STARKVILLE, Mississippi — An illustrator and curator of Mississippi state ant science contributes to a map of the insect world, while using his talents to design covers for leading science journals.
Mississippi Museum of Entomology Ant Curator Joe MacGown is part of the team that created a groundbreaking map of global ant biodiversity, poised to change understanding of where and how ants live and work and where stronger conservation policies and programs may be needed to protect them.
The project is led by Benoit Guénard and Evan Economo of the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. Scientists used machine learning to build maps based on precise coordinate marking from published research on ants. From this data, they were able to predict the geographic distribution of each species using statistical modeling.
The maps and datasets are published in the latest issue of Science Advances, the multidisciplinary open access journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. MacGown not only made a significant contribution to the content of the map, but as an accomplished artist, he also created cover illustrations for the August 5 issue of the newspaper. He said his maps and years of research inspired excellent art.
“The global map image is an image from 1689, when the world was not yet fully known. The ant I drew is Solenopsis invicta, or imported red fire ant, which is famous for its travel and economic importance,” he said.
MacGown has worked at MSU’s Museum of Entomology since 1988, even after retiring in 2020. Two decades ago, the museum joined forces with US Department of Agriculture-funded fire ant research and worked to identify and collect other ant species that fire ants interact with. . He built a large collection of ants and other insects during this time.
“Initially there was no database with a collection of ant research, so I started a website for the museum, initially for my own use,” says MacGown. “Over the years we have added data from our expanded collection. Based on the number of specimens, our collection is the second largest university collection available to the public. Being one of the few ant sites 20 years ago, our work at MSU paved the way for today’s premier site.
For more information about the Mississippi Museum of Entomology, visit www.mississippietomologicalmuseum.org.msstate.edu. To access the Science Advances edition featuring MacGown’s coverage, visit www.science.org/toc/sciadv/8/31.
MSU is Mississippi‘top universities, available online at www.msstate.edu.