OIST Science Challenge 2017: Measuring Biodiversity

OIST Science Challenge 2017 was put together by the Graduate School over five days (3/6-3/10) to allow Japanese undergraduate students to explore their careers as scientists and researchers. The students were involved in hands-on activities set up by different labs in order to learn about the research conducted at OIST as well as learn experimental and research methods.

Arilab hosted a an activity based around measuring biodiversity. Our “measuring biodiversity” activity is the most popular one this year, with 12 students signing up. The goal of the activity is for students to apply concepts of biodiversity to a tangible challenge: designing a one-hour project to quantify the diversity of insects in a petri dish. After this activity, students should critique their success and use this experience to design future project ideas. The material used in this activity is provided by the OKEON Churamori Project.

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

Happy New Year! The First Rooster Call of 2017

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On a small farm near the botanical garden in Okinawa City, a rooster sang its first song of 2017 – the “year of the rooster”. His was the first song of the dawn chorus, a daily event that arouses every type of bird sound on the island of Okinawa – from the sweet melody of the Ryukyu Robin (Akahige) to the harsh screeching of the Brown-eared Bulbul (Hiyodori).


– The first rooster call of 2017 –

This biological symphony has the sun as its conductor, as the conditions just before dawn are especially favorable for singing: the air is cool, the wind is quiet, and the light is low enough to afford a modicum of safety. For male birds, the dawn chorus provides a time for each individual to broadcast “I am still here”, and to assess which of its neighbors can say the same. For female birds, this can be a convenient time to determine which is the superior songster, or to share in the chorus.


– The dawn chorus –

Arilab’s post-doc Nick uses the rooster and its chorus as a way to monitor Okinawa’s ecosystems. The number of different bird species that join the rooster in its song each morning is an indicator of the ecosystem’s health. A varied and noisy morning suggests a healthy environment, whereas a silent morning suggests that some species have gone missing. The rooster’s song was recorded using a network of automated recorders placed in forests and fields across Okinawa.

– Content written by the OIST media section.

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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