Intercontinental dispersal of giant thermophilic ants across the Arctic during early Eocene hyperthermals

S. Bruce Archibald, Kirk R. Johnson, Rolf W. Mathewes, David R. Greenwood

Abstract

Early Eocene land bridges allowed numerous plant and animal species to cross between Europe and North America via the Arctic. While many species suited to prevailing cool Arctic climates would have been able to cross throughout much of this period, others would have found dispersal opportunities only during limited intervals when their requirements for higher temperatures were met. Here, we present Titanomyrma lubei gen. et sp. nov. from Wyoming, USA, a new giant (greater than 5 cm long) formiciine ant from the early Eocene (approx. 49.5 Ma) Green River Formation. We show that the extinct ant subfamily Formiciinae is only known from localities with an estimated mean annual temperature of about 20°C or greater, consistent with the tropical ranges of almost all of the largest living ant species. This is, to our knowledge, the first known formiciine of gigantic size in the Western Hemisphere and the first reported cross-Arctic dispersal by a thermophilic insect group. This implies intercontinental migration during one or more brief high-temperature episodes (hyperthermals) sometime between the latest Palaeocene establishment of intercontinental land connections and the presence of giant formiciines in Europe and North America by the early middle Eocene.

  • Received April 6, 2011.
  • Accepted April 15, 2011.
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