The Wonder of Ants and the OKEON Churamori Project – Open Campus 2016

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On Sunday, November 27th, guests from all parts of Okinawa gathered at OIST to attend the Open Campus Science Festival. This event was OIST’s biggest Open Campus to date, with over 5200 attendees, 250 volunteers, 20 food vendors and 35 booths featuring hands-on science activities.

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The arilab booth attracted many visitors. Per usual, the Wonder of Ants is an essential part of the exhibition: there were ant specimens displayed, microscopes set up that allowed visitors to look at macroscopic ants, 3D-printed ants, 3D ants and ant structure that can be visualized by wearing 3D glasses, and an educational video about ants.

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On top of that, the OKEON project had its own area, with various posters set up about the project, a SLAM trap and a camera trap set up as demonstrations, a video created by Nick that documents various sounds recorded from acoustic traps at OKEON sites, and finally the famous Okinawan ant specialist Takamine san was also present to educate people about ants.

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Prince Akishino Visits Arilab

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Image from QAB

On November 14, 2016, His Imperial Highness attended the Joint Meeting of the International Congress of Zoology and the Zoological Society of Japan and visited the OIST campus, including the Economo Lab. Evan gave an overview of our lab research, including ant phylogenies, GABI/antmaps.org, the OKEON Churamori project, studying ant morphology with micro-CT, invasive ants and ant projects in Madagascar. The Prince has a PhD in molecular phylogenetics (!), so he understands our research very well and asked terrific questions.

Several media outlets broadcasted the visit, including NHK, OTV and QAB.

Rare ant found in OKEON sample

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A rarely-collected ant species, Protanilla lini, has been identified from a SLAM trap sample that was collected from Hentona High School (site04) between September and October last year. Protanilla lini belongs to the subfamily Leptanillinae. All members of the family are small, subterranean and often blind ants that are very rarely collected. We know very little about their biology, but we believe they are predators of larger prey such as centipedes or earthworms. It is likely that they perform some form of “dracula ant feeding behavior”, where the adults hunt large prey, but instead of feeding on it themselves they take their larvae to the prey, the adults then drink the haemolymph (or “blood”) of the larvae without causing any physical damage.

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Distribution of Protanilla lini, image from antmaps.org

 

This species has been recorded only in Taiwan and Okinawa. It has been collected only once before in Okinawa, and a couple of times in Taiwan.

The information and the specimen images were provided by our staff scientist Paco Hita Garcia.

How can OIST’s OKEON project collaborate with Okinawan society so that both benefit in some way?

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While there are many different ways to answer this question, one important collaboration is with high schools in Okinawa. OKEON Chura-mori Project has been developing a new model of high school – university collaboration which benefits students, teachers and researchers alike.

For the past year, OKEON has worked with Futenma, Kyuyou, Kaiho and Hentona High Schools. Each school has collaborated with OKEON in slightly different ways, but students have primarily focused on ants found in their local area as the material of their school research activities. Planning and conducting scientific research is often beyond school curriculums, so in order for the high schools to take part, OKEON project leaders Yoshi and Masako created a training programme for high school teachers.

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The programme involves lectures, and a course for planning research, collecting, sorting, mounting and identifying ants.

By taking part, teachers can gain the skills and know-how to create their own research programmes using data from the OKEON project. For Kawabata-sensei, his study of ants during his university years led him to have a personal interest in revisiting the laboratory. Takara-sensei did not research biodiversity at university, but having done Time-Unit Sampling at his school for a year before taking part in the programme, his ability to identify species is already extremely high. Both teachers spoke about how they were looking forward to working with their students to come up with a research plan using their new skills based on current research. Their goals included wanting to encourage students to develop their interest in science and research, but also to create a knowledge network between teachers which exchanges information, and has access to but is not dependent on a university faculty.

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The high school teachers trained by OIST will have the skills and know-how to implement environmental monitoring activities and research, and specialist biodiversity data collection. These skills will in turn be passed down to the next generation of high school students.

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Once a full cycle has been completed (the student’s research is generally for a year), teachers and students can develop and improve their research methods, thereby improving the scientific capacity of the entire community. Because each high school will have unique ways of researching and contributing to OKEON, as well as different goals, there is scope for a self-sustaining network to evolve where teachers and students can share research methods and data.

