40 new ant species found in the Philippines

Posted at 06/27/2012 7:27 PM | Updated as of 06/28/2012 2:22 AM
Some of the new ant species discovered on Mt. Isarog by researchers from Palawan State University and Harvard University. ZooKeys photo

Deforestation threatens unique ant species

MANILA, Philippines - Researchers have discovered 40 new ant species in the Philippines.

However, the discovery could be short-lived as deforestation and the destruction of the insect's natural habitat threaten ant species in the Philippines that are found nowhere else in the world, David General and his colleagues at the Palawan State University and Harvard University said in their paper published in ZooKeys science journal.

General told the OurAmazingPlanet website that the 40 new species of ants belong to 11 various genera (plural of genus), bringing the total number of genera to 92, which is twice the number of genera found in biodiversity-rich Madagascar.

One of the new species has a unique mouth and mandibles, which may have evolved for the ants to manipulate their environment, he added.

General and Harvard University's Gary Alpert said in their paper that there are 474 ant species and subspecies known from the Philippines and at least 100 other unidentified species based on museum specimens and recent collections.

"The total size of the ant fauna is no doubt much larger, almost certainly more than 1,000 species are present," they said.

The new ant species were discovered on Mt. Isarog, a dormant volcano in Camarines Sur province.

Guardian blogger GrrlScientist, an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist, told ABS-CBNNews.com on Wednesday about the discovery of the new ant species.

Biodiversity hotspot

In their paper, General and Alpert described the Philippines as a biodiversity hotspot.

"The Philippines is so ecologically diverse that it is very difficult to characterize the country in a single paragraph," they said, citing the different climate and weather systems in the country that change because of the country's varying topography.

"This complex blend of climatic diversity and opportunity for geographic isolation has likely led to high levels of endemism, a phenomenon that deserves much further exploration," they said.

In their paper, the scientists raised the specter of unique animal species being wiped out because of human activities.

"The Philippines is considered one of the hottest of the biodiversity hotspots because of the severe human pressure on its highly endemic native flora and fauna," they said.

"Time is running out for the the remaining primary forests. Despite decades of regulation and reforestation, forests continue to dwindle," they added.

The paper said all the privately reforested narra trees in their study site in 2003 and 2004 were poached by 2009, "wiping out 27 years of stewardship of the area."

"Even the stumps were removed. Forest destruction seems to go on unabated, exacerbated by new large-scale mining projects that seem to target the mineral resources under primary forests," it added.

Invasive species also threaten native ants, the researchers said.

They added that much is yet to be discovered by scientists undertaking ant research in the Philippines.

"The Philippine ant fauna is very poorly explored and records are few and spotty at best. A researcher can essentially choose a mountain among several hundred mountains, get the necessary permits and be the first one to study the ants on that mountain. However, that mountain may also be very disturbed or degraded, leaving only the tramp species that abound in disturbed habitats," the said.

"In addition to environmental damage, there is also an active communist insurgency and other serious security threats to researchers in the field. Other areas may harbor malaria mosquitoes and other serious health threats. Hence, local collaboration is quite necessary to minimize the risks of field work in the Philippines," they added.