Ants More Genetically Similar To Bees Than Wasps
October 8, 2013

Ants More Genetically Similar To Bees Than Wasps

[ Watch the Video: Who Could Be The Ant's Next Of Kin? ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A team of scientists from the University of California, Davis found that ants are more closely related to bees than to most wasps.

Scientists originally believed that ants and bees were more distantly related, with ants being closer to certain parasitoid wasps. However, researchers publishing a paper in the journal Current Biology say that ants and bees are more genetically related to each other than wasps such as yellow jackets and paper wasps. The team used state-of-the-art genome sequencing and bioinformatics to come to their conclusion.

“Despite great interest in the ecology and behavior of these insects, their evolutionary relationships have never been fully clarified. In particular, it has been uncertain how ants — the world’s most successful social insects — are related to bees and wasps,” ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology at UC Davis and senior author of the paper, said in a statement. “We were able to resolve this question by employing next-generation sequencing technology and advances in bioinformatics. This phylogeny, or evolutionary tree, provides a new framework for understanding the evolution of nesting, feeding and social behavior in Hymenoptera.”

Assistant Professor Joanna Chiu said that with phylogeny or evolutionary progression, scientists can now understand how various morphological and behavioral traits evolved in these groups of insects. She added that they could even examine the genetic basis of these phenotypic changes.

“This result should be important for future studies focused on eusocial evolution, as it suggests that morphology may not be a good indicator of evolutionary relatedness in these groups of organisms,” Assistant Professor Brian Johnson said.

The team combined data from the transcriptome and genomic data from a number of species of ants, bees and wasps. They found that ants are a sister group to the Apoidea, which is a major group within Hymenoptera that includes bees and sphecid wasps, which is a family of wasps that includes digger wasps and mud daubers.

“Our discovery that ants and apoids are sister taxa helps to explain difficulty in the placement of Cariridris, and suggests that it is best treated as a lineage close to the root of the ant-apoid tree, perhaps not assignable with certainty to either branch," the authors wrote in the paper.

The team discovered that the ancestral aculeate wasp was likely an ectoparasitoid. This type of insect attacks and paralyzes a host insect and leaves its offspring nearby where they can attach to the outside of the host and feed from it.