New ant species- in 3D!

GoTants

We have two new papers out in PLoS ONE today describing some new species and highlighting the potential of micro-CT for ant taxonomy.

The first paper, headed by Eli and co-authored by Georg, revises one crazy spinescent Pheidole group from New Guinea, and notes interesting findings on the musculature under the spines.

We named these species Pheidole drogon and Pheidole viserion after the dragons from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

The second paper, led by Georg, revises the Pheidole knowlesi group from Fiji including complete micro-CT galleries of all castes of six species from the group. This knowlesi group is not as morphologically spectacular as cervicornis, but is of great interest to us as it pertains to our work on the taxon cycle hypothesis.

We hope these show a glimpse of what cool things can be done with micro-CT for organismal biology, biodiversity studies, and taxonomy.
Print

OKEON Chura-mori Project Exhibition is coming to the Okinawan Prefectural Museum & Art Museum

This summer at the Okinawan Prefectural Museum, OKEON (Okinawa Environmental Observation Network) Chura-mori Project will be hosting a stall to showcase their activity. OKEON is a network which monitors the terrestrial environment of Okinawa, involving researchers at OIST, the local community, and collaborators at universities, museums and schools. The exhibition will allow people to gain an interactive understanding of the work that OKEON does. Visitors will be able to watch a video explaining what the project is, see a real-life example of a SLAM trap used to collect insects, and practice their fieldwork skills in a label writing workshop and insect sorting game.
Preparation for the exhibition has been underway for the past couple of months. Everyone involved has been working hard to ensure that the exhibition visitors not only have an educational experience and learn something new about how biology and conservation fieldwork is carried out, but also have a fun and interactive time.
On July 11th, the OKEON team went to the museum to set up the exhibition booth. We faced a number of challenges setting up the exhibition. One of these was that despite having seen the available space previously, having made the materials in reality there was concern that it would not all fit into the space. The equipment available to showcase the materials were also not exactly as imagined. This meant that improvisation and flexibility was necessary, both talents which the OKEON team have in abundance. Working with motivated people from a diversity of backgrounds made for a strong team, and by the time we left, everything looked good to go.
IMG_2520
IMG_2537
IMG_2550
The curator, Mr. Yamazaki, was helpful and provided guidance wherever he could. For example, when we found that the lighting was too dim to see some of the posters, he offered to provide additional lighting to ensure that everything would be visible on the day. However, it was still necessary to reprint some of the materials.
While sometimes, the tiny alterations and attention to detail seemed unnecessary, this exhibition is incredibly important to the OKEON project, as well as OIST. Unlike other media publications such as a documentary, or a newspaper article, this exhibition will be displayed for a month and a half, and therefore has a greater longevity as well as the potential to reach many more people in surrounding communities. For this reason it was imperative to aim for perfection, in the hopes that more people will take an interest in learning more about not just OKEON and the importance of environmental education, but also OIST and the research it produces, and its’ capability to collaborate successfully not only on a global scale but also on a local scale.
IMG_2586
With so much work having gone into the booth, the exhibition is bound to be a great success. Be sure to stop by and check it out!
Click here to access English page of museum and here for the Japanese page
< Exhibition of scientific experiments on biology at the Okinawan Prefectural Museum & Art Museum 16 July – 28 August > 

Tricks to find creatures: Yoshi’s 3rd column in Ryukyu Shinpo

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 10.00.33 AM.png

Tricks to find creatures
(Written by Masashi Yoshimura, translated by OIST)

It’s become more frequent for me to go deep into forests in Okinawa since I joined the natural environmental research called OKEON Project. Throughout Japan, there are approximately 300 ant species, of which one-third of them inhabit on the main island of Okinawa. One can imagine how bustling its forests are and how easy to encounter a variety of unnamed species without an effort once you are there. Unfortunately, that seems to be different in reality. Subtropical forests look rather barren with the floor devoid of fallen leaves. This doesn’t mean we don’t come across creatures at all. It would be perhaps more correct to say that they are not “in our sight” despite of their frequent presence.

