CEB Committe on Evolutionary Biology

Early and dynamic colonization of Central America drives speciation in Neotropical army ants

Eciton burchelli army ants. Photo credit Alex Wild

In a recent paper in the journal of Molecular Ecology, CEB graduate student Max Winston and co-authors Daniel Kronauer and Corrie Moreau show how the rise of the Isthmus of Panama impacted speciation in Neotropical army ants. 

In the paper titled "Early and dynamic colonization of Central America drives speciation in Neotropical army ants", Winston et al  leveraged de novo genomic assembly and the unique life history traits of army ants to understand how the rise of the Isthmus of Panama impacted Neotropical biodiversity. Although it is well known that the rise of the isthmus radically changed global climate and incited the Great American Biotic Interchange by providing a corridor for organisms to migrate between North and South America, the timing and exact role of the event remain contentious. They found several cases of parallel speciation within the Neotropical army ants associated with the colonization of Central America, dating far before the full closure. Given that army ants cannot disperse across water—even by improbable “sweepstakes events”— Winston et al's work corroborates recent geological evidence for land connections preceding the full closure of the isthmus. Furthermore, it provides known geological mechanisms to explain the increased diversification in the region, helping clarify the outsized role of the rise of the isthmus in generating Neotropical diversity.

Click here to read the full paper. 

Winston, M.E., Kronauer, D.C., Moreau, C.S. (2016) Early and dynamic colonization of Central America drives speciation in Neotropical army ants. Molecular Ecology. doi: 10.111/mec.13846