ACADEMY SCIENTIST MAPS WORLD'S ANTS WITH GOOGLE EARTH

Dr. Brian Fisher is changing the way scientists study ants

Proceratium google, a new species of ant discovered by Brian Fisher

SAN FRANCISCO (September 22, 2005) – It used to take scientists months – sometimes even years – to identify new ant species, since field guides are scarce and original species descriptions are often buried in obscure journals. But now, California Academy of Sciences entomologist Dr. Brian Fisher is putting ant identification on the fast track with the help of new technology from Google Earth. Fisher, the Chairman of the Academy’s Entomology Department, has assembled data and descriptions for thousands of species of ants from around the world and posted the information to a public Web site, www.antweb.org. From the Antweb site, scientists and ant aficionados alike can download the Google Earth program and plot all of the ants known to Antweb on a three dimensional, interactive globe of satellite images. This technology allows people to look up ants by location, rather than by name. For instance, if a team of scientists collects an ant in Argentina , they can pull up the South American map from Google Earth and rapidly determine whether or not the ant they found has ever been documented from that region before. Within a few months, Antweb users will also be able to create a virtual ant field guide for any geographic area defined in Google Earth.

“What is so interesting,” says Fisher, “is that we have been talking with NASA to try to create something like this for the scientific community, but in the end, it was a private group – Google – that came up with the tool.” Fisher has been so impressed with the support he has received from the Google Earth team that he is naming a new species of ant in their honor. The ant, Proceratium google, which he discovered during a recent trip to Madagascar, feeds exclusively on spider eggs.

The Antweb/Google Earth integration was posted to the Google Earth community site for the first time on Monday, September 19. The site has been given a five-star rating by users. Since the posting, Antweb has been receiving an average of 28,000 hits per day.

Dr. Brian L. Fisher
Brian L. Fisher, Chairman of Entomology at the California Academy of Sciences, is an ant systematist who specializes in the large-scale discovery, description and naming of African and Malagasy ants. In the past few years, he has discovered over 800 new species of ants in Madagascar alone, including the Madagascar Dracula Ant – a find that is helping scientists to understand the evolution of ants from wasps. Fisher also maps diversity patterns and uses them to instruct land management and conservation decisions. His inventory work in Africa and Madagascar demonstrates the feasibility and challenges of conducting global biodiversity inventories. He is currently developing technologies for collaborative taxonomy, which will accelerate the process of identification and description of new species with products accessible across a broad community of users (see www.antweb.org). He also has particular interest in the evolution of the early lineages of ants and is dedicated to instructing the next generation of ant systematists.

Education and Research at The California Academy of Sciences
The Academy is an international center for scientific education and research and is at the forefront of efforts to understand and protect the diversity of Earth's living things. The Academy has a staff of over 50 professional educators and Ph.D.-level scientists, supported by more than 100 Research and Field Associates and over 300 Fellows. It hosts ten scientific research departments in the fields of anthropology, aquatic biology, botany, entomology, geology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrate zoology, mammalogy and ornithology.

 

The California Academy of Sciences, the fourth largest natural history museum in the United States, is home to Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and the Natural History Museum. The Academy is beginning an extensive rebuilding project in Golden Gate Park. Pritzker prize-winning architect Renzo Piano is designing the new Academy, which is expected to open in 2008.

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