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Kenya is located along the equator in East Africa, borders the Indian Ocean in the East, and is strongly bisected by the Great Rift Valley from North to South. The country possesses a remarkable diversity of landscapes and habitats that reach from low plains in the East, to the Central and Western Highlands which feature mountains such as Mount Kenya and Mount Elgon, and desert and semi-desert in the North and East. Great swaths of savannah grassland cover much of the country, also in addition to coastal dry forest, montane forest, and tropical rain forest in Western Kenya. Such a landscape should harbor a rich ant fauna. Yet until recently, the ant fauna has been poorly known, the main sources of information being from occasional collections undertaken by scientific expeditions during colonial times.
Fortunately, interest in myrmecological studies has increased considerably over the last decade. The ant-acacia mutualism research of Todd M. Palmer in Laikipia, the intensive ant sampling performed by Roy Snelling in Laikipia and Kakamega, as well as Anton Espira's ecological study in Kakamega, all merit mention.
The checklist presented here is based mainly on new material collected by the Kenya ant curation team and Roy Snelling in the last decade, but to a lesser degree also from literature records. Most of the material is deposited in the collections of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, the Zoological Research Museum Koenig, Bonn, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and the National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi.
At present around 573 species and 62 genera from 12 ant subfamilies are known from Kenya. By far the largest subfamily are the Myrmicinae (ca. 300 species and 25 genera), followed by the Formicinae (ca. 110 species and 12 genera) and Ponerinae (ca. 75 species and 10 genera). The most species-rich genera are Tetramorium (ca. 60 species), Crematogaster (ca. 55 species), Camponotus (ca. 50 species), Monomorium (ca. 35 species), and Pheidole (ca. 35 species). The species totals for all of these genera are expected to rise significantly with future research in the country.
The Kenyan ant fauna can be divided into three distinct regional elements that show minimal overlap. The Western rain forests around Kakamega, although heavily disturbed and fragmented, hold more than 300 ant species. Around half of the ants found in Kakamega can be classified as Guineo-Congolian faunal elements shared with the rain forests of West and Central Africa, what reach their eastern-most distribution in Kenya. They are not found anywhere else in the country. However, most of Kenya consists of open savannah or grasslands with an ant fauna of more than 100 species quite distinct from the rain forest community. The Kenyan savannah fauna shares many species with Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Tanzania, and several species also occur in Southern Africa. Only a few collections were done in coastal forests, but early data analyses suggest a unique regional fauna with a high degree of endemism. These forests are of high conservation value and are threatened by clearance and fragmentation.
Francisco Hita Garcia & Georg Fischer