Monitoring the influx of new species through citizen science: the first introduced ant in Denmark

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Climate change and invasive species threaten biodiversity, yet rigorous monitoring of their impact can be costly. Citizen science is increasingly used as a tool for monitoring exotic species, because citizens are geographically and temporally dispersed, whereas scientists tend to cluster in museums and at universities. Here we report on the establishment of the first exotic ant taxon (Tetramorium immigrans) in Denmark, which was discovered by children participating in The Ant Hunt. The Ant Hunt is a citizen science project for children that we ran in 2017 and 2018, with a pilot study in 2015. T. immigrans was discovered in the Botanical Garden of the Natural History Museum of Denmark in 2015 and confirmed as established in 2018. This finding extends the northern range boundary of T. immigrans by almost 460 km. Using climatic niche modelling, we compared the climatic niche of T. immigrans in Europe with that of T. caespitum based on confirmed observations from 2006 to 2019. T. immigrans and T. caespitum had a 13% niche overlap, with T. immigrans showing stronger occurrence in warmer and drier areas compared to T. caespitum. Mapping the environmental niches onto geographic space identified several, currently uninhabited, areas as climatically suitable for the establishment of T. immigrans. Tetramorium immigrans was sampled almost three times as often in areas with artificial surfaces compared to T. caespitum, suggesting that T. immigrans may not be native to all of Europe and is being accidentally introduced by humans. Overall, citizen scientists collected data on ants closer to cities and harbours than scientists did and had a stronger bias towards areas of human disturbance. This increased sampling effort in areas of likely introduction of exotic species naturally increases the likelihood of discovering species sooner, making citizen science an excellent tool for exotic species monitoring, as long as trained scientists are involved in the identification process.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere8850
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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