The ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of early Eocene Indian amber

Publication Type:Conference Paper
Year of Publication:2016
Authors:P. Barden, Ware, J., Grimaldi, D.
Conference Name:The 7th International Conference on Fossil Insects, Arthropods and Amber
Date Published:26/04/2016
Publisher:Siri Scientific Press
Conference Location:National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Today, ants are among the most ubiquitous and ecologically diverse arthropods in terrestrial environments worldwide, however, this is a relatively recent development. The earliest definitive ants from mid-Cretaceous ambers comprise less than 1% of all insect inclusions. The majority of these early ants belong to stem-group lineages distinct from their modern relatives and, curiously, despite exhibiting surprising diversity and evidence for social behavior as early as the Cenomanian, ant fossils do not appear in high abundance until the Eocene. Recently discovered fossil material from Gujarat, India, dated to ~52 Ma offers valuable insight into a key period of crown-group ant evolution and exhibits the highest pre-Miocene ant prevalence so far known in amber. Because Indian “Cambay” amber is dated to shortly after the tectonic collision of India into Asia, ending ~40 million years of isolation for the Indian subcontinent, there is potential for a highly endemic fauna. Moreover, as the deposit is dated to shortly after the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), the hottest period in Cenozoic Earth history and a proposed driver of ant diversification, these fossils may offer insight into the “rise of the ants” as they apparently increased in overall prevalence and diversity. The ant faunal composition of the deposit is discussed with respect to overall ant evolutionary history, endemism, and the role of fossils in reconstructing phylogenies.

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