New paper published: Patterns and processes in mountain ant metacommunities

Understanding the drivers of biodiversity patterns is always difficult due to the fact that multiple factors such as environmental gradient and spatial connectivity might contribute to the species distribution and community composition patterns simultaneously.

In a new paper just published in Ecography, we (Liu, Dudley, Xu and Economo) evaluate the effects of environmental gradients and spatial connectivity on ant taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity patterns along a 5000m elevational gradient within a complex mountainous landscape in Hengduan Mountains, a biodiversity hotspot in Southwest China.

We found that environmental gradients dominate variation in both alpha and beta diversity in this landscape, with alpha diversity strongly declining with elevation and beta diversity driven by elevational differences. We compared our system to predictions of a recent theoretical framework (Bertuzzo et al. 2016; PNAS) which synthesizes how aspects of landscape geomorphology may drive biodiversity patterns in idealized mountain landscapes. Our findings did not match the theory, we found alpha diversity is monotonically declining and within-band beta diversity is invariant with increasing elevation, but point toward ways to improve the theory. Taken together, our results show how elevation-driven environmental gradients, spatial factors, as well as landscape geomorphology together affect ant metacommunity structure in a complex mountainous landscape.

Original paper can be found here

HoloLens comes to the Economo Unit

How would you like to be in the same room as an ant the size of a horse? In reality that’s a ridiculous idea, but in augmented reality anything is possible. This week, OIST’s Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit tested a new augmented reality device: the Microsoft HoloLens. Pavel Puchenkov of OIST’s Scientific Computing & Data Analysis Section designed a demonstration using a 3D-scanned model of the newly discovered ant species, Pheidole drogon. With the HoloLens, researchers were able to explore this species’ exceptionally spiny shape.

The view from the HoloLens. Paco Hita Garcia and Sam Ross can’t
actually see the ant, but it all looks very dramatic

While the applications available for the HoloLens are currently limited, the opportunities quickly become apparent. The ability to display holographic renderings of specimens in 3D has the potential to turn any room into a stunning museum exhibit. It’s clear that this technology has the potential to create or enrich experiences that we can use to communicate life’s diversity and evolutionary history.

Ph.D. Student Yuka Suzuki interacting with objects in augmented reality.

Post written by Nicholas Friedman

New paper published: Potentials of micro CT for ant taxonomy

In the paper we explore the potential of x-ray micro computed tomography (μCT) for the field of ant taxonomy and use it intensively for the descriptions of two remarkable new species of the genus Terataner from Madagascar. In addition to the traditional way of presenting new species with stacked montage light photography, we also provide 3D models based on μCT data and make the whole 3D datasets available online through Dryad.

One important aspect of the study is to assess how μCT can improve collections-based research of ants and other insects. Our μCT-based 3D models can be virtually rotated, sectioned, measured, and dissected, thus allowing a wide range of analyses of the anatomy and morphology of the studied organisms. By generating and presenting virtual 3D models of ants (or other animals) we support the establishment of virtual natural history collections that permit rapid and free access to anatomically correct and permanent digital reconstructions or avatars of physical specimens. Another great advantage is of the technology is the ability to print physical models of the scanned specimens, which can be used for a variety of research, museum, educational, and outreach purposes.

OIST Science Challenge 2017: Measuring Biodiversity

OIST Science Challenge 2017 was put together by the Graduate School over five days (3/6-3/10) to allow Japanese undergraduate students to explore their careers as scientists and researchers. The students were involved in hands-on activities set up by different labs in order to learn about the research conducted at OIST as well as learn experimental and research methods.

Arilab hosted a an activity based around measuring biodiversity. Our “measuring biodiversity” activity is the most popular one this year, with 12 students signing up. The goal of the activity is for students to apply concepts of biodiversity to a tangible challenge: designing a one-hour project to quantify the diversity of insects in a petri dish. After this activity, students should critique their success and use this experience to design future project ideas. The material used in this activity is provided by the OKEON Churamori Project.

New paper on the GABI database

Image by Georg Fisher & Aina Urano

A new paper describing the GABI (Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics) database has recently been published in Myrmecological News. The GABI database is the first comprehensive global database of ant species distributions and is created from the compilation of 1.72 million records extracted from over 8811 publications and 25 existing databases. It is a major step towards the inclusion of invertebrate taxa in large-scale analyses of biodiversity patterns, and it opens up new possibilities for macroecology, macroevolution, and conservation research on ants.

See here for the original publication.