The Ants of Sri Lanka

Some of the most important and critical myrmecological research is the “simple” identification and documentation of what ant species are present in a given region. Such work is in fact quite difficult and time consuming, and the incentive structures of modern academic science typically severely undervalue necessary taxonomic efforts. Thus, much of the world lacks even a robust, modern checklist of present species. Thanks to a study published this month in ZooKeys, the island nation of Sri Lanka is no longer one such region!

Figure 2 in Dias et al. (2020), depicting ant sampling localities.

Authors Dr. Ratnayake Kaluarachchige Sriyani Dias and colleagues produced the most comprehensive checklist of the ants of Sri Lanka to date, largely relying on data from previous studies as well as available museum records. Their checklist includes 341 species on the island that is about the size of the U.S. State of West Virginia (the latter of which is home to a paltry 55 native species). The authors highlight that much taxonomic work remains to be done, as many of the species recorded on the island date back to over 100 years ago, “at a time when species descriptions were sometimes incomplete or species boundaries poorly defined.” Dias and colleagues also note that local scientists drive the recent increases in exploration of the Sri Lankan ant fauna.

Figure 1 in Dias et al. (2020). A: Rate of species recording in Sri Lanka per decade from 1886 to 2020. B: Number of species recorded in Sri Lanka per period in function of the origins of the authors contributing to these discoveries

Virtually all research in ecology and evolutionary biology relies on robust taxonomic research, and so we applaud this contribution to ant taxonomy!