Proceratium in China

We have a new paper out in Zookeys ( that revises the taxonomy of the very rare and cryptic ant genus Proceratium in China. We recognized 8 species from China and described 3 of them as new to science. The most spectacular species from Yunnan we named Proceratium shohei in honor of Dr. Shohei Suzuki (1979-2016), a marine scientist from OIST who lost his life in a tragic research diving accident. The study was led by our colleague Michael Staab, and included Paco and Cong from the lab, along with Zheng-Hui Xu from China.

This study continues our lab’s line of research integrating x-ray microtomography (micro-CT) scanning, computer-based 3D reconstructions, and several downstream 3D data products (such as 3D surfaces and videos) into ant systematics. We used virtual 3D surface models based on micro-CT scans for in-depth comparative analyses of specimen morphology in order to overcome the difficulties of examining the rare and valuable physical material. Since these ants are extremely hairy, thus often very dirty, we basically “shaved” them virtually.


New paper on global ant diversity patterns

We have a new paper out in Nature Communications on testing hypotheses for latitudinal gradients in ants. This is the first paper to really present and analyze the full scope of the GABI database of all ant species distributions. To complement the species range data, we did a very extensive phylogenetic and dating analysis, including implementing the fossilized birth-death process with 500 fossil taxa informing the dating. We analyzed the geographic and phylogenetic data together to test hypotheses for the latitudinal gradient, including variation in diversification rate and time. We generally found the latter to be most consistent with explaining the gradient.

We also did a complementary study focusing on Pheidole, which deals with emergence of the gradient on more recent timescales. A preprint of that one is available on bioarxiv.

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.

New paper on 3D ant systematics

We have a new paper out today in ZooKeys revising the doryline genus Zasphinctus in the Afrotropical region. Led by Paco Hita Garcia, we do a deep dive into using microCT and 3D data for ant taxonomy. In previous recent papers, we provided 3D models and virtual type specimens to support taxonomic work. Here we go further and exploit more fully the power of micro-CT to discover and examine characters useful for systematics and the 3D representation of virtual specimens.

The three species are named after three important figures in biodiversity conservation. We named one after former US President Barack Obama, for his role in protecting natural areas. The species was found within a few kilometers of Obama’s father’s village in Kenya. The second species was named after E.O. Wilson, discovered from Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, where he and his foundation have done a lot of work over recent years. The third species is named after Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Read the paper.

Interact with the 3D models on Sketchfab.

OIST media release.



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!