Biodiversity Assessment and Monitoring Systems

The ALL workshop: a global approach to tropical leaf litter biodiversity and conservation (August 1996)

ALL (Ants of the Leaf Litter) is part of a major initiative designed to bring ants into the center of biodiversity and conservation studies by taking advantage of their status as one of the most abundant and ecologically dominant animal taxa. A unique scientific collaboration among 24 scientists most involved in leaf litter ant systematics and ecology, this five-day workshop, was held in August 18 to 22, 1996 in Ilheus (S-Bahia: BRAZIL) aiming at to:

  1. optimize and standardize quantitative collecting techniques;
  2. prioritize the tasks involved in describing and catalogingleaf litter ants formalize a comprehensive;
  3. research agenda for the future set up a global network of leaf-litter samples in order to build up a comparative database on the Internet;
  4. produce a handbook to assess the biological diversity of ants, especially leaf-litter ants.

Project Summary

The ALL workshop promises to be a landmark event. The workshop will be the first step in an international collaboration to realize the potential of ants for biodiversity studies and conservation. This collaboration aims to produce a large amount of new ant inventory data within the next ten years by developing quantitative, standardized techniques for assessing patterns of biodiversity within this ecologically critical animal taxon. This 'tool box', necessary for further biodiversity and conservation studies, will include standardized collecting techniques and sampling designs, identification aids, and an electronic leaf-litter sample data base. These tools will permit the assessment of local diversity in a global context by insuring that all samples are collected using the same standardized protocol.

Ants are one of the most numerous invertebrate groups in the majority of terrestrial ecosystems, both in terms of number of individuals and species. Because of this ecological importance, ants have the potential to deliver more reliable biodiversity data than current indicator taxa such as plants, mammals, birds or even butterflies. Because of their social, colonial life style, ants are easily collected year round, and one does not have to wait for a flower or the emergence of an adult butterfly for the identification; ants represent up to 65% of total number of specimens in mass collecting; with up to 150 species per hectare (>350 species including all ants), the leaf-litter ant fauna is diverse enough for the calculation of standard biodiversity measures; finally, the taxonomy of ants is fairly well known by invertebrate standards.

This workshop provides a unique opportunity to build a collaboration between enthusiastic colleagues in developing nations, where mo of the diversity is located, and in the U.S., where the largest ant collections in the world are located. Over 2000 semi-standardized leaf litter samples from four continents have already been collected; thus, a large amount of preliminary work has already been carried out. Itabuna, Brazil, has been chosen as the site of the workshop because it is located in the Atlantic forest, one of the most endangered of the world's ecosystems, because conducting the workshop at this site demonstrates commitment to colleagues in developing countries, and, most importantly, because this environment and the research facilities and collections will permit the practical demonstration and comparison of different sampling techniques necessary for the preparation of standardized protocols. This workshop will strongly encourage the coordinated collection of the critical number of leaf-litter samples necessary for answering crucial questions about patterns and processes in tropical ecosystems. The more than 2000 existing semi standardized leaf-litter samples, which will soon be cataloged and available on the World Wide Web, provide an encouraging start. However, additional raw data in the form of relevant samples collected using standardized protocols are necessary for facilitating the use of invertebrates in biodiversity research and conservation.

Following the workshop, an independently funded training course will be organized for local students in collaboration with CEPEC (Bahia, Brazil), to teach leaf-litter ant diversity assessment based on the new protocols. Two additional ongoing projects in the same area of Brazilian Atlantic Forest aim at gathering data that address the corrleation between leaf-litter ant diversity and the diversity of other indicator organisms such as plants and birds.

The ALL workshop is part of a larger umbrella project employing social insects in general in biodiversity and conservation studies, and of the conservation efforts of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) and the Species Survival Commission of the World Conservation Union (SSC-IUCN).

This worskshop is supported by grants from:
Biotic Surveys and Inventories Program, National Science Foundation (U.S.A.)
Biodiversity and Conservation Center, American Museum of Natural History, New York
Professor E.O. Wilson
Provost of Science's Office, American Museum of Natural History, New York
Centro de Pesquisas do Cacau (CEPEC), Itabuna, S-Bahia, Brazil
International Union for the Study of Social Insects, IUSSI

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