FY2012 Annual Report

Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit

Assistant Professor Evan P. Economo

FY2012 unit members in front of a photo of an ant


The Unit initiated research at OIST in June 2012, moving in to new facilities in Lab 2.  Our lab seeks to understand how ecological and evolutionary processes interact to generate and regulate biodiversity across spatiotemporal scales and levels of biological organization.  Living systems are diverse from gene sequences to organismal morphology to communities and ecosystems.  Our goal as biologists is not just to document and catalogue this diversity, but understand the complex interactions and dynamics that generate and sustain biological variation.  The majority of research in FY2012 concentrated on two areas; our project on the evolution of the hyperdiverse genus Pheidole, and our “Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics (GABI)” project which focuses on compiling analyzing global distributions of past and present ant biodiversity.  Other ongoing projects include biodiversity theory, 3D morphometrics, and complex systems research.

1. Staff

  • Dr. Evan P. Economo, Assistant Professor
  • Dr. Benoit Guenard, Researcher
  • Dr. Béatrice Lecroq, Researcher
  • Adam Lazarus, Technician
  • Sandrine Burriel-Hà, Technician
  • Kyoko Tadaoka, Research Assistant
  • Hitomi Shinzato, Research Administrator

2. Activities and Findings

Pheidole Pegasus

2.1 Evolution of hyperdiversity in ecological, phenotypic, and geographic networks: testing the taxon cycle and alternatives in Indo-Pacific Pheidole

This project is a collaboration between OIST and U. of Michigan, funded by the National Science Foundation (USA).  The first phase of the project is to generate a well-resolved phylogeny of the genus with representative taxa from around the globe, and more comprehensive sampling from our main area of interest; Indo-Malaya and Melanesia.  In FY2012, in collaboration with the Knowles lab at U. of Michigan, we developed a dataset of genetic from from of over 600 samples from 300 species, and curated and identified a corresponding voucher collection.  We are currently finalizing phylogenetic analyses and preparing the results for publication.

In a parallel effort, we have created several datasets that complement the phylogenetic dataset and will be used for comparative analysis.  In our lab at OIST, we imaged over 1000 specimens with standard views.  We developed a system of geometric morphometric landmarks and a suite of discrete and continuous character data, and recorded data for all species in our study.  In addition, we have compiled a comprehensive database of distributional data for species in the genus.  Our next task is to use these datasets to test integrated hypotheses for the joint evolutionary dynamics of morphology, ecological habit, and biogeographic distribution in the genus.  We also will continue to develop techniques for 3D morphometrics.

An ant in front of a green leaf with a world map on

2.2 Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics (GABI) Project

Our understanding of large-scale biodiversity patterns is strongly biased towards a few groups of vertebrates and plants, while at the opposite, studies on insects, by far the most diverse organisms, are scarce. To address this gap in our knowledge, the Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics project (GABI) aim to compile over 200 years of ant research into a single database providing distribution information for all ant species. This will allow assessing our current knowledge, and to predict present and future distribution of all species; and when combined, analyze ant diversity across large scales. Questions relative to the ecological and evolutionary patterns of ants will be addressed at the light of the distribution of other organism groups, gradients of environmental factors or of specific biological traits (e.g. size).  In FY2012 we focused intensively on our goal, and have collected over 400,000 ant occurrence records.  At current progress, the data aggregation phase should be complete in FY2013.

blue lake in front of green mountains

2.3 Biodiversity and Evolutionary Ecology of Pacific Ant Communities

Ants are among the most ubiquitous and ecologically dominant animal groups. Over millions of years, ant biodiversity has evolved and dispersed through the vast network of Pacific islands.  More recently, humans have unintentionally introduced many species from around the globe into the Pacific. We seek to understand the historical and contemporary processes that regulate ant biodiversity over time.  

In this fiscal year, our lab published several papers that represented the culmination of a great deal of work over the last few years, including one paper “Revisiting the ants of Melanesia and the taxon cycle” (Economo & Sarnat, 2012, Am. Nat.) that won the Presidential Award from the American Society of Naturalists.  Second our book The Ants of Fiji (Sarnat & Economo, 2012) was published by the University of California Press.  Third, we continue our work of aggregating and documenting ant biodiversity across the broader pacific, publishing a checklist of the ants of the Solomon Islands.  We also aggregated data for East Asia and Japanese islands and have a manuscript about to be submitted in a project led by research intern Patricia Wepfer.  In FY2013 we expect to complete a well-groomed dataset on island ant communities across the Pacific.  Ongoing work is focused on applications of population genomic methods to understand the assembly and dynamics of ecological communities using new high-throughput sequencing technologies.

purple lines on black background

2.4 Biodiversity Theory

We continue our work developing theoretical approaches to understanding biodiversity dynamics.  In FY2012 we continued work on network models of spatial biodiversity processes, and applications to diversity dynamics in general across social and biological systems. We entered new collaborations on this front, stay tuned for more developments!

3. Publications

3.1 Journals

  1. Economo, E. P. & Sarnat, E. M.  Revisiting the ants of Melanesia and the taxon cycle: historical and human-mediated invasions of a tropical archipelago. Am Nat 180, E1-16, doi:10.1086/665996 (2012).
  2. Guénard, B. & Dunn, R. R.  A checklist of the ants of China. Zootaxa, 1-77 (2012).
  3. Guénard, B., McCaffrey, K. A., Lucky, A. & Dunn, R. R.  Ants of North Carolina: an updated list (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Zootaxa, 1-36 (2012).
  4. Guenard, B. & McGlynn, T. P.  Intraspecific thievery in the ant Ectatomma ruidum is mediated by food availability. Biotropica 45, 497-502, doi:10.1111/btp.12031 (2013).
  5. Guenard, B., Weiser, M. D. & Dunn, R. R.  Global models of ant diversity suggest regions where new discoveries are most likely are under disproportionate deforestation threat. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109, 7368-7373, doi:10.1073/Pnas.1113867109 (2012).
  6. Rodriguez-Cabal, M. A., Stuble, K. L., Guenard, B., Dunn, R. R. & Sanders, N. J.  Disruption of ant-seed dispersal mutualisms by the invasive Asian needle ant (Pachycondyla chinensis). Biological Invasions 14, 557-565, doi:10.1007/S10530-011-0097-5 (2012).
  7. Sarnat, E. M., Blanchard, B., Guénard, B., Fasi, J. & Economo, E. P.  Checklist of the ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) of the Solomon Islands and a new survey of Makira Island. ZooKeys, 47 - 88, doi:10.3897 (2013).

3.2 Books and other one-time publications

1. Sarnat, E. M. & Economo, E. P.  The Ants of Fiji.  (University of California Press, 2012).

3.3 Oral and Poster Presentations

  1. Economo, E. P.  Revisiting the Ants of Melanesia and the Taxon Cycle, in Symposium in Honor of E.O. Wilson, Kyoto University, Kyoto Japan (2012).
  2. Economo, E. P. & Sarnat, E.  Revisiting the Ants of Melanesia and the Taxon Cycle, in International Congress of Entomology, Daegu, Korea (2012).
  3. Lecroq, B., Lejzerowicz, F., Sinniger, F., Nomaki, H., Toyofuku, T., Ohkawara, N., Oguri, K. & Kitazato, H.  Ultra-deep sequencing of ultra-deep sediment, in Deep Sea Biology Symposium, Wellington, New Zealand (2012).
  4. B., G., Perrichot, V. & Economo, E.  Global distribution and extinction dynamics in ant communities. , in Recent advances of entomology in the Kyushu-Okinawa region, University of the Ryukyus (2013).
  5. Lecroq, B., Economo, E. P. & Lazarus, A.  Morphometrics for the hyperdiverse ant genus: Pheidole, in Entomology Seminar of Ryukyu University, University of the Ryukyus, Nishihara, Japan (2013).
  6. Economo, E. P.  The Evolution of Hyperdiversity in the Ant Genus Pheidole, University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, Japan (2013).
  7. Lecroq, B. & Economo, E. P.  Exploring biodiversity through small organisms: perspectives from foraminifera and ants, OIST (2012).

4. Intellectual Property Rights and Other Specific Achievements

Nothing to report

5. Meetings and Events

Nothing to report