Rainforest ants of the Tiwi Islands: a remarkable centre of endemism in Australia's monsoonal tropics

Alan Anderson, M Houadria, Maia Berman, M Van der Geest

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    The small and isolated rainforest patches that are embedded in the predominantly savanna landscape of Australia's monsoonal tropics support a highly distinctive and biogeographically significant ant fauna. This fauna features shade-tolerant taxa of Indo-Malayan origin, in contrast to the arid-adapted, endemic Australian taxa that dominate the surrounding savanna. The Tiwi Islands north of Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT) receive the highest mean annual rainfall (up to 2,000 mm) in monsoonal Australia, and have a particularly extensive rainforest estate that has been poorly surveyed for invertebrates. Here we describe results from intensive ant surveys at 17 sites representing the full range of Tiwi rainforest types, using subterranean traps, Winkler sacs, pitfall traps and arboreal traps, supplemented by opportunistic hand collections. Our surveys yielded a total of 87 species from 37 genera, with the richest genera being Pheidole (9 species collected), Polyrhachis (8), Camponotus (5), Rhytidoponera (5) and Strumigenys (5). The overall structure and diversity of the Tiwi rainforest fauna is comparable to that of rainforest ant faunas on the Australian mainland. However, the species have exceptional biogeographic significance. At least 21 species across 12 genera have apparently never previously been collected, three species from subcoastal northeastern Australia are recorded for the first time in the NT, and the genera Mesoponera and Onychomyrmex are documented for the first time in the NT. There was a very low incidence of exotic species, which further highlights the conservation values of this remarkable fauna. � International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2012.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)433-441
    Number of pages9
    JournalInsectes Sociaux
    Issue number3
    Early online date29 May 2012
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


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