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Using computer vision to understand the global biogeography of ant color

Idec, Jacob H., Bishop, Tom R. and Fisher, Brian L. 2023. Using computer vision to understand the global biogeography of ant color. Ecography 2023 (3) , e06279. 10.1111/ecog.06279

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Organisms use color to serve a variety of biological functions, including camouflage, mate attraction and thermoregulation. The potential adaptive role of color is often investigated by examining patterns of variation across geographic, habitat and life-history gradients. This approach, however, presents a data collection trade-off whereby researchers must either maximize intraspecific detail or taxonomic and geographic coverage. This limits our ability to fully understand color variation across entire taxonomic groups at global scales. We provide a solution by extracting color data from more than 44 000 individual specimens of ants, representing over 14 000 species and morphospecies, using a computer vision algorithm on ant head images. Our analyses on this dataset reveal that ants are dominated by variation in the dark-pale color spectrum, that much of this variation is held within species, and that, overall, a suite of popular ecogeographic hypotheses are unable to explain intra- and interspecific variation in ant color. This is in contrast to previous work at the assemblage level in ants and other invertebrates demonstrating clear and strong links between variables such as temperature and the average color of entire assemblages. Our work applies a novel computational approach to the study of large-scale trait diversity. By doing so, we reveal previously unknown levels of intraspecific variation. Similar approaches may unlock a vast amount of data residing in museum and specimen databases and establish a digital platform for a data collection revolution in functional biogeography.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Publisher: Wiley Open Access
ISSN: 0906-7590
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 25 January 2023
Date of Acceptance: 28 November 2022
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 14:46

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