Prolonged faunal turnover in earliest ants revealed by North American Cretaceous amber

Christine Sosiak, Pierre Cockx, Pablo Aragonés Suarez, Ryan McKellar, Phillip Barden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


All ∼14,000 extant ant species descended from the same common ancestor, which lived ∼140–120 million years ago (Ma).1,2 While modern ants began to diversify in the Cretaceous, recent fossil evidence has demonstrated that older lineages concomitantly occupied the same ancient ecosystems.3 These early-diverging ant lineages, or stem ants, left no modern descendants; however, they dominated the fossil record throughout the Cretaceous until their ultimate extinction sometime around the K-Pg boundary. Even as stem ant lineages appear to be diverse and abundant throughout the Cretaceous, the extent of their longevity in the fossil record and circumstances contributing to their extinction remain unknown.3 Here we report the youngest stem ants, preserved in ∼77 Ma Cretaceous amber from North Carolina, which illustrate unexpected morphological stability and lineage persistence in this enigmatic group, rivaling the longevity of contemporary ants. Through phylogenetic reconstruction and morphometric analyses, we find evidence that total taxic turnover in ants was not accompanied by a fundamental morphological shift, in contrast to other analogous stem extinctions such as theropod dinosaurs. While stem taxa showed broad morphological variation, high-density ant morphospace remained relatively constant through the last 100 million years, detailing a parallel, but temporally staggered, evolutionary history of modern and stem ants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1755-1761.e6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 22 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Cretaceous
  • Formicidae
  • amber
  • extinction
  • faunal turnover
  • morphology
  • systematic


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