MSU’s Ant Curator contributes to the Global Biodiversity Map Project

Contact person: Meg Henderson

STARKVILLE, Mississippi — A Mississippi state ant science illustrator and curator contributes to a world map of insects, while using his talent to design covers for a leading science journal.

Mississippi Entomological Museum Ant Curator Joe MacGown is part of a team creating a groundbreaking map of global ant biodiversity, poised to change understanding of where and how ants live and work and where stronger conservation policies and programs may be needed to protect them.

The project is led by Benoit Guénard and Evan Economo from the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. The scientists used machine learning to construct the map based on marking precise coordinates from published studies of ants. From this data, they can predict the geographic distribution of each species using statistical modeling.

The maps and dataset were published in a recent edition of Science Advances, the multidisciplinary open-access journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Not only did MacGown make a significant contribution to the content of the map, but as an accomplished artist, he also created the cover illustration for the August 5 issue of the newspaper. He said the map and his years of research inspired the featured art.

“The image of the global map is a drawing from 1689, when the world was not completely known. The ants I chose to draw are Solenopsis invicta, or imported red fire ants, which are known for their travels and economic importance,” he said.

MacGown has worked at the MSU Entomology Museum since 1988, even after his semi-retirement in 2020. Two decades ago, the museum joined a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded fire ant study and worked to identify and collect other ant species interacting with fire ants. He built a large collection of ants and other insects during this time.

“At first there were no databases with ant research collections, so I started a website for the museum, initially for my own use,” MacGown said. “Over the years we have added data from our expanded collections. By number of specimens, our collection is the second largest university collection available to the public. Being one of the few ant websites 20 years ago, our work at MSU paved the way for today’s major sites.

For more information on the Mississippi Entomological Museum, visit www.mississippietomologicalmuseum.org.msstate.edu. To access the issue of Science Advances that features MacGown coverage, visit www.science.org/toc/sciadv/8/31.

MSU is Mississippis leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

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