New Paper: Global patterns of alien species richness

We have a new paper out today Nature Ecology and Evolution, comparing hotspots of alien species richness around the globe (writeup here on BBC). We were happy to include our GABI/antmaps data as part of a broader effort to compare alien species richness patterns across taxonomic groups. Ants and reptiles turned out to be quite correlated for some reason, although it is not clear why.

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

HoloLens comes to the Economo Unit

How would you like to be in the same room as an ant the size of a horse? In reality that’s a ridiculous idea, but in augmented reality anything is possible. This week, OIST’s Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit tested a new augmented reality device: the Microsoft HoloLens. Pavel Puchenkov of OIST’s Scientific Computing & Data Analysis Section designed a demonstration using a 3D-scanned model of the newly discovered ant species, Pheidole drogon. With the HoloLens, researchers were able to explore this species’ exceptionally spiny shape.

The view from the HoloLens. Paco Hita Garcia and Sam Ross can’t
actually see the ant, but it all looks very dramatic

While the applications available for the HoloLens are currently limited, the opportunities quickly become apparent. The ability to display holographic renderings of specimens in 3D has the potential to turn any room into a stunning museum exhibit. It’s clear that this technology has the potential to create or enrich experiences that we can use to communicate life’s diversity and evolutionary history.

Ph.D. Student Yuka Suzuki interacting with objects in augmented reality.

Post written by Nicholas Friedman

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.