OIST minisymposium on using advanced imaging techniques to study evolution of ant phenotypes

Last week our lab hosted an OIST Mini Symposium titled “Advances in imaging, quantifying, and understanding the evolution of ant phenotypes” organized by Evan Economo and Francisco Hita Garcia. The aim of the symposium was to gather a small but selected group of leading researchers interested in the evolution of ant phenotypes with a strong focus on the use of x-ray microtomography (micro-CT). Our list of speakers covered experts in the fields of molecular and morphological systematics, anatomy, functional morphology, comparative morphology, adaptive trait evolution, reproductive biology, linear and geometric morphometrics, and paleontology. All invitees gave outstanding talks and presented published or ongoing research in great detail and with beautiful 2D or 3D illustrations and/or videos.

Some talks provided conceptual and technical backgrounds and perspectives of how to use micro-CT for ant morphology, how to better integrate next-generation phenomics into systematics, palaeontology, and evolutionary biology, and how to use micro-CT data and downstream 3D applications for education and public outreach.

A strong focus of the symposium was the use of micro-CT for ant functional morphology, biomechanics, and the evolution of complex phenotypes. Some guests also showed recent advances in histology-based anatomy and reproductive biology, and shared ideas of how to combine traditional histology with modern 3D imaging technologies, such as micro-CT.

We also had a session focusing on the use of 2D linear and 3D geometric morphometrics and their application for ant phylogenetics, taxonomy, trait evolution, and more generally how to use large 3D phenotypical datasets to answer questions in evolutionary biology.

One afternoon was completely devoted to practical demonstrations of how to use 3D data. Our lab shared how we scan data post-processing, 3D virtual reconstructions, 3D animations, virtual/augmented reality, 3D printing. It was useful for sharing knowledge of methodology, and stimulating ideas for future directions and applications.

The three-day symposium provided ample opportunities for socializing and chatting about on-going and potential collaborations, discussions about methods and research results, as well as brainstorming about future directions for the field. At the same time our invitees got the chance to enjoy Japanese and Okinawan culture and cuisine and show off their Karaoke skills.

Invited speakers:
Phil Barden (New Jersey Institute of Technology)
Johan Billen (KU Leuven)
Benjamin Blanchard (U. Chicago and Field Museum)
Ayako Gotoh (Konan U.)
Yoshiaki Hashimoto (U. Hyogo, Museum of Nature and Human Activities, Hyogo)
Fuminori Ito (Kagawa U.)
Roberto Keller (Museu Nacional de História Natural e da Ciência)
Andrea Lucky (U. Florida)
Christian Peeters (U. Pierre et Marie Curie)
Shauna Price (Field Museum)
Andrew Suarez (U. Illinois)

Internal speakers:
Evan P. Economo
Georg Fischer
Nick Friedman
Francisco Hita Garcia
Adam Khalife (U. Pierre et Marie Curie and OIST)

ESJ 2018 in Sapporo

Several Arilab members attended the 65th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of Japan in Sapporo, Hokkeido, from March 14th to march 18th. It was a great opportunity for students, postdocs, and staff scientists to present Arilab research to a broader Japanese audience. At the same time, it was a good occasion for networking, chatting about potential future collaborations, and learn more about the research done in other labs throughout Japan.

Spearheaded by Nick Friedman and supported by Nao Takashina and Francisco Hita Garcia our lab organized a successful English-speaking symposium with the title “Biodiversity: linking biogeographic pattern and process”.

Masashi Yoshimura also gave an interesting about the OKEON Churamori Project and Yuka Suzuki successfully presented her poster showing her PhD project.

We also enjoyed the local Hokkeido cuisine, especially a visit to the Sapporo Bier Garten!

OIST Science Challenge 2018: Measuring Biodiversity

Every year OIST hosts the Science Challenge, which is organized by the Graduate School as an opportunity for Japanese undergraduate students to explore scientific career options. Over the course of a few days the students participate in a number of activities that focus on the diversity of scientific paths and introduce ways to develop the international communication skills necessary for success.

The Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit organized a hands-on activity for the 2018 science challenge. Twelve students signed up, making the “Measuring Biodiversity” activity the most popular at OIST for the second year in a row. The goal of the activity was to quantify the diversity of insects in a vial given a short period of time and no taxonomic expertise. This year’s students were really enthusiastic about using their observations to quantify biodiversity, and had some great ideas about how to do this at scale in the future.

Nick Friedman, Takuma Yoshida, Ayumi Inoguchi, Adam Khalife, and Georg Fischer helped out with the activity.

Lab retreat to Iheya


Our lab decided to take a trip to Iheya island the second week of December 2017, in order to explore different parts of Okinawa, but also to celebrate the end of Cong’s PhD defense and Yuka’s proposal defense.

The island is full of goats and sculptures made from marine debris. We also visited a cave, a beach, hiked to the top of a small mountain, and had some good food and drinks.


Nick (our post-doc who does a lot of research on acoustics and birds) also did some bird watching on the island, and below is a list of birds he saw on Iheya:

Eurasian Teal
Suzume
Hiyodori
Chinese Turtle Dove
Japanese Bush Warbler
Pale Thrush
Blue Rock Thrush
Japanese White-eye
Grey faced Buzzard
Japanese Sparrowhawk
Japanese Wood Pigeon
Little Grebe
Great grey egret
Osprey
Little egret
Pacific Swallow
Intermediate Egret
Zitting Cisticola
Daurian Redstart
Tufted Duck

Apart from bird watching, Takuma (our technician leading the field team who is a great taxonomist) also collected insects during our hike.

Until next time, Iheya!

(Most images taken by Cong Liu)

Listening to ecosystems: New study published using acoustic monitoring to study Okinawa’s “Soundscape”

At every OKEON site there is a small green box attached to a tree. These boxes are acoustic monitors, and they are recording natural sounds almost constantly. As part of the OKEON project, we use these natural sound recordings, or “soundscapes”, as a way of monitoring biodiversity.

Sam Ross sets up an acoustic monitoring device at the OIST field site.

We collect more than 1 terabyte of audio data every week. If you wanted to listen to all of the recordings we’ve made so far, it would take you about 8 years… if you listened all day and never went to sleep. To sort through all this audio data, we use two approaches. First, we break the sounds up into sounds at different frequencies (i.e., pitch). This lets us get a big picture view of when and where animals are active on Okinawa. Second, we use machine learning to train our computers to detect species in which we are interested. This helps us understand more about which particular species are in each area of the island, and how their behavior varies across the year.

In many parts of Okinawa, humans and nature live close together. Managing this interaction is important for preserving wild populations of plants and animals.

Ultimately, our project aims to understand the ways that human activity affects Okinawa’s wildlife, and how we can better protect these species in the future. For more information (including videos), please see the OIST press release. A link to the study can be found here.