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The poneromorph ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae: Amblyoponinae, Ectatomminae, Ponerinae) of Grube Messel, Germany: high biodiversity in the Eocene

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Ants are a very successful group among insects, but the course of evolution of their biodiversity is still unclear. This study sheds light on ant diversification during the Eocene. Analysis of the ant taphocoenosis of the fossil site Grube Messel, Germany (47 Ma) yielded three poneromorph subfamilies and 22 new species in six genera, four of which are new: Pseudectatomma gen. nov., Cephalopone gen. nov., Cyrtopone gen. nov. and Messelepone gen. nov. Only one extant genus, Pachycondyla, is present in the taphocoenosis from Messel. The high diversity of poneromorph ants from Messel is very striking in comparison with middle to late Eocene European ambers. A significantly lower proportion of species in ambers can be assigned to poneromorph ants, and fewer poneromorph species are known from European ambers than from Messel. A possible gradual decline of the diversity of poneromorphs from the Eocene to the Miocene seems to be detectable worldwide. These insights are discussed in the context of the morphology and ecology of Poneromorpha and Formicomorpha. The proportion of ant castes in amber seems to indicate that already during the Eocene poneromorphs inhabited preferably litter and soil, whereas formicomorphs preferred the arboreal realm. The ‘ponerine paradox’ of having only a primitive social organization, yet being an old phylogenetic line with global distribution, is discussed with emphasis on palaeontological data but still remains unsolved. The evolutionary history of Myrmicinae is discussed. With the newly available palaeontological data, the timing and the dynamics of dominance by different subgroups of ants can be traced more precisely than before.
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Keywords: Palaeogene; Tertiary; biodiversity; ecology; evolution; fossil record

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Evolution, Biological Faculty,M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, Vorobjovy gory119992,Moscow, Russia 2: Forschungsstation Grube Messel,Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum, Markstra├če 35D-64409,Messel, Germany

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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