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Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems

The majority of described species on earth are insects, yet our understanding of global patterns biodiversity focuses mostly on vertebrates and plants. No global models of the diversity, abundance, biomass or distribution of any large insect taxon exist. The result has been that insects generally play only a minor part in conservation planning. We propose to develop biodiversity databases on the spatial distribution of ants, and to use data on habitat structure and soils to generate global models of their diversity, abundance, and biomass — the first such effort for any large insect taxon. Ants have many characteristics that make them an ideal taxon for this research and for conservation efforts. Ants are numerically dominant animals in most terrestrial ecosystems and can comprise up to 10-15% of terrestrial animal biomass. Ant communities are important to ecosystems and ecosystem function. Invasive ant species are a major concern for their economic costs and are a threat to native biodiversity. The primary goal of this research is to incorporate remotely sensed data on habitat structure, topography, and soils into predictive and explanatory models of ant species distribution and diversity. A more specific goal is to understand how these additional data, in concert with existing climate data, can best be used towards the larger goal of understanding patterns of diversity and distribution in insects, the neglected majority of animal life on Earth. We will generate predictive models using a global compilation of >3,200 standardized field surveys and >125,000 geo-referenced field collections, the most comprehensive dataset on ants (and likely any insect group) in existence. Combining these data with remotely sensed environmental variables (climate, topography, soils) and habitat structure data (Lidar, Radar), we will use a maximum entropy modeling approach to build individual species models and generalized models of ant diversity. Our results will identify the most important environmental variables for predicting ant distributions and the utility of specific remote sensing datasets for modeling biodiversity. Ultimately, we will produce the first ever map of the global diversity of a diverse group of insects. NASA's Strategic Subgoal 3A, "Study Earth from space to advance scientific understanding and meet societal needs," is clearly met by this research. Ants and other insects are dominant components of terrestrial ecosystems but are amongst the least understood component of biological diversity. Ants and other insects have major effects on natural and human-influenced landscapes, agricultural and forestry systems, and human habitations. Integrating NASA's fine-grained, remotely sensed data with our uniquely large biodiversity database will serve to advance understanding of the diversity of insects, with practical, economic, and academic benefits to society.

Project PI: Rob Dunn/North Carolina State University

Department of Zoology, Graduate Ecology Group, North Carolina State University, Box 7617, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7617, U.S.A.

Email: robdunn@ncsu.edu

http://www4.ncsu.edu/~rrdunn/

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Started: Aug 09, 2010

Last Activity: Mar 30, 2011

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