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

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.

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.

Listening to the sounds of nature: switching on OIST’s acoustic monitoring network

February 14th is Valentine’s Day, and for birds living in Okinawa it’s the perfect time to start thinking about building a nest. In warm years like this one, the Tree Sparrow (スズメ) begins its breeding season around this time, followed by the Pacific Swallow (リュウキュウツバメ), the Japanese White-eye (メジロ), and the Japanese Tit (シジュウカラ). If you look closely at the eaves of houses around the island, you may notice the swallows beginning their nesting behavior.

Japanese Tit singing near Takeyanbaru; Photo Credit: Sam Ross

Researchers from arilab are monitoring the onset of the breeding season not only for birds, but also for frogs, crickets, and other organisms that communicate with sound. This is accomplished using a new acoustic monitoring network. While testing of this network has been ongoing for the last year, its installation and activation were completed last week, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Acoustic Recorder; Photo Credit: Nick Friedman

OIST’s acoustic monitoring network produces more audio than scientists can analyze by ear: assuming you listened to the recordings every minute of every day, you would be twenty four years older by the time you finished a single year’s data. To fix this problem, OIST scientists are training computer models to recognize patterns of activity and to detect individual species of birds, frogs, and insects.

Shinji Iriyama, Ayumi Inoguchi, Sam Ross; Photo Credit: Nick Friedman

Written by Nicholas Friedman