Trap-jaw ants on Florida’s sand ridges
Florida’s inland ridges are a series of sand ridges and bars located throughout Central Florida. Some of these ridges formed over 1 million years ago. The ridges resemble sand islands featuring a unique flora and fauna. Among their inhabitants are also trap-jaw ants and one species has a particularly interesting story: Odontomachus relictus was only recently described as a species (Deyrup & Cover 2004) and occurs only on two of these sand ridges (Lake Wales Ridge and Brooksville Ridge). The species might be a relict species that has been isolated for about 1 million years or longer. So far little is known about the life history of O. relictus which triggered my curiosity.
I study Odontomachus relictus to test if populations on each ridge have diverged given the amount of time they might have been isolated. I have analyzed molecular data (mtDNA), measured morphology & color, and conducted behavioral assays. My results show that populations are genetically isolated and each ridge may indeed represent a distinct species. This would make this not one, but two of the rarest ants in North America. The first manuscript describing my work is currently in preparation for submission.