It requires a little bit of training and experience to spot something you want to find in the forests. Looking for living creatures blended well with forests, you need to use your ears that can distinguish quiet sounds, nose that detects smells, as well as eyes that can identify the traces left by targeted creatures.  With a little bit more experience, the forests become a completely different place than before.

My peer on the project said to me, “There is difference between what Yoshimura-san and I see, even though we are walking together in the same place in the forest.”

Here is an interesting fact. Depending on what you wish to find, the weight of your senses shift from one to another. If you acquire the technique to recognize birds, wild animals, lizards, frogs, fish, ants, flowers, fern, mushrooms and others, the forests will become richer in color. It’s not just about animals. With a wider view, the forests become much more exciting and appealing than artificial theme parks. In the forests, there is always a surprise when you encounter those creatures by chance, and you’re thrilled.

The technique to really see things will make even your ordinary neighborhood a place with abundant creatures. As much as Yanbaru, northern part of the island, shrubs in your village is also part of the rich natural environment.

 

June 10, 2016, Page 12, Ryukyu Shimpo

The original column can be found here

Yoshi’s monthly columns at the Ryukyu Shinpo

male-ant(Image Source: Yoshimura and Fisher 2012)

Our staff scientist, Dr. Masashi Yoshimura, writes a monthly column for Ryukyu Shinpo on the topics of ants and the OKEON project.  In the first column, Yoshi introduced the subjects of ants on Okinawa as well as the OKEON project.  He also gave a brief history of how he first came about studying ants.  Below is the content of the second column translated from Japanese, and the original articles can be found here (column 1column 2).

 

The World of Male Ants No One Knows about

By Masashi Yoshimura, translated by OIST

Now is the best season for late night shopping. You can see numerous bugs and insects attracted to the light coming through the windows of supermarkets and convenience stores. Squinting at the mass, I can identify the ones I’ve been looking for; male ants. Among other insects, male ants are best-known for growing wings only at the time of emigrating from one nest site to another to disperse their offspring as far as they can. Compared to female ants, the appearance of male ants looks much more similar to that of a bee than an ant. This is the area of my expertise: bee-looking male ants.

Because of their distinguishingly “out-of-stereotype” appearances, much of their world still remain elusive as it is hard even to identify their types. It is one of the area overlooked for many years in ant studies. After the launch of my project, I have encountered a host of unresolved issues, as expected. The first ten years of the project were marked by much of the fumbling in the dark, struggling to find some guidance.

Despite the difficulties, I could still take this audacious step no one had ever taken before. Indeed, it helped me enter into the world of scientific research (I was teaching at middle school at the time). Despite I spoke little English then, I landed a job in the US. Instead of being a “jack of all trades”, it was more important to be “one and only.” Since I was allergic to English when I was a student, conducting research in another language presented many challenges to me. Steeped in research, however, it was a bit surprising that I never felt daunted by these challenges.

When I was in the US, through a word of mouth, I learned about OIST as an international research institution in Okinawa. I made up my mind to move back to Japan with the hope to be of some use. Instead, I’ve been given a lot of help from people in Okinawa, which underpins my daily research activities. Through the “OKEON Project,” we work to identify and understand change in the nature, so that the future will be more sustainable. Realizing the extent of the project, it requires all of our experiences mobilized in an effort to persistently pursue our goal.

Arilab on TV!

tv

別冊アサ(秘)ジャーナル, Bessatsu Asahi Journal, is a Japanese variety show produced by TBS. As of 2013 they have been focusing on the topic of schools and universities around Japan and the subject of their monthly, 90-minute program in February 2016 is OIST, including Arilab! The episode was broadcasted on February 28, 2016 in the Kanto region of Japan. On top of describing the OIST campus as “007”-like, the TV show introduced various labs and their research, one of which was Arilab. They interviewed Yoshi and Evan and gave a tour on ant specimens, the ecology of ants and 3D ants.

Click here to see the video (Arilab-related content starts around 28:00)