Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Organizing the Ant Internet

This is what I am thinking about today -- I have this organization thing. I have a very strong need to have things in my life organized. A big pile of papers and junk drives me crazy. I just want to go through them all and put them into categories and file them away or throw away the trash and make everything look nice and neat. I get this feeling sometimes when I am browsing through the internet and looking at ant sites. I want to take them all off the web, look at them, clean them up a bit, throw away the junk, and put them all together in one well-organized drawer. There are so many ant sites nowadays and each and everyone seems to want to have everything you could ever want from an ant site, but none of them do. And I just think, if they could all get together, you really would have the best ant site ever. I'm not really sure why they don't. Even just a little bit of information sharing would be helpful. For instance, you've got AntWeb, which is a fabulous website if you are hoping to look up ants from Madagascar, but not if you are hoping to look up ants from Costa Rica. Why is that? The ants of Costa Rica have a fabulous webpage. It doesn't seem like it would be that difficult to import all of those costa rican ants onto AntWeb. DiscoverLife has done it. They don't have any checklists from Australia or Japan, though, which are also two groups of ant fauna with great webpages. Shouldn't we be trying to incorporate all of this information together? Even just a link to the other websites would be nice. It took me forever to figure out where the good websites were. I don't even trust the lists that are on DiscoverLife now -- I have a list of Tiputini ants on Discoverlife -- it is terribly out of date and I can't figure out how to update the list so I've just let it go. Tree of Life is another webpage that is basically useless to me. There are these beautiful photos but when you get down to the species level, you get a statement like "127 described species" but no actual list of species. Pseudomyrmex, for instance, has no species list on the Tree of Life website. Why not? A list certainly exists. And there are even labs that have been looking at this genus for years. Cephalotes, Procryptocerus, the Attini, Megalomyrmex, Pheidole, and Dolichoderus -- all genera that have no list of species on their tree of life webpage. Why hasn't someone added more ant information to this website? Or other websites? It is very frustrating to me. I wish someone would put me in charge of making one fantastic ant webpage that would incorporate everything. I know it would drive me insane but it would be very satisfying work.


  1. I can't speak for the other websites you mentioned, but as I was the one who posted most of the (current) Tree of Life ant pages, I can take a shot at addressing your concerns there. When I worked on the Formicidae pages a couple years ago as a Tree of Life RA, my goals were to update them to reflect Bolton's new taxonomy and to provide a complete list of described species for all genera (taken from the Hymenoptera Name Server). I didn't fully accomplish the latter goal for very large genera, for two reasons: first, it took a lot of time to add species lists (the Tree of Life now has faster ways to do it), and second, it would be unwieldy for users to have to deal with pages containing taxa lists with hundreds of names. Such large genera can be broken into numerous smaller pages (e.g. by subgenera), but I didn't get around to fully doing that.

    As it stands now, the Assembling the Tree of Life (AToL) Formicidae group is in charge of the Tree of Life Web Project ant pages, and all decisions regarding changes to these pages are up to them. Hopefully once they've published their initial results they'll start working on updating the ant pages. There are also some hopeful signs that a collaboration with AntWeb may be possible, as well as with the forthcoming World Ant Catalogue. Hopefully there will be greater synthesis and synergy among all the ant sites out there in the future! I certainly share your frustration and your desire to see One Ant Site to Rule Them All.

  2. Hey -- thanks for the comments! I really enjoyed your talk at the IUSSI, by the way.