Philip S. Ward
My research is motivated by a fascination with insect natural history and the processes that have generated such a diverse array of forms. In the Ward lab our specialty is the systematics and evolutionary biology of ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). These creatures, while small in size, are the world’s most prominent and species-rich group of social insects. Numbering more than 14,000 described species—and perhaps as many undescribed taxa—ants have come to occupy almost all major terrestrial habitats, and they often assume keystone roles as predators, scavengers and herbivores. Our objectives are to document and analyze the diversity of ants and to provide insight into the factors responsible for their evolutionary success. As ant systematist I engage in two different but complementary activities: (1) species-level taxonomy, and (2) phylogenetics. The former is a neglected but vitally important area of systematics—without the ability to distinguish species many other enterprises in biology are seriously compromised. Much of my own work on species delimitation has focused on the ant subfamily Pseudomyrmecinae. I am also interested in the natural history and distribution of California ant species, and I am involved in a collaborative project on the systematics and biogeography of Mesoamerican ants. My phylogenetic studies, based primarily on molecular data (initially Sanger sequencing, but now targeted enrichment of UCE loci), have been directed at both the deep history of ants—unraveling the major lineages of the ant tree of life—and at relationships among closely related species.