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!

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!