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This high school teacher training programme is valuable to OIST and OKEON for two main reasons. The first is that there are enormous amounts of data being generated through OKEON, and the sampling system is currently focused on winged insects. Students will be able to focus on worker ants in their local area, generating data which can become the basis for further research at OIST.

The second reason is that this programme is a way to contribute to the sustainability of Okinawan society in the broadest sense possible. Through the training of high school teachers, OIST and OKEON can contribute to education in Okinawa. At Hentona High School, for example, there are specific classes pertaining to the environment, within which this research can become an important component.

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Students can take the specialist research skills they learn into their further study, perhaps even coming back to OIST to work with OKEON data. OIST can play an important role in allowing a strong research community in Okinawa to flourish, which will have the capacity not only to understand but to appreciate and protect the biodiversity of the island.

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Insect Sampling with the OKEON Chura-mori Project・OKEON美ら森プロジェクト: 昆虫モニタリングの紹介

Video Producer, Director and Editor: Linda Iha

Script and Starring: Dr. Masashi Yoshimura

Video Production Assistant and Translation: Aina Urano

Video Production Assistant: Masako Ogasawara

Screenshot video

(Click here or on the picture to watch the video)

OKEON Chura-mori Project: what is it? Simply put, it is an environmental monitoring project in Okinawa, Japan, funded by OIST, and conducted through the co-operation of Okinawan local society. From researching the biodiversity in Okinawa to developing social networks and improving environmental education, the goals of the project include multiple aspects. This video will introduce the insect monitoring aspect of the field sampling system.

The primary scientific goal of OKEON is to measure and monitor the terrestrial environments of Okinawa and understand how natural and anthropogenic factors affect the environment over time. One component of this is to use samples of small insects, collected from SLAM traps. On each of the 24 sites across Okinawa, there are also instruments which log weather data, camera traps and acoustic recorders.

There are many activities besides this which are fundamental to OKEON. There is collaboration with museums, high schools and universities across Okinawa. For example, students at Hentona High School collect materials from OKEON sites which can be used for their education and for research at OIST. These students are taught to do so by high school teachers who have attended a training programme at OIST related to ant research. Projects like this which create benefit for everyone involved and have a positive impact on society are very important to OKEON.

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Please see below for the Japanese version of this blogpost.

このブログの日本語バージョンはこちらです。

製作者、監督、編集者:伊波リンダ

脚本、出演:吉村正志

制作アシスタント、翻訳:浦野藍業

制作アシスタント:小笠原昌子

(動画を見るのにこちらをクリックしてください)

OKEON美ら森プロジェクトとはなんでしょうか?OKEON美ら森プロジェクトとは、沖縄科学技術大学院大学の生物多様性・複雑性研究ユニットが牽引する、社会協働型の沖縄環境モニタリングプロジェクトです。その目的は、沖縄の陸域の環境および生物多様性の理解から、実際の環境観測網構築、そして協働ネットワークまでと、多岐にわたります。この動画は本プロジェクトの、昆虫調査部分の概要を紹介します。

OKEON美ら森プロジェクトが研究面において目指すところ。それは、沖縄全域を網羅する陸域自然環境の観測網を立ち上げること。そして、自然の変化や人為的な要因が生物多様性に現在、そして未来にわたり与える影響を理解することです。プロジェクトではまずはじめに、沖縄本島全域24ヶ所の調査区に72基の飛翔性昆虫捕獲器(SLAMトラップ)を設置。そこから集まる小さな昆虫のサンプルに注目して、環境の研究を行っています。その他にも、それら調査区には気象観測装置やカメラトラップ、音声トラップなども設置し、環境データを収集します。

上記研究面の他に、地域社会との連携が、OKEON美ら森プロジェクトの最も大切な部分のひとつです。現在は、沖縄本島にある博物館や高校、大学などと協働関係を構築しています。例えば、高校との協働では、生徒たちが採集した標本を、高校での環境研究実践と、私たちの生物多様性研究で共有します。OKEON美ら森プロジェクトでは、アリ類を使った環境研究の研修を提供。そこへ参加した先生方が、生徒たちの研究指導を行います。 そこに関わるすべての人たちに利益をもたらし、地域社会の未来に貢献すること。OKEON美ら森プロジェクトが、常に大切にしている部分です。

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