Monday, June 30, 2008

Ant #3 (Tim): wood burned ant trail

This lovely trail of ants was created using a wood burning pen on a very small piece of wood (about 1 cm wide).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Tiputini Mantis Database: The Numbers

9: # of subfamilies.

64: # of valid genera records.

17: # of genera represented by a single species.

110: # of species represented by a single specimen.

65: # of species represented by two specimens.

10: # of species represented by over 100 specimens.

8483: # of specimen records.

50: # of species records for the genus Pheidole, the most species-rich genus in my collection.

65: # of Pheidole species Amy Mertl has collected at Tiputini.

154: # of Pheidole species on John Longino's Ants of Costa Rica website.

14: # of people (besides myself) who have helped me to identify species.

70: # of specimen records for specimens that are definitely not ants.

8: # of years I have been in graduate school.

6: # of years that have passed since I collected my first specimen at Tiputini.

27: # of copies of various versions of my database that I have.

5: # of places I keep backup versions of current database.

29: # of specimen records that contain the phrase "lost specimen" in the specimen notes.

861: # of specimen records for reproductives.

108: # of specimens that I was unable to identify to anything more than "Formicidae"

542: # of species records -- this includes fake ones like Formicidae (Formicidae) where I know it's an ant but have no idea what kind it is or Attini (Attini) where I know it is an Attine, but have no idea what kind. It also includes the classic Hymenoptera (Hymenoptera), otherwise known as "it has six legs and wings."

503: # of species records -- this does not include the above fake species but does include morphospecies and new species, and is not necessarily the number of species that I have collected, as it includes certain morphospecies which may overlap each other.

???: # of species I have collected.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ant #2 (Kari): Bitstrip Ant

This ant was created on Bitstrips, which is a pretty cool site that lets you design characters and create comics very easily. It was mashed together using silhouettes of baseball bats, lemons, bottles, a heart, and two golf tees. I forgot the antennae, though.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An ant a day (ish)

I've been a big fan of the skull-a-day blog where the author created a new piece of art (with a skull theme) every day for a year. I thought, I can do that! And (obviously) I would want to use ants as a theme. I made a deal with my husband that we would take turns making something every other day and I would post the results in this blog. Turns out we are both pretty lazy and have come up with nothing close to an ant a day. More like an ant every couple of weeks. I will still post the results here, though. We also make no claims as to the quality of the art -- it's just for fun.

Day 1 (Tim): bent wire ant

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

International Code of Area Nomenclature (ICAN)

John S. Wilkins over at Evolving Thoughts pointed me in the direction of a new code which has just been published in the Journal of Biogeography that aims to standardize the naming of areas of endemism and other biogeographical areas. This new code would be similar in scope to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), which governs how we name new taxa. The smallest area would be named a district, followed by province, dominion, region, and realm. From the abstract:

"Biogeography needs a standard, coherent nomenclature. Currently, in biogeography,
the same name is used for different areas of biological endemism, and one area of endemism is known by more than one name, which leads to conflict and confusion. The name ‘Mediterranean’, for example, may mean different things to different people – all or part of the sea, or the land in and around it. This results in ambiguity concerning the meaning of names and, more importantly, may lead to conflicts between inferences based on different aspects of a given name. We propose the International Code of Area Nomenclature (ICAN), a naming system that can be used to classify newly coined or existing names based on a standard. When fully implemented, the ICAN will improve communication among biogeographers, systematists, ecologists and conservation biologists."

Apparently someone has already published a paper which utilizes this new system. López et al. (2008) includes the following statement from the abstract:

"The following zoogeographic provinces are proposed for Argentine freshwater fish fauna following the International Code of Area Nomenclature: Andean Cuyan, Patagonian, Aymaran, Great Rivers and Pampean. The former two are placed within the Andean Subregion of the Austral Region, and the latter three within the Neotropical Subregion of the Holotropical Region. These provinces, based on results coinciding with PAE and cluster analysis, represent the first classification of Argentine provinces based on objective methods."

There are a lot of reasons why I'm doing what I'm doing and one of them is that I like organizing systems. They make me happy. I like putting things into categories and (theoretically) bringing order to chaos. At its best it feels like the "after" photo from one of those articles about organizing your closet. Look how clean and organized it is now! Every sock has its own little cubbyhole, sorted by color and length. Summer outfits on the left, Winter on the right. Shoes all lined up and ready to compare to your purses so you can color coordinate your outfits! Considering a new dress? Now you can easily and efficiently scan all the dresses you already own, and be able to make a good decision about whether that new dress is really all that different from all your old dresses! Isn't it wonderful? Won't life be so much better now? Just think of all the time and money you will save!

So you can see why this new system seems pretty neato to me. I have certainly run into problems in the past trying to figure out what exactly people are talking about when it comes to geography. Or what term I should be using for my area of study. Western Amazonian lowland rainforest? Yasuní region? Upper Napo region? Amazon Basin? Lowland Ecuadorian rainforest? Yasuni National Park? Tiputini Biodiversity Station? The Neotropics? It is not always clear to me.

On the other hand, it is also not clear to me how exactly I would utilize this new code in reality. Perhaps there is a list somewhere of currently accepted terms, but if so, I can't find it. So does that mean that everyone is starting from scratch? I don't even know what a realm is. And I would think that all of these areas would be attached to particular taxa. For instance the areas of endemism for freshwater fish are probably not going to be the same as the areas of endemism for ants or birds. At least at the province level. But they would certainly overlap. At the top of the hierarchy, though, they might be the same. How does that work? You can cite previous work, so I could (for instance) cite Bolton and divide ants into the classic groups of Nearctic, Palearctic, Neotropical, Afrotropical, etc.), but would those be kingdoms? Realms? Districts? Would the Neotropical region for ants be different from the Neotropical region for freshwater fish? How would my newly defined areas fit into the existing system? Or is there no system yet? I'm not clear. Perhaps some concrete examples would help me understand it. Of course, I've only spent about an hour browsing the internet to figure this stuff out, so all the answers could already be out there. But I really need to get back to work!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

And now for something fun -- Elements!

The return of the ant room maven

As some of you may have noticed, I have been absent on this blog for quite awhile now. The reasons are various and sundry but mostly involve the fact that I discovered some major problems with my master database and I think I have been going through the 5 stages of grieving:

Denial -- I'm sure this isn't that bad. Maybe just a couple of records gone awry. I'll just check my email first.... My desk is so disorganized. I'm going to clean out my desk so I can have a good environment to work in. Yeah, I really should figure out what is wrong with my database. But I think I'm coming down with a cold. Probably better if I take the day off and rest so I don't get really sick. It's important to take care of yourself! I will definitely deal with that whole database issue tomorrow.

Anger -- #@!!%!!!!!!!

Bargaining -- Perhaps I have some older version of the database that isn't messed up. Hmmm... not on my computer... maybe on one of these twelve million random disks that are sitting in my desk. No... maybe on my old laptop that died four years ago. Okay, that doesn't work. Perhaps I should spend several days making my old computer try to work. That seems reasonable. And so on.

Depression -- Everything is bad... (groan).... I'm going to have to re-identify every... single... specimen... (moan).... I'm just going to curl up in a little ball for awhile....

Acceptance -- Okay. I really just can't trust my database anymore. The only way to be sure of the data is to do a pin-by-pin inventory of every single specimen in my collection and match them up to its record in the database. If I don't see it in front of me (and I didn't send it off to another researcher) then it doesn't exist.

So that is what I have been doing. Which is a process both boring and stressful, the worst possible combination. The good news is, I am now officially done. HURRAY!