Next-generation morphological character discovery and evaluation: an X-ray micro-CT enhanced revision of the ant genus Zasphinctus Wheeler (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, Dorylinae) in the Afrotropics.
New technologies for imaging and analysis of morphological characters offer opportunities to enhance revisionary taxonomy and better integrate it with the rest of biology. In this study, we revise the Afrotropical fauna of the ant genus Zasphinctus Wheeler, and use high-resolution X-ray microtomography (micro-CT) to analyse a number of morphological characters of taxonomic and biological interest. We recognise and describe three new species: Z. obamai sp. n., Z. sarowiwai sp. n., and Z. wilsoni sp. n. The species delimitations are based on the morphological examination of all physical specimens in combination with 3D scans and volume reconstructions. Based on this approach, we present a new taxonomic discrimination system for the regional fauna that consists of a combination of easily observable morphological characters visible at magnifications of around 80–100 ×, less observable characters that require higher magnifications, as well as characters made visible through virtual dissections that would otherwise require destructive treatment. Zasphinctus are rarely collected ants and the material available to us is comparatively scarce. Consequently, we explore the use of micro-CT as a non-invasive tool for the virtual examination, manipulation, and dissection of such rare material. Furthermore, we delineate the treated species by providing a diagnostic character matrix illustrated by numerous images and supplement that with additional evidence in the form of stacked montage images, 3D PDFs and 3D rotation videos of scans of major body parts and full body (in total we provide 16 stacked montage photographs, 116 images of 3D reconstructions, 15 3D rotation videos, and 13 3D PDFs). In addition to the comparative morphology analyses used for species delimitations, we also apply micro-CT data to examine certain traits, such as mouthparts, cuticle thickness, and thoracic and abdominal muscles in order to assess their taxonomic usefulness or gain insights into the natural history of the genus. The complete datasets comprising the raw micro-CT data, 3D PDFs, 3D rotation videos, still images of 3D models, and coloured montage photos have been made available online as cybertypes (Dryad, http://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.4s3v1).