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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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.

New paper published by Cong on how habitat conversion affects ant biodiversity

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A new paper published by Cong Liu et al. in Ecological Monographs reports on how agricultural activity and the associated habitat conversion affects organisms by using ants as a surrogate for all invertebrates.  Specifically, the authors investigated the effects of conversion to rubber plantation on leaf-litter ant taxonomic, functional, and phylogenetic diversities in Xishuangbanna in southeast China.  They found a sharp decline in species richness and low beta diversity after the habitat conversion.

The original article can be found here and the article by the OIST media section on the paper can be found here

Samoa Collecting Trip

   

In April, 2015, Eli and Cong made a two-week collecting trip to Samoa. One purpose was to look for two endemic species Pheidole aana and Pheidole atua, which was last collected in 1967 before this trip. They ended up finding Pheidole aana, along with four other endemic species among the 33 ant species collected during this trip. They also recorded two new genera from Samoa, Discothyrea and Proceratium. Moreover, they collected native forest species at an altitude as high as 1400 meters.

Samoa Collecting Trip  Samoa Collecting Trip