World’s first ant map launched in Hong Kong

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST -

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 col­or­ful 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.

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