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The Ant AToL (Assembling the Tree of Life) Project
Collaborative Research on Ant Phylogeny: A Comprehensive Evolutionary Tree for the World's Premier Social Organisms
Supported by NSF grant EF-0431330 (10/01/2004 to 09/30/2011)PIs
The Ant AToL Project was motivated by three broad objectives: (1) to resolve relationships among the major lineages of ants; (2) to estimate divergence times of the principal clades; and (3) to use the resulting phylogenetic and temporal framework to better understand the evolution of key biological traits in ants. The project emphasized the use of multiple, single-copy, protein-coding nuclear genes for phylogenetic inference. We employed 12 nuclear genes, many developed specifically for use in ant phylogenetics, for the first time. Data were analyzed using model-based approaches (maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods), with careful evaluation of different models and partition schemes. Divergence times for major events in ant evolution were inferred by combining fossil information with molecular dating methods that do not assume clocklike evolutionary rates. Dating analyses also permited the testing of specific biogeographic hypotheses addressing ant distributions.
In addition to probing the “deep history” of the major ant lineages (Brady et al., 2006), we also investigated phylogenetic relationships within several large subgroups of ants. We completed a study of the ant subfamily Dolichoderinae (Ward et al., 2010), which demonstrated that diversification of crown-group dolichoderines postdates the K/T boundary and occurred later in Australia than other parts of the world. This study also revealed the striking sensitivity of phylogenetic estimates to data partitioning, outgroup composition and base frequency heterogeneity. We continue to analyze Ant AToL data, focusing on the evolutionary history of dorylomorphs and myrmicines, and a reevaluation of relationships among early branching lineages of poneroids and leptanillines.
Publications from Research supported by the Ant AToL Project
Branstetter, M. G. 2012. Origin and diversification of the cryptic ant genus Stenamma Westwood (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), inferred from multilocus molecular data, biogeography and natural history. Systematic Entomology 37:478-496.
Brady, S. G.; Fisher, B. L.; Schultz, T. R.; Ward, P. S. 2006. Evaluating alternative hypotheses for the early evolution and diversification of ants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U. S. A. 103:18172-18177.
Branch-length tree from Brady et al. (2006): Right Click (or Ctrl+Click on a Mac) to download the MrBayes 50% consensus topology with maximum likelihood branch lengths estimated using PAUP under the GTR + I + G model.
Ward, P. S.; Brady, S. G.; Fisher, B. L.; Schultz, T. R. 2010. Phylogeny and biogeography of dolichoderine ants: effects of data partitioning and relict taxa on historical inference. Systematic Biology 59:342-362.
Wernegreen, J.J., Kauppinen, S.N., Brady, S.G., & Ward, P.S. 2009. One nutritional symbiosis begat another: Phylogenetic evidence that the ant tribe Camponotini acquired Blochmannia by tending sap-feeding insects. BMC Evolutionary Biology 9:292.
Phil Ward, Brian Fisher, Sean Brady, Ted Schultz