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Ant Ecology now available

Surfing around the bookstores this morning I see that the much-anticipated Ant Ecology book is out. At $129.00 it’s not something the casual reader is liable to pick up. Nonetheless, Ant Ecology is a beautiful volume reviewing the state of the field, and scientists who work on ants should probably own a copy. Or at least get one on time-share.

The book is a collection of 16 chapters edited by Lori Lach, Kate Parr, and Kirsti Abbott. There’s a mellifluous forward by Ed Wilson, but then, most ant books have a mellifluous forward by Ed Wilson. Ant Ecology‘s real strength is that each chapter is written by researchers actively working on their chosen topics. Thus, the full volume is a collaboration across the leading edge of myrmecology, and the perspectives they offer are a glimpse into the burning scientific questions of the day from the mouths of the very people working hard at answering them. Among others, Brian Fisher covers ant biogeography, Christian Peeters does ant life history, and Anna Dornhaus & Scott Powell write about ant foraging strategies. As a teaser, Amazon previews part of Phil Ward’s chapter on systematics here.

I’m still only a couple chapters in, so that’s all the detail you get for now.


disclaimer: You probably shouldn’t trust me for an unbiased review. I provided most of the book’s images, and many of the authors are friends of mine. Plus the editors- bless them- sent along some simply lovely ant attire as thanks for the images (I’ll post photos shortly…)

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wilson1 My copy arrived from Amazon the day before yesterday.  I’ve not given it anything more than a couple cursory thumb-throughs, but I’m immediately left with the impression of schizophrenia.

The bits on social organization, behavior, communication, and levels of selection- mostly Bert Hoelldobler’s sections- seem an engaging and modern review, while the chapters dealing with ant history and evolution- Wilson’s area- are…  How do I say this diplomatically?  Rubbish.

The past ten years have brought immeasurable advances in our knowledge of ant evolution, both in breadth and detail.  Inexplicably, Wilson fails to recognize it.  Really.  He cites some recent paleontology but next to none of the large and growing body of genetic work.  He reproduces the phylogeny of Moreau et al (2006), but the accompanying text reveals that he does not understand its meaning, nor that it can and is being used to connect the vast body of previously disparate natural history tidbits that Wilson himself relates throughout the book.   At best, Wilson’s section is charming but irrelevant, at worst it will serve to further confuse a field that is already finding clarity independent of Wilson.   We could use a comprehensive reference detailing the great evolutionary story of the ants, but at first glance this isn’t it.

Oh, and the production value is high.  It’s a weighty, glossy, attractive book. Lots of illustrations.  The sort of thing that on a coffee table is sure to impress, even if you don’t plan on opening it.

I’ll post more detailed comments as I give it a more proper reading.

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Out November 10

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