Arilab Alumni

Benoit Guénard, Postdoctoral Researcher (2012-2014)


Through my work I try to characterize and understand what shapes diversity patterns at local, regional and global scales. I use ants as a model organism to approach questions related to regional and global diversity patterns, impact of invasive species and anthropogenic  disturbances on communities, evolution of communities and their distribution through geological times, and the evolution of foraging or nesting strategies in ants.


Béatrice Lecroq, Postdoctoral Researcher (2012-2014)


My field of interest is biodiversity, speciation mechanisms and the species concept. What makes an area rich in species? Why do some taxa display higher diversity than others? What traits characterize rare species and what is their ecological relevance?  My past research has focused on deep-sea environments.  I have investigated benthic taxa and in particular the richness and biogeography of foraminifera using environmental DNA from the ocean floor. Recently I have begun to study terrestrial systems, using ants as a model organism. I hope to take advantage of their high diversity, their numerous morphological features and their complex body surface chemistry to infer phylogeny, test evolutionary hypotheses and tackle the issue of genetic and phenotypic borders between species.

Patricia Wepfer, Visiting Student (Summer 2013)


I have recently graduated as a systematic botanist from the University of Zurich and am now here to widen my horizon by exploring new study fields and techniques. In this project I try to explain patterns of ant species richness and composition on islands in East Asia and the western Pacific. With environmental and geo-historical characterization of this region I wish to identify the factors responsible for current species distributions. Does geographic closeness play a major role or is it habitat similarity that is more important? Are ancient land bridges responsible for contemporary distributions? The study region covers a wide variation range in all these explanatory factors, making it ideal for the investigation of biogeographic questions.

Benjamin Blanchard, Visiting Student (Summer 2013)


I am interested in biodiversity, particularly the ways in which ecological factors affect ant community diversity and morphology. I recently completed my B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan, where I worked on the curation and taxonomy of Pacific island ants. My previous research includes phylogenetic work on the Pacific species of the Camponotus maculatus group, and a study on the impacts of ecological factors on ant community diversity and composition on Konza Prairie, a tallgrass ecosystem. As part of my summer internship at OIST, I will be heading to China with Benoit Guénard and Cong Liu to collect ants at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens in Yunnan. The collections will benefit the ongoing Pheidole project, as well as address potential impacts of anthropogenic disturbance on the ant community at Xishuangbanna.

Naomi Yuzuki, Research Assistant (2013-2014)


Since I was fascinated by the beautiful nature of Okinawa, as well as its gentle and peaceful people, I moved here from Tokyo. In the lab, my work involved expanding the main database of the GABI project by entering literature records for ant species distributions.

Sandrine Burriel, Computing Technician (2013)


I am a computer scientist who graduated with MScs from Supélec and the University of Paris-Sud. After working several years as a technical translator and writer, I joined the Arilab in 2013 to handle all computer related questions, from our 3D screen to this very website! In September 2013, I began my PhD at OIST. I am interested in theoretical/mathematical aspects of biology, such as what defines a species, or how did organisms transition from unicellularity to multicellularity.

Kyoko Tadaoka, Research Assistant (2013)


Kyoko’s role in the lab ranges from helping Benoit and Béatrice to establish database for their research, as well as to give translation help with Japanese literatures. She is also a graduate of MSc in Holistic Science from Schumacher College, University of Plymouth in UK. Her interest is in the Education for Sustainability, especially the possibility of Buddhist Debate as a Sustainable pedagogy. Plays Sanshin, the Okinawan traditional instrument.

Keita Ikegami, Rotation Student (Spring 2013)

Keita’s rotation focused on consolidating GIS datasets to analyze landscape patterns of species distributions in Fiji.

Juliette Martin, Intern (Summer 2014)

While here, Juliette worked on segmentation of ant CT scans.

Brett Morgan, Intern (Spring 2015)


To me, biological evolution is the most fascinating phenomenon that has ever occurred and I’m interested in learning about it on both genetic and macroecological scales. In the Arilab I am investigating phylogeographic patterns in the Malagasy Pheidole, a diverse ant genus that may have colonized Madagascar through a single dispersal event from mainland Africa. I’m using GIS software to model climatic, biotic, and edaphic factors across species distributions, and will be using that information along with our Pheidole phylogeny to infer the evolution of niche differentiation within the genus.

Yafei Mao, Rotation Student (Spring 2015)


I am a Ph.D student in OIST, now, I am taking my second rotation in Economo Lab. And I am interesting on integrating ecology insights and evolution thoughts into thinking about what happened in nature. For my rotation project, I am working on the mechanism and dynamic processes of Pheidole community assembly in New Guinea.

Hitomi Shinzato, Research Administrator


Shinzato-san is an expert in the administration side of scientific research. She handles many different jobs in the lab, from keeping track of budget to helping us with Japanese. Recently she also has been participating in field work and ant collecting, and came to the jungle with us to Iriomote. As a native Okinawan with extensive local knowledge, she is an indispensable member of the team!

John Deyrup, Research Technician


After finishing my Bachelors of Science in Biology at Dickinson College, I went to Rutgers University for my Masters in Biology. At Rutgers I studied molecular phylogenetics and cellular biology. I examined developmental pathways in Diabetes, and phylogenetic methodology used to recreate the Dictyoptera lineage. At the Okinawa Institute of Science Technology I currently work as a laboratory technician.

Matti Krueger, Rotation Student (Summer 2015)

I am PhD student with a background in Cognitive Science and an interest in mechanisms that underly adaptivity.
Within the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity unit I am working on the development of algorithms for the image-based recognition of ant species which could allow non-taxonomists to identify a broad range of ants and accelerate research on species prevalence and dispersal.

Maggie Mars, Rotation Student (Summer 2015)

Yuna Hattori, Rotation Student (Summer 2015)


I am a first year PhD student and am currently doing out of field laboratory rotation in the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity unit. My background is in physics and I am working on mathematical modeling for biodiversity of coral reefs around the Western Pacific ocean.

Yuka Suzuki, Rotation Student (Fall 2015)


I am currently doing my first lab rotation at the biodiversity and biocomplexity unit. I am interested in ‘networks’ of species, materials, and so on, and I would like to learn ways to analyze networks or similar data. Even though I have studied computation before, network analysis is something new for me. I am excited to learn new techniques in this unit.

Jason Ball, PhD Rotation Student (Summer 2016)


I am currently a first-year PhD student at OIST completing my third rotation in the Economo unit. My background is in physics – I received my B.S. from the University of Michigan and my M.S. from Rice University in Houston, Texas. Before coming to OIST I worked as a high school physics teacher for two years. Given that my research background is in low-temperature and semiconductor physics, working in the BBU is quite the change. I’m currently working on analyzing song and call data from the Meliphagidae (honeyeater) family and am excited to expand my skill set with the analytic techniques used in this unit.

Aina Urano, Intern (Summer 2016)


I recently graduated from University College London with a Geography (International) degree. My interests include environmental science and management, and understanding the way humans and ecosystems interact. I am working on the OKEON Chura-mori project, an environmental observation network set up to monitor Okinawa’s biodiversity and terrestrial environment. The project involves collaboration across Okinawa’s community, from schools to museums to universities, so I am able to use my Japanese and improve my understanding of local culture and how science and research can involve collaboration outside the lab. My goal is to learn as much as possible so that in the future I can work in a capacity where I facilitate understanding across cultures and systems, environmental and societal.

Osamu Horiguchi, Student (Summer 2016)


I am a GAP term student currently, and will become a first-year PhD student from this September.I’m pleased to belong to Economo unit and have a chance to train lab-work.During my bachelor course, I was working on functional difference between workers and soldiers of termites.I’m going to work on analyzing relationship between species morphology and their habitat.

Kotaro Fujiyoshi, Intern (Summer 2016)


Kotaro Fujiyoshi is a full-time third-year undergraduate student at the University of Oxford, studying Biological Sciences. For his thesis work he has looked into potential interactions between herbivore and oak seedlings in a drought setting in an oak ecosystem. He joined the Ari lab in the summer of 2016 under the supervision of Clive Darwell to look into fig wasp morphology, distinguishing wasp species and collecting samples for further DNA analysis. Clive’s work on fig wasps is ultimately set to lead to the elucidation of speciation mechanisms of the wasps, contributing to evolutionary theory. Kotaro very much enjoyed his stay, especially the field trip with Clive to the beautful Iriomote island, dubbed the “Galapagos of Eastern Asia”.

Tori McGruer, Intern (Fall 2016)

I am a currently finishing undergraduate degrees in Biology and Environmental Science at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. At OIST I had the opportunity to use ArcGIS, the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS), and NetLogo to assess the movement and extent of nearshore sediment plumes which threaten local reef ecosystems. My interests lie in understanding how environmental changes impact biological and ecosystem function and I am continuing to expand my knowledge of data management and modeling programs so I can use them in my future research.

Menglin Wang, PhD Rotation Student


I am Menglin, I just received my Masters degree from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, CAS on Botany. I spent three years studying reproductive biology of Bauhinia yunnanensis and Bauhinia glauca. I also focused on staminodes function in Bauhinia.
Now I am focusing on the OKEON project, looking at ant biodiversity across different habitats.

Sam Ross, Intern (Fall 2016)


I recently graduated from the University of Leeds, UK, with a Master’s degree in Ecology and Environmental Biology. My interests are in ecosystem functioning and stability, and specifically how biodiversity contributes to the structure of ecological systems. My past work has mainly been on the functional diversity of birds in tropical systems and how diversity is affected by habitat degradation. Here in Okinawa, I am working on the OKEON project, looking at variation in biodiversity across OKEON sites and determining possible drivers of any disparity. I am currently focusing on abiotic drivers such as climate and urbanisation, but may turn my attention to other factors or questions later in the project.

Gaurav Agavekar, Intern (Spring 2017)

I have broad interests in understanding and documenting the patterns and processes of ecology and evolution of biodiversity, especially insects. I recently completed an MSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation, offered in collaboration with Wildlife Conservation Society, at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India. For my master’s thesis I studied diversity and community ecology of ants in Andaman Islands, and here at OIST I am working to write it up as scientific papers. Before moving to ants for my master’s, I did a variety of research on Indian butterflies.

Chris Campbell, PhD Rotation Student


Hi I’m Chris and I’m a rotation student for Evan’s Lab. I have a B.Sc in Physics and Applied Physics from the National University of Ireland Galway with an interest in fundamental Quantum Mechanics, leaning towards Spin-Orbit coupled BECs. From time to time I see small projects that would be interesting to learn. Being in a biology lab that has an emphasis on field work I can see potential in an area where I can use my skills. Therefore I’m currently prototyping a small unmanned camera trap that could be used for field data collection of ants.
In my freetime I enjoy long walks… bubble baths… and sounds.

Nitish Narula, Research Computing Technician


I recently graduated from New Mexico State University with an MS in Biology. While there, I was involved in an avian phylogenomic project using insertion-deletion characters. My academic background is in evolutionary biology, genomics, bioinformatics, and applied statistics. In the Economo lab, I work as a computing technician assisting the lab in its computational needs.

Julia Janicki, Computing Technician


I received my M.S. in Entomology from UW-Madison, focusing on beetle taxonomy and biodiversity; specifically, I conducted a survey of the primitive weevils in Wisconsin. While taking on my project, I became interested in ways of visualizing data and took up skills in interactive mapping and front-end web development. As part of my M.S. project I created an interactive web mapping application for my survey results. With a team, I have recently built that visualizes the GABI database. My interests include biodiversity, conservation, evolutionary biology, taxonomy, cartography, data visualization, and web development.


Patricia Wepfer, PhD Student


I am generally interested in spatial patterns of biodiversity and evolution in the context of biophysical/-geographical processes. In my PhD project I aim to understand diversification and connectivity in hard corals on the example of the genus Galaxea (Oculinidae). For this I collect fresh samples and museum specimens from all their Indo-Pacific distribution range and analyze them with population genomic tools.
Other interests and previous projects include traditional botany, community ecology of ants and the variation in the symbiotic community in corals.

Clive Darwell, Postdoctoral Researcher


I am interested in how biodiversity is structured within ecosystems and what patterns and processes can be identified to describe and explain it, and more specifically, in how ecological interactions in conjunction with the evolutionary and biogeographical histories of species determine the composition, structure and function of biodiversity. I am also interested in how these relationships are maintained or modified according to both environmental factors (e.g., climate change) and additional biotic pressures (e.g., in the face of competition, predation, or parasitism). Before moving on to ants, I have studied the fig-wasp and yucca-moth obligate mutualism systems in previous research.

Dan Warren, Visiting Researcher

I have broad interests in evolution, ecology, conservation, and animal behavior. My primary research program focuses on the evolution of species’ environmental tolerances and spatial distributions, with frequent detours into conservation-oriented empirical studies. I also maintain active research programs in phylogenetic methods and theory, as well as the neuroecology of marine fishes. My work includes both basic and applied research, with a particular focus on developing quantitative methods. I am an author of several popular software packages for conducting evolutionary and ecological analyses, including Converge, AWTY, ENMTools, and RWTY. In my spare time I make odd little audio art things and compose music for documentaries.

Adam Khalife, Intern (Fall-Spring 2017)

I recently graduated from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon in France with a major interest in Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour. I have just started a PhD in the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France, that focuses on the link between the evolution of skeletomuscular morphology and behavioural repertoire in ants. One of my goals is to understand the mechanisms underlying the legendary strength of worker ants. I developed my freeware workflow to analyse microCT data, from segmentation to quick visualization. I am visiting the Economo Unit for six months to learn more about the technical aspect of microCT, study the anatomical differences between ant workers and queens, and get involved in a big project of the unit about morphological evolution in Madagascar ants using geometric morphometry (landmarking).

Sam Ross, Visiting Research Student (Summer 2018)

I recently started a PhD with Ian Donohue at Trinity College Dublin on the impacts of global change on ecological stability. In the Economo Unit, I’ll be working with data collected as part of the OKEON-churamori project to test whether land-use and/or environmental variables affect the temporal dynamics of different species. Overall, I’m aiming to establish whether and how community regulation differs across Okinawa, and what this means for the temporal stability of the island’s bird and insect communities.

Cong Liu, PhD Student


I spent three years in the tropical forest (Xishuangbanna, China) to study fig and fig wasp mutualism for my Master’s degree. My research at that time was to answer how and why the body size of fig wasps evolved and its implications for stability in a fig-pollinator mutualism. I also did a lot of works about the behavior and pollination biology of fig wasps. During the time in the tropical forest, I had developed a broad interest in ecology, such as entomological ecology, evolutionary ecology, conservation, biogeography, plant-animal interaction and biodiversity. So after I got my master’s degree from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, I decided to pursue my Ph.D degree in OIST. I enjoy the peaceful life here where people live in great harmony. OIST is a paradise for researchers where my ideas can incubate. Since joining the lab I have been working on ant cuticular hydrocarbons, ant community ecology in China, and the optical properties of ant cuticle.

Contact Info and Websites:

Alexandre Ferreira, Visiting Research Student (Fall-Spring 2019)


I am a PhD student at Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil, under supervision of Rodrigo Feitosa and Marcio Pie, focusing my research on the taxonomy of the genus Pheidole in the Atlantic Forest. Besides the taxonomy of the group, I am also interested in the geometric morphometrics tools to explore morphological evolution, integration and spatial variation. In Economo Unit, I have been working with microCT data to understand the integration between the mandible and head shape in Pheidole and trying to correlate these variations with food preference.

Lazzat Aibekova, PhD Rotation Student (Winter-Spring 2019)


I am a first year student and I am currently doing my second rotation in the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity unit. In this lab I am analyzing the diversification patterns of five Madagascar ant genera, to find whether the evolutionary radiation is random or staged.

Masashi Yoshimura, Staff Scientist


I am interested in morphological evolution and systematics of ants based on comparative studies using males. Male ants are unexplored resource for understanding ants’ evolution and diversity, because most part of our current morphological knowledge for ants is based on the workers, which are non-reproductive females. Detailed morphological examinations of male ants and male-female comparative studies following recent molecular phylogenetic studies will provide new remarkable characters that demonstrate their morphological evolution.

Contact Info and Websites:

Masako Ogasawara, Research Technician


New to the world of ants, I am now learning about their biology. In Arilab I help processing the field samples and curating the ant collection. So far, I have had the chance to work with ants from different places around the world including Fiji islands, China and Okinawa! I am originally from Yokohama in Japan, but have lived in Okinawa for thirteen years where I enjoy every day the beautiful landscapes and nature of the island.

Mayuko Suwabe, Technician

Until recently I have worked at the social educational facility as a coordinator of outdoor education for 8 years. I had taught some nature activities to school students and made cooperative relationships with the local communities. Before that, I studied the community ecology of ants in University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa. My research focused on the effects of forest disturbance on invasion of alien ants and distribution of native ants in the Yanbaru forest. At OIST, I am working as a research technician involved in OKEON (Okinawa Environment Observation Network) project and the fire ant management project of Okinawa.

Takuma Yoshida, Technician


I studied the systematics of the parasitoid wasp family Ichneumonidae as part of my graduation thesis at the laboratory of Systematic Entomology, Hokkaido University. In order to get an idea of their diversity on a global scale, I have been putting a lot of effort into collecting, making and managing specimens, which also led me to become interested in collection management. I have experience as a curation assistant at the Hokkaido University Museum and Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle of Paris and have been learning how to manage insect collections. At OIST I am involved in the OKEON (OKinwa Environment Observation Network) project. My task is to manage insect specimens collected for this project. I train para-taxonomists and guide them to collect and sort insect samples from twenty-four sampling sites set up around Okinawa.

Adrian Richter, Visiting Research Student


I am a PhD student at Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena, where I also did my Bachelor’s and Master’s with Rolf Beutel and Hans Pohl. Since my Bachelor thesis I have worked on insect anatomy and starting with my Master’s I started working on ants. For my PhD, I want to greatly expand upon the foundation I have formed with my Master’s thesis, investigating the morphological evolution of ants using a variety of modern and classical methods of anatomy. I am especially focusing on the skeletomuscular system which has been relatively neglected in ants so far. The first part of my project will be to investigate the ant head across the phylogeny. In the Economo Unit, I will start this project by analyzing the head morphology of the generalized, but phylogenetically far separated species Formica rufa and Brachyponera chinensis. My ultimate goal is to contribute to a better understanding of ant evolution on a phenotypic level.


April Lamb, Research Intern [Fall 2019]

I am a research intern here in the Arilab and will be finishing my MS degree in Ecology and Evolution at North Carolina State University in the spring. Broadly speaking, I am fascinated with understanding the diversity we see around us. How is it created? How is it maintained? How does it change following the introduction of a stressor? To approach questions like these, I focus most of my research efforts on the largest groups of vertebrates – fishes. Here at OIST, I am working to understand the evolution of the teleost brain. Using high-resolution Micro-CT scans, I am segmenting out regions of the brain that are associated with specific sensory functions (vision, smell, motor control, etc) for over 30+ families of reef-associated fishes, a group widely known for having high levels of morphological and ecological diversity. Characterizing the shape of teleost brains has never been attempted for such a large diversity of fishes and will allow us to test interesting hypotheses about investment, tradeoffs, and ecological patterns in brain diversity. This work involves an international team of collaborators from OIST, the United States, and Germany and will compliment an assembled meta-dataset of morphological and isotopic data for collected and museum-cataloged specimens.


Michael Izumiyama, Rotation Student [Fall 2019]

I graduated from San Francisco State University with an MS in marine biology. I am interested in the biodiversity of fishes. For my rotation project, I will be examining CT scans of fish brains to look for a correlation between brain morphology and ecology across various taxa to determine if certain ecological factors contribute to trends in the evolution of brain morphology.

Mohamed Boubakour, Rotation Student [Fall 2019]

During my rotation, I was using the OKEON database to build a model to predict the abundance (population number) of ant species in Okinawa.

Georg Fischer, Postdoctoral Researcher


I am interested in ant community ecology as well as biogeographic and evolutionary patterns, especially of diverse tropical ant assemblages. A big part of my work in the last years and during my current project is the taxonomy, biogeography and evolution of the extremely species rich and ecologically highly diverse genus Pheidole, and recently also of the genus Carebara, both of which are characterized by a pronounced worker differentiation into di- and polymorphic subcastes respectively. In both genera there are several cases of species which don’t follow the general “rules” and either developed an additional worker subcaste (often named supersoldiers or supermajors) or lost one or more of their worker castes. I’d like to find out more about their respective ecologies and possible underlying evolutionary patterns.

Masato Hirota, Rotation Student [Winter 2020]

I am a 1st year PhD student and currently doing out of field lab rotation in this unit. My background is in Immunology and I will use OKEON ant database to build a model to predict the environmental factors which drive ant community in Okinawa.

Kota Ishikawa, Rotation Student [Winter 2020]

I worked on the hematology of Xenopus in the previous university to get a wide range of skills and knowledge about molecular and physiological experiments. But, I’m more interested in animal ecology, especially behavioral ecology. In this lab, I’m working on the sound data collected as a part of the OKEON project and analyzing the cicadas calling period because they relatively have a wide frequency range and thus play a major role in the acoustic environment.

Kenneth Dudley, GIS & Remote Sensing Technician


I graduated from the University of Utah with undergraduate degrees in Geography, Japanese, and Environmental & Sustainability Studies. I then continued my studies in geography and obtained an MS in Geography at the University of Utah. My primary area of interest is remote sensing of vegetation using multispectral and hyperspectral datasets. I work with GIS and remote sensing datasets to study and model environmental phenomena. In my free time I create and update tools to improve processing of remote sensed images using Python and ENVI/IDL.

Nick Friedman, Postdoctoral Researcher


I am interested in the origins of biodiversity: how did we get so many species, and how did they get to be so different from one another? My research focuses primarily on trait evolution, examining the history of evolutionary change, how trait physiological has changed, and what selective context explains the cause of that change. I use the Australian honeyeaters and allies (Meliphagoidae) as a model clade to study the evolution of morphology and elaborate plumage coloration in birds. I want to understand how these traits are driven by natural and sexual selection in different ways across the various biomes of Australia and Papua New Guinea. In the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit at OIST, I also use these phylogenetic comparative approaches to explore patterns and mechanisms of diversification and disparification in ants.


Nao Takashina, JSPS Postdoctoral Researcher


I am a theoretical ecologist primary interested in ecosystem management and conservation biology where trade-offs between ecological and socioeconomic benefits are widely observed in practice. To address this dilemma, I try to develop frameworks for decision-making processes for better management and conservation actions. My ongoing projects include developing ecological sampling theory and methods for population estimation to provide required (not necessarily be perfect) ecosystem information at a minimal cost and time, as well as understanding effect of marine protected areas from a broad point of view (e.g., their optimal size and spatial structure, and impact on competition between fishers in terms of game theory).

Susan Kennedy, Postdoctoral Researcher


I’m interested in applying high-throughput methods to understand the biodiversity, network structure, and functional traits of arthropod communities. I’m currently working on a project characterizing arthropod biodiversity across multiple Pacific archipelagoes, using metabarcoding of mixed samples to obtain high data yields at low cost. We’re also using molecular gut content analysis to characterize trophic relationships among these arthropods. By comparing arthropod communities in several island systems and across temporal, spatial and disturbance gradients, we can understand how the structure and function of these communities change over time and in response to environmental perturbation. For my PhD (UC Berkeley, Prof. Rosemary Gillespie), I used similar methods to assess how trophic ecology changes over evolutionary time within the adaptive radiation of Hawaiian Tetragnatha (long-jawed orbweaver) spiders. While I find all arthropods fascinating, spiders are my first love, and one of my personal goals has always been to share my enthusiasm for these marvelous little animals – to convert arachnophobes into arachnophiles wherever I go. Spiders and insects are among the most phylogenetically, ecologically and behaviorally diverse organisms in the world, and they have a tremendous amount to tell us about life on Earth.

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