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Macaronesia Ants

Xavier Espadaler

Macaronesia consists of several groups of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean between SW Europe and NW Africa. They belong to three different countries and extend east-west between 31.2º W and 13.4º W and north-south between 39.7º N and 14.8º N. The five archipelagos are (from north to south): Azores (Portugal), Madeira (Portugal), the Savage Islands (Portugal), the Canary Islands (Spain) and Cape Verde (Cape Verde). The product of several geologic hotspots, they consist of variously sized and aged volcanic islands.

The climate of the Macaronesian islands ranges from subalpine to tropical. The Portuguese archipelagoes of the Azores and Madeira have a generally cooler climate and higher rainfall than the Canaries and Cape Verde. The islands are home to several distinct plant and animal communities. Up to seven vegetation zones can be found on the larger islands. Most typical are the laurel-leaved forests, called laurisilva or monteverde, that once covered most of the Azores, Madeira, and parts of the Canaries between 400-1200 m in altitude (the eastern Canaries and Cape Verde are too dry). These forests resemble the ancient forests that covered the Mediterranean basin and northwestern Africa before the cooling and drying of the ice ages.

The ants of Macaronesia reflect a complex interaction of biogeographic factors. These include the variable land area and altitude of these islands, different degrees of isolation and distance to Africa, and a strong human influence, particularly in the lowlands where tourism and urban development are most prevalentt.

The area’s ant fauna comprises 5 subfamilies, 27 genera and 106 species. Endemics make up a large component of these groups, although this varies by archipelago. Going from north to south, the Azores seem to have no ant endemics, while Madeira’s are 3%, the Savage Islands none, the Canary Islands 51 %, and Cape Verde 7 % of the total species richness. The most distinctive genus is Temnothorax, of which 12 out of 14 species are Macaronesian endemics. Also notable is Monomorium, which has produced six endemics with apterous queens. Several unsolved taxonomic knots remain in Crematogaster, Hypoponera, Plagiolepis, Solenopsis, and Tetramorium. Studies of ants from this region would not have been possible without the enthusiastic effort of Jim K. Wetterer (Jupiter, Florida) and the generous help of Jacinto Barquín (La Laguna, Tenerife).

Xavier Espadaler
Macaronesia Ant Curator