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)

New paper on evolution of ant spinescence in Pheidole

A new paper from the lab was published today in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society focusing on aberrant spinescent phenotypes in Pheidole (including the famous dragon ants). We look at spinescence from a number of angles including phylogenetic, ecological, geographic, and 3D morphology. This study sheds light on the complexity of the issue of spine phenotype evolution. There are a number of open questions and some big mysteries. For starters, why the heck has spinescence evolved so many times in the Indo-Pacific, but no spiny Pheidole in New World? Check out the paper here!

 

 

 

 

The dragon ant makes it into the Top10 New Species of 2017

Pheidole drogon major worker

Since 2008, the International Institute for Species Exploration in New York, USA publishes an annual Top 10 list of the new species discovered the past year. The annual list is released around May 23 to honor of the birthday of Carl Linnaeus, also known as the Father of Taxonomy.

Amidst a rat, a worm, a stingray, two plants and other arthropods, the dragon ant Pheidole drogon that was described last year by researchers in our lab made the cut to the 2017 Top 10.

Along with Pheidole viserion, Pheidole drogon – found in Papua New Guinea – owes its name to the dragon in the famed Game of Thrones book and TV series. The idea was inspired from the large spines on the back of the ant, which is revealed to be a location for muscle attachment to allow great strength in the head and mandibles.

The 2017 list of nominees also includes the bleeding ‘Bloodybone’ bush tomato, the spider Eriovixia gryffindori resembling the ‘Sorting Hat’ in the Harry Potter series, an amphibious centipede, a marine worm that look like a churro fried pastry, a South American plant which flower looks like a “Devil head”, a large spotted freshwater stingray, a millipede that continuously adds extra limbs throughout its lifetime, a vegetable-eating rat and finally a leaf-like katydid.

The institute’s international committee of taxonomists selects the Top 10 from among the approximately 18,000 new species named the previous year.

Pheidole drogon minor worker

Written by the OIST Media Section, edited by Julia Janicki.

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

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.