SSC Specialist Group provides first online database on all 11,000 ant species

08 March 2002 | News story

Gland, Switzerland, 08.03.02. IUCN-The World Conservation Union. Ants are one of the most ecologically important groups of animals, and are also considered one of the worst invasive species. They can turn more soil than earthworms, are the main herbivores in tropical South America, and make up to one third of the animal biomass in a rainforest. Yet social insects (ants, bees, wasps, and termites), are not included in mainstream conservation efforts and most of the information that could be used to conserve or manage them is not catalogued or easily available.

 The IUCN/SSC Social Insects Specialist Group (SISG) is part of a global collaboration that is working to solve this problem by creating Antbase.org, the first online database providing Internet access to knowledgeof all ant species (approximately 11,000) as well as images, full text publications, distribution data, and a bibliography.

"Antbase.org is a unique system as it is not only based on a complete list of all the world's ant species, but provides links to the growing number of other relevant sources of information for particular species, such as identification aids, descriptions, and distribution details. We offer, so to speak, 'one-click shopping' for ants," says Donat Agosti, SISG Chair and one of Antbase's designers.

Antbase.org is being developed as part of SISG's strategy to foster the use of standardised techniques to measure the abundance of, and changes in a species, to assess the impact of sustainable development. These techniques have been described in a widely disseminated handbook Ants: Standard Methods for Measuring and Monitoring Biodiversity and first training courses have already been held.

Antbase.org is a collaboration between many scientists from around the world. It is housed at the American Museum of Natural History and Ohio State University, and educational programmes are underway in conjunction with the Ant Image Database (Japan). Antbase is directed by Donat Agosti, Norman Johnson and Tom Moritz, also members of the Social Insects Specialist Group.

Future developments will provide identification aids on all ant species, seen as one of the most important goals to achieve in making invertebrates part of conservation management, and to develop applications such as an invasive ants 'early warning system' in collaboration with the SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group.

"A specific hindrance to full implementation of Antbase is copyright and intellectual property right application, which prevents equal sharing of information. The current biodiversity crisis calls for special efforts - knowledge must be freely accessible and shared," says Agosti.

For more information contact: Donat Agosti, Chair, Social Insects Specialist Group, SSC and Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History, New York; Email agosti@amnh.org; home address: Cairo - Egypt, tel: 20 - 2 - 795 1536 or 794 3638