The distinctive ant genus Leptomyrmex Mayr, 1862 had been thought to be endemic to Australasia for over 150 years, but enigmatic Neotropical fossils have challenged this view for decades. The present study responds to a recent and surprising discovery of extant Leptomyrmex species in Brazil with a thorough evaluation of the Dominican Republic fossil material, which dates to the Miocene. In the first case study of direct fossil inclusion within Formicidae Latreille, 1809, we incorporated both living and the extinct Leptomyrmex species. Through simultaneous analysis of molecular and morphological characters in both Bayesian and parsimony frameworks, we recovered the fossil taxon as sister-group to extant Leptomyrmex in Brazil while considering the influence of taxonomic and character sampling on inferred hypotheses relating to tree topology, biogeography and morphological evolution. We also identified potential loss of signal in the binning of morphological characters and tested the impact of parameterisation on divergence date estimation. Our results highlight the importance of securing sufficient taxon sampling for extant lineages when incorporating fossils and underscore the utility of diverse character sources in accurate placement of fossil terminals. Specifically, we find that fossil placement in this group is influenced by the inclusion of male-based characters and the newly discovered Neotropical ‘Lazarus taxon’.
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Vol. 31 • No. 6