Aust tropics could be hotspot for ants

·1-min read

Thousands more ant species are likely to be living in northern Australia than first thought, challenging accepted scientific wisdom about diversity in the tropics.

Charles Darwin University researchers say some ant types thought to be a single species are actually 600 different species of the insect.

Ecologist Alan Andersen said it means there could be more than 5000 species of ants in the monsoonal tropics, making it the world's richest region for ants.

"The extent of unrecognised diversity of species is incredible in our monsoonal tropics," he said on Tuesday.

"We are not talking about three or four new species, but thousands of them."

The findings show ant populations in the monsoonal tropics are some of the world's most diverse.

"This is just scratching the surface of ant diversity in northern Australia," Prof Andersen said

"The diversity is totally unappreciated."

Researchers used a combination of morphology, genetics, and geographic distribution to separate different species.

"In one trap during a collecting trip we recorded 27 different species of ants," Prof Andersen said.

"An area the size of an average suburban house block is often home to more than 100 different species of ants."

Prof Andersen said the results dispelled some assumptions about global patterns of biodiversity.

"Peak ant diversity is generally considered to occur in tropical rainforests, particularly in the Amazon Basin and in South-East Asia," he said.

"Our research has totally flipped that idea on its head."

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