with 100 loaded miniWinklers at Los Tuxtlas. (© Michael Branstetter)
An ADMAC beating brigade. (© Michael Branstetter)

A major focus has been on the evolution of montane specialization. We have shown that ants in general have relatively narrow elevational preferences, and there is strong species turnover as you gain elevation. Michael has led the development of molecular tools for the project, which have revealed the “who, where, and when” of such specialization.

An unusual discovery: a new species of Fulakora from Los Tuxtlas. (© Michael Branstetter)

Brian Fisher has been a constant collaborator through his management of AntWeb. All the project collections and specimen data are posted on AntWeb. A product that may not be widely known is that the project websites have species lists for every site we visited. These species lists are linked to AntWeb species or specimens.

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