OIST Professor selected as 2021-2022 Fellow at Harvard Radcliffe Institute

While at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Professor Evan Economo plans to pursue a project on the global diversity and evolution of ants and butterflies.

Professor Evan Economo has been named a 2021–2022 fellow at Harvard Radcliffe Institute, joining an extraordinary group of artists, scientists, scholars, and practitioners who will learn from and inspire one another in a year of discovery and interdisciplinary exchange in Cambridge, U.S.

Prof. Economo, who leads the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), will pursue a year-long research project in a community dedicated to exploration and inquiry. He plans to pursue a project on the global diversity and evolution of ants and butterflies.

Professor Evan Economo, who leads the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit at OIST, has been selected as a 2021–2022 fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

At OIST, Prof. Economo’s unit has been working for years to reconstruct the global distribution of ants and determine the factors shaping those patterns. For his Radcliffe project, he will be collaborating with Professor Naomi Pierce, who is a world authority on butterflies and the Hessel Professor of Biology at Harvard University, to synergize his data on ants with her data on butterflies.

“Having a broad picture of where ant and butterfly species live across the world is vitally important for global conservation, as it helps guide stakeholders toward the most critical priorities for conservation effort,” said Prof. Economo. “Currently, most decisions are based on data from vertebrates, but invertebrates make up the majority of animal species and are highly functionally important for ecosystems around the world.”

Prof. Economo is also interested in exploring how the global diversity of ants may have influenced the global diversity of butterflies, and vice versa. “Ants interact with the caterpillars of some butterfly species, forming a range of interactions from strong beneficial partnerships to parasitic exploitation,” he explained. “We want to investigate how these interactions may have impacted the evolutionary diversification of these groups on a global stage.”

Prof. Economo will be based at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, which houses the largest ant collection in the world and is a hub for ant biodiversity research. He will officially join the Radcliffe program on September 1st, 2021.

“I’m most excited to get out of my comfort zone,” said Prof. Economo. “The program will offer a whole new environment for me to learn and give me a chance to think about really new and bold directions for our research.”

The selection process for the Radcliffