People

Chisa Oshiro, Research Unit Administrator

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I was born in Okinawa but went to the United States to study American Literature with a focus on environmental literature. I wrote about the relationship between humans and nature by comparing the thoughts of great authors, artists, and architects. I also wrote about culture, language, and identity. The mixture of these ideas gave me the desire to return to Okinawa with the goals of spreading public education, preserving nature, and improving self-reliant economic development in Okinawa. I am overjoyed to have the opportunity to pursue these goals at OIST by using my past administrative experience to help the everyday operations of Arilab’s research.

Julian Katzke, PhD Student



Insects are incredibly diverse and so are their ways of life. During my master’s in Bonn, I realized that these complexities span out into deep time I want to think of and answer questions on how insects reached this astounding level of diversity and what pathways they took in their evolutionary history. Ants are particularly interesting when we regard their emergence as social creatures and their rise to dominance and extreme diversity over a relatively short time span. Here in Arilab, I want to use modern techniques in data acquisition, visualization, and analysis.

Yazmín H. Zurita-Gutiérrez, PhD Student

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I am interested in understanding how networks of interactions work. What are the rules behind them, what features stabilize them, and what makes them resilient or vulnerable. Ideally studying cascading effects.

Gaurav Agavekar, PhD Student


My interest in biodiversity research initially arose through an obsession with the documentation and photography of butterflies in the Western Ghats of India, where I grew up. Before starting my PhD at OIST, I did a master’s in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at NCBS, Bangalore. For my PhD thesis, I aim to study the genomic architecture of convergent evolution in a group of fascinating ants called Strumigenys. To this end, I take comparative genomics and transcriptomics approaches in conjunction with fieldwork to study the genomes and gene expression patterns in the independent evolutions of the ultrafast trap-jaw mandibles in Strumigenys ants.

Please visit my website to know more about me!

Shubham Gautam, PhD Student

Growing up interacting with various kinds of animals and plants in a quaint Himalayan town of India, I’ve always been fascinated by the diversity of life around us. My curiosity about understanding the natural world, led me to pursue a master’s in wildlife biology and conservation at NCBS, Bengaluru. I studied thermal ecology and morphological plasticity in wing color characteristics of Pierid butterflies for my master’s thesis. After my master’s, I spent a year studying plasticity in reproductive traits of Himalayan oak trees in response to excessive anthropogenic thinning of these forests. These past projects shaped my current and long-term research interests, i.e., understanding the ecological and evolutionary causes and consequences of developmental plasticity in organisms. My approach to research is question oriented and I am most interested in answering fundamental questions in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Lazzat Aibekova, PhD Student

I’m Lazzat, from Kazakhstan. Before entering OIST, I studied at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. For my undergraduate thesis I studied the evolution and epidemiology of HIV in Former Soviet Union countries. Here at OIST, during my rotations, I developed an interest in the evolutionary and ecological processes that shaped biodiversity. For my PhD I want to focus on biodiversity, biogeography and altitudinal adaptation of montane ants in Kazakhstan.

Alexandre Casadei Ferreira, Postdoctoral Researcher

I am an Entomologist, and my research interests encompass systematics and taxonomy, biogeography, and morphological evolution of ants. For the last years, I worked with the ant genus Pheidole, focusing on its taxonomy and morphological evolution using a geometric morphometric framework to understand patterns of variation, integration, and modularity within and between its sub-castes. My current projects at Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit include comparative ant anatomy using 3D modeling, combined with geometric morphometrics and phylogenetic approaches to understand its morphological diversity and evolutionary history.

Miyuki Suenaga, Research Technician

I am a technician working on molecular biology experiments in the Economo Unit, including metabarcoding of OKEON samples, invasive species detection, genomic library preparations, and others. I was born and raised in Fukuoka. I finished my master’s degree in Agricultural Science at Kyushu University, studying positive effects of functional food on metabolic diseases. I have previously worked at Ecology and Evolution Unit for 4 years and am experienced with DNA/RNA isolation from diverse organisms (fish, honeybee, mite, ant, and spider) and several library preparation methods for NGS platforms.

Larisa Kiseleva, Staff Scientist

I learned methods of molecular biology during my PhD course and applied them later to study diverse biological processes: cell differentiation, cell electrogenicity, cell membrane fluidity regulation. Now I work on prediction bacteriophage genomes from metagenomic data. I hope to contribute to understanding of phage diversity at the genomic and community levels and their evolutionary relationships.

Adrian Richter, JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow

I am an entomologist focusing ants and other hymenopterans. The research areas I am most interested in are insect morphology and evolution, as well as systematics and taxonomy. The main goal of my research is to understand the phenotypic evolution of insects and how it shaped their past and present diversity.

I started my scientific work studying the morphology of female Strepsiptera in Jena, Germany. After this, I have mostly focused on the ant head in my master and PhD projects, trying to find out how head structures such as muscles and the mouthparts changed in the earliest stages of ant evolution. Especially important for this were some investigations on fossil ants, particularly stem group ants from the cretaceous period.

In my project as a postdoc here at OIST I want to expand my morphological research to the whole digestive system of ants. Using mostly µCT scan data, I want to study its macroevolution in relation to ant feeding preferences and other aspects of ecology and behavior.

Azumi Kudaka, Research Assistant

I was previously a research intern at Arilab and am now back as a research assistant. Before joining Arilab, I studied at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa. During my bachelor’s and master’s, I studied ant fauna found on some Ryukyu Islands and analyzed the relationship between types of environment and ant diversity. My main tasks in the lab are to care for specimens and work on my research. My current research project studies the taxonomy of the genus Rhopalomastix in the Ryukyu Islands using morphological and phylogenetic analyses. I also work with OKEON to conduct workshops at high schools in Okinawa.

Karen Kohama, Research Technician

I recently completed my undergraduate studies at The City College of New York and a research intern in the Economo Unit. As an undergraduate, I studied the spatial diversity patterns of butterflies in the Philippines. As an intern, I transitioned to learn more about insect morphology and geometric morphometric methods, primarily focusing on Philippine butterfly wing and body size. Now as a research technician in the Arilab, I hope to support the lab through specimen curation, micro-CT scanning, and morphological segmentations. 

Riou Mizuno, Postdoctoral Researcher

I am a natural history researcher interested in the evolution and diversification of life history traits of ants (social structure, morphological specialization, caste polymorphism, etc.). I am approaching this theme through fieldwork (observations and collections) and laboratory observations (observations and experiments with captive colonies). I describe the natural history of social and behavioral traits of ant species and discuss evolutionary history by comparing these traits.

From my undergraduate studies to Ph. D., I studied the life history of the non-army ant group of the subfamily Dorylinae at Kagawa University, Japan. I experienced fieldwork in tropical Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. During my master’s program, I spent one year at Chiang Mai University in Thailand as part of my Double Degree Program.

At Arilab, I will combine my natural history research approach with morphology using μCT to investigate the evolution of complexity in insect societies by comparing life history traits, behavior, and morphology. Specific projects will include 1) hunting tactics of the genus Strumigenys with their mandible morphology, and 2) the specialization of the life history traits and morphology of Dorylinae army ants.

Dimitris Petsopoulos, Research Computing Technician

I am an applied ecologist and my research focus till now has been on developing computational and molecular tools to monitor organisms and understand how they respond to change. Recently, I just finished my PhD at Newcastle University (UK) where I worked with large datasets from various high-throughput sequencing technologies with an aim of scaling up insect monitoring within the UK. In the Economo Lab, I am working as a research computational technician with a main task of helping our group members with their computing needs and managing the lab’s databases & websites.

Christine Sosiak, JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow

I am an entomologist and evolutionary biologist interested in patterns of extinction and diversification in insects in deep time. The research areas I am most interested in include patterns and mechanisms of extinction in the fossil record, new methods for paleoecological reconstruction of extinct communities, and mechanisms and drivers of morphological stasis in deep time. The main goals of my research center on understanding extrinsic and intrinsic factors linked to large-scale dynamics of extinction and persistence.

My previous research focused on understanding extinction dynamics in ants during the Cretaceous as a function of their estimated ecologies, through the synthesis of fossil, phylogenetic, and morphological data. At OIST, I plan to continue synthesizing such lines of evidence and expand my research to assess a variety of drivers of extinction and diversification in the ant fossil record, including interspecific competition, environmental change, and assessing lineage responses to such pressures, to ultimately understand what factors underlie selective extinction patterns in insects.

Graceanne Tarsa, Research Assistant

My background is actually in aquatic biology, both freshwater and marine environments. My family moves a lot which has provided me the opportunity to study invasive species in the Great Lakes, manage shellfish resources for tribal communities, and now, learn about ants in the Economo lab. While each position has had its own unique flair, each has involved organizing, managing, and visualizing large datasets. As a research technician I am working to update GABI to ensure that recent additions to the collective understanding of global ant biodiversity are accessible to fellow researchers and community members.

Leonardo Tozetto, PhD Student

I am an entomologist interested in the evolution and diversity of life. After completing my Msc degree in Entomology at the Universidade Federal do Paraná in Curitiba, I joined the Arilab driven by the curiosity towards ant’s morphological evolution. The research areas I am most interested in includes morphology, evolution, and biomechanics. Currently, I am investigating the trap-jaw morphology and metamorphosis in Strumigenys. When I am outside the office, I am hiking or snorkeling.

Jocelyn Wang, Research Intern

I am an entomologist and ecologist generally interested in insects, plants, and their interactions, particularly ant-plants and myrmecophiles. I finished my undergraduate studies in organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard, conducting field research and writing my thesis on the bottom-up effects of soil micronutrients on the African ant-acacia Vachellia drepanolobium and its obligate ant-inhabitants. For a year after college, I continued my research which included a 3-month field season in central Kenya and helped teach an entomology course at Harvard.

As an intern in the Arilab, I am hoping to learn more about insect morphology and evolution through studying local species. In particular, I plan to investigate the relationship between Pristomyrmex punctatus and Narathura japonica through natural history observations, behavioral experiments, and micro-CT scanning.

Hlib Burtsev, Research Intern

I’m Hlib from Kyiv, Ukraine. I just finished my second year of Undergraduate studies at Brown University, RI, USA, so I am only an aspiring entomologist for now. My interests span from quantum mechanics to taxonomy as long as there are ants involved! I am particularly drawn to their diversity and phylogenetics. During my short time at OIST, I hope to develop a project which will help me to narrow down my interests within the ant studies and acquire experience of working with CT-scanning, relevant programming skills, and find out more about the academia work in general.

Eli Sarnat, Taxonomist-at-Large

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My current research focuses on better understanding the diversity of Pacific island ant faunas and preventing the spread of invasive ant species across the globe. I study the evolution, systematics and biogeography of Pacific ants, especially those of the Fijian archipelago. I am also developing identification guides to invasive, introduced and commonly intercepted ant species to help researchers, quarantine personnel and conservationists prevent their spread. I work on projects remotely from my solar-powered cybertaxomony lab in the Klamath-Sikisiyou mountains of Northern California.

Websites:

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