Soundscape of Okinawa during Obon

On top of SLAM traps that collect arthropod samples and weather stations that record physical parameter data, acoustic traps that gather sound data are also set up at various OKEON field sites. The soundscape of the sites differ based on their habitats and their proximity to urban areas, as illustrated by the sounds collected during the period of Obon in Okinawa.

Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. During Obon, Bon dance (bon odori) is performed to welcome the spirits of the dead. The bon dance performed in Okinawa is known as eisa. Across different OKEON sites we can hear different eisa dances with different species either in the foreground or the background. For example, in Nago the eisa dance is in the background, with sounds of many cricket species (Hexacentrus unicolor, Cardiodactylus guttulus, Ornebius kanetaki, Ornebius longipennis) in the foreground while in Nakagusuku the eisa song is in the foreground. By contrast, given its well-preserved continuous forests far from civilization, the soundscape of Yanbaru consists only of natural sounds.

Below are the soundscapes of four different OKEON sites during Obon as well as part of their spectrograms:

nago

Soundscape of Nago on the night of Obon, recorded from Nago Castle Park

Link to sound here

nakagusuku

Soundscape of Nakagusuku on the night of Obon, recorded at Nakagusuku Park

Link to sound here

sueyoshi

Soundscape of Naha on the night of Obon, recorded from Sueyoshi Park.

Link to sound here

yanbaru

Yanbaru Forest on the night of Obon, recorded at the Yanbaru Discovery Forest Park.

Link to sound here

Sound data contributed by our Post-Doctoral researcher Nicholas Friedman.

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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University collaboration: OIST and the University of the Ryukyus

For any given project, strong collaboration is often the key to success. An important collaboration partner for the OKEON Chura-mori project is the University of the Ryukyus (Ryudai).

The Economo Unit at OIST hosts bi-annual joint lab meetings with their counterpart at Ryudai. These meetings have been great for establishing joint interests and combining specialist skills to conduct research. Currently, the two labs are planning a joint research grant application. Professor Tsuji, Professor Tatsuta and their lab have been instrumental in the process of setting up and progressing OKEON, providing advice and connections to their well-established network across Okinawa and Japan. The field centre at Ryudai has also provided permission to set up a monitoring site on their land.

What has been a challenge, however, has been involving students from Ryudai in the collaboration. Ryudai students appear to not only be intimidated by conducting research solely in English, but also the image of OIST as a global research university with unattainably high standards. Inviting students to the lab meetings was not enough to break down these barriers, real and perceived.

To improve collaboration and ensure that benefits are reciprocal, OKEON and Professor Tatsuta, a lecturer in the Agriculture Department at Ryudai planned two field class sessions in July 2016 in which third-year students would be introduced to the OKEON project and learn basic sampling and species identification skills.

The first class was introduced by Dr. Yoshimura, who explained the project from a scientific perspective.
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Then, under the supervision of Mr. Yoshida, our insect specialist, Mr. Kinjo and Mr. Iriyama, two members of the sorting team gave a lesson in sorting insects. OKEON’s sorting team is made up of six members, who are hired locally and had no prior experience or specialism of working with insects or research.

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The following week, students were taken into the field itself and took part in the sample collection process, before sketching a sample they had sorted the previous week.

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Two major achievements were made through these classes. Firstly, by tailoring the class to university students, and conducting it in Japanese, students were engaged throughout and reacted positively to the idea of using data from OKEON for their graduate theses the following year. Visiting the trap in reality, and experiencing data collection and fieldwork made the research more accessible, and perhaps more interesting.

The second positive achievement was how Mr. Kinjo and Mr. Iriyama conducted the sorting class. Having the specialist knowledge and confidence in their ability to teach university students is a testament to their hard work and demonstrates their progression and development. The sorter training programme aims to not only teach specialist environmental knowledge, but to develop responsibility, communication skills, and other skills which will be useful in any career path. Instructing university students shows their ability to contribute to society academically as well as strengthening the bridge between OIST, Ryudai and Okinawa’s local community.

In terms of OKEON and OIST, one benefit is having access to more potential students to conduct research using the large volumes of data generated by OKEON. Another is the possibility to explore different ways of collaborating across academic institutions and within society via research. This type of collaboration is currently a topic of particular interest, and in fact, JST (Japan Science and Technology Agency) took an interest in the programme and came to film the first class for a documentary on Citizen Science.

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While there is already a strong partnership between Ryudai and OIST, it can still be developed further. These classes were an important step towards expanding the collaboration to include students, and the sorting team. More links does not necessarily mean that there is greater collaboration, but in this case, a diversity of approaches has been beneficial and may result in further joint efforts between OIST and Ryudai. To see what else is going on at Ryudai in the Tsuji Lab, please click here