Systematics, ecology and biology of southern African ants

Introduction

Ants are among the most conspicuous organisms that one encounters in terrestrial landscapes and they have a profound influence on most terrestrial plants and animals through their predatory, scavenging and symbiotic behaviour. Ecologists often need to be able to identify ants because they are having an impact on the system being studied. Ants are also often used as biological indicators in ecological assessments because of the relative ease with which they can be sampled.

There are probably just over a thousand species of ants in southern Africa (south of the Kuneni and Zambezi rivers) but only about 550 of them have names. It is relatively easy to identify an ant to genus level but to species level is difficult, if not impossible, for the many genera that have not recently received (in the last 50 years) a taxonomic revision.

Our goals are (1) to make it easier for people to identify and understand the ants of the southern African subcontinent, and (2) to advance research into their systematics, ecology and biology.

Current projects

  • Taxonomy, phylogeny and distribution of the Tetramorium solidum-group in southern Africa (Hymenoptera:Formicidae).
  • Unraveling the phylogeography of the southern African ant genus Ocymyrmex (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): using a genetic and morphological approach.

Hamish G. Robertson

Ph.D. Rhodes University (1985)

Director Natural History

Natural History Department
Iziko South African Museum
PO Box 61

Cape Town 8000
South Africa

Phone: +27 (0)21 481 3849
Fax: +27 (0)21 481 3993
Email: hrobertson@iziko.org.za

Research interests

Systematics, ecology and biology of southern African ants <link: ant_research> (with Nokuthula Mbanyana)

Research for exhibitions and displays

marine fish (Iziko SA Museum, permanent, launched 2004)

Coelacanth (Iziko SA Museum, permanent, launched 2006)

Publications

Download publications: Hamish G. Robertson

Postgraduate supervision

Current students

  • Nokuthula Mbanyana(University of Stellenbosch; M.Sc.; co-supervisor: J.J. le Roux). Title of project: Unraveling the phylogeography of the southern African ant genus Ocymyrmex (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): using a genetic and morphological approach.

Past students

  • Costas Zachariades (Rhodes University; Ph.D.; co-supervisor: S.G. Compton; graduated 1994). Title of thesis: Complex interactions involving the Cape fig, Ficus sur Forsskål, and its associated insects.
  • Thidinalei Tshiguvho (University of Cape Town; M.Sc. [Conservation Biology]; co-supervisor: R. Dean; graduated 1997). Title of thesis: Conservation value of road verges in the semi-arid Karoo, South Africa: ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) as bio-indicators.
  • Helian Ratsirarson (University of Cape Town; B.Sc. [Hons]; co-supervisor M. Picker; graduated 1998). Title of project: Indigenous forests versus exotic eucalypt and pine plantations: a comparison of leaf litter invertebrate communities.
  • Kate Parr (University of Cape Town; M.Sc. [Conservation Biology]; co-supervisor: W. Bond; graduated 1999). Title of thesis: Testing patch-mosaic burning in South Africa: the ant perspective.
  • Helian Ratsirarson (University of Cape Town; M.Sc. [Conservation Biology]; co-supervisor: B. Fisher; graduated 2000). Title of thesis: Biodiversity Assessment of the Indri Biogeographic Region in north-eastern Madagascar using ants (Formicidae).
  • Lovejoy Chaane (University of Cape Town; M.Sc. [Conservation Biology]; co-supervisors: R. Dean;, D. Richardson). Title of thesis: Effects of pine invasions on ground-dwelling ants on the southern slopes of the Swartberg mountains.
  • Maya Pfaff (University of Cape Town; B.Sc. (Hons); co-supervisor J. Hoffmann; graduated 2000).Title of thesis: Monogynous reproduction and nest fragmentation in the queenless ponerine ant Pachycondyla cavernosa (Formicidae; Ponerinae; Ponerini).
  • Wimpie Meyer(University of Potchefstroom; M.Sc.; co-supervisor H. van Hamburg; graduated 2001) Title of thesis: Community dynamics and structure of ant populations on ash disposal sites under rehabilitation at Hendrina Power Station, South Africa.
  • Fatima Parker(University of Cape Town; M.Sc.; co-supervisors: D. Richardson, P. Holmes, B van Wilgen; graduated 2002). Title of thesis: The impacts of different methods of alien plant control on the recovery of fynbos ecosystems.
  • Geeta Eick(University of Cape Town; Ph.D.; co-supervisor: C. O'Ryan; graduated 2002). Title of thesis: A macro- and micro- evolutionary investigation of African Camponotus ants.
  • Kate Parr(University of Pretoria; Ph.D.; co-supervisor: S. Chown; graduated 2003). Title of thesis: Ant assemblages in a southern African savanna: local processes and conservation implications.
  • Godlisten Matilya(University of Cape Town; M.Sc. [Conservation Biology]; co-supervisor: M. Picker; graduated 2003). Title of thesis: Does the African ant Lepisiota incisa displace the introduced invasive Argentine ant, Linepithema humile (Mayr) in the urban environment of Cape Town, South Africa?
  • Antoinette Botes(University of Stellenbosch; Ph.D.; co-supervisor: S. Chown; graduated 2007). Title of thesis: Insect macroecological patterns along an altitudinal gradient: the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor.