Ants in the past: Journal pulls insect-global warming paper after questions arise over results
A group of ecologists in Germany who published a paper on the potential impact of global warming on ants in the Harz Mountains — northern Germany’s highest range — have retracted the paper after becoming, well, a bit antsy about the validity of their findings.
The article, “Diversity of ants across an altitudinal gradient in and outside a spruce forest in the Harz Mountains, Germany,” appeared in August 2012 in the journal Insect Science, a publication of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The last author of the paper was Christoph Scherber, of the University of Göttingen.
We found the abstract of the paper on this site:
Altitudinal gradients provide an excellent opportunity to examine the effects of climate change. Ants (Hymenoptera) are ideally suited for studying ß-diversity along altitudinal gradients because not only are they one of the most ecologically significant components of an ecosystem, many species are restricted to their preferred (micro-) habitats. Here we show the possible effects of global warming on the diversity of ants in the Wurmberg Mountain (Harz Mountains), Germany. We identified three subfamilies, ten genera, and 41 species, collecting 971 ants on Wurmberg Mountain. Higher diversity indices, numbers of individuals and species of ants were observed outside the forest than inside the pine forest, as well as with the decrease of the altitudinal gradient. We observed 18 species of Myrmicinae and 12 of Formicinae (total 3 species) at lower altitudes against seven and five (total 12 species), respectively, at higher altitudes. We found that the ants of the Harz Mountains react as expected to changes in altitude. That said, some species, specifically low-altitude thermophilic ones, show signs of expanding into higher altitudes, a possible reaction to climate warming. The distributions of host-specific herbivorous insects along altitudinal gradients, particularly within montane environments, provide useful analogs for predicted future changes that are likely to occur over time at any one location, given a gradually changing thermal environment.
But as the retraction notice indicates, those results are fraught:
The following article from Insect Science, ‘Diversity of ants across an altitudinal gradient in and outside a spruce forest in the Harz Mountains, Germany’ by Marc Srour, Germano Leão Demolin Leite, Torsten Wappler, Teja Tscharntke and Christoph Scherber, published online on 2 August 2012 in Wiley Online Library (http://wileyonlinelibrary.com), has been retracted by agreement between the authors, the journal Editor in Chief, Le Kang, and Wiley Publishing Asia Pty Ltd. The retraction has been agreed due to concerns having been raised about the validity of the species richness values derived by the authors, and regarding the validity of the species determinations.
We’ve tried to reach Scherber and the journal for more information and will update this post if we learn anything.
Update, 8 a.m. Eastern, 7/11/13: Added “northern” to description of Harz Mountains as Germany’s highest range. Thanks to commenters below for pointing out the error.