Meet an Ecology PhD-student: Herbert C. Wagner

Herbert C. Wagner, a myrmecologist, decryptes a complex of European ant species.

Herbert C. Wagner is a myrmecologist and a member of the Molecular Ecology Research group headed by Birgit Schlick-Steiner. In his PhD project, funded by FWF and University of Innsbruck, he aims to delimit species of the last enigmatic ant species complex in Central Europe remained unrevised so far – the cryptic Tetramorium caespitum/impurum complex. The species are “cryptic” in a human point of view, which does mean that myrmecologists were not able to distinguish these species so far, because of being extremely similar in morphology.

Based on a multidisciplinary approach, Herbert revises the taxonomy and aims to understand the evolution of the Tetramorium caespitum/impurum complex. Therefore, his team collected several thousand nest samples from 35 nations in Europe, Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Their investigation is based on integrative taxonomy, i.e., the combination of independent methods using the same biological samples. More than 900 ants were used for traditional morphometric analyses of 32 characters. Qualitative genital-structure investigations of males complement the morphological data. For genetic investigation, they sequenced a mitochondrial gene and scored amplified-fragment-length polymorphisms.

Bild: H.C. Wagner

Based on our multidisciplinary dataset, Herbert demonstrates the presence of ten well-separated European species and uses this insight for our taxonomic revision. Also a determination key using discriminant analyses of morphometric data is made; using the new characters, more than 97% of the nest samples can be determined. Hybridization between species is rare. Two species of the complex are newly described.

Mag. Herbert Christian Wagner
University of Innsbruck
Institute of Ecology
Molecular Ecology Research Group

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