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Evolution. 2013 Aug;67(8):2240-57. doi: 10.1111/evo.12105. Epub 2013 Apr 22.

Testing the museum versus cradle tropical biological diversity hypothesis: phylogeny, diversification, and ancestral biogeographic range evolution of the ants.

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Department of Zoology, Field Museum of Natural History, 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605, USA.


Ants are one of the most ecologically and numerically dominant group of terrestrial organisms with most species diversity currently found in tropical climates. Several explanations for the disparity of biological diversity in the tropics compared to temperate regions have been proposed including that the tropics may act as a "museum" where older lineages persist through evolutionary time or as a "cradle" where new species continue to be generated. We infer the molecular phylogenetic relationships of 295 ant specimens including members of all 21 extant subfamilies to explore the evolutionary diversification and biogeography of the ants. By constraining the topology and age of the root node while using 45 fossils as minimum constraints, we converge on an age of 139-158 Mya for the modern ants. Further diversification analyses identified 10 periods with a significant change in the tempo of diversification of the ants, although these shifts did not appear to correspond to ancestral biogeographic range shifts. Likelihood-based historical biogeographic reconstructions suggest that the Neotropics were important in early ant diversification (e.g., Cretaceous). This finding coupled with the extremely high-current species diversity suggests that the Neotropics have acted as both a museum and cradle for ant diversity.


Biogeography; Formicidae; Neotropics; divergence dating; molecular clock; phylogenetics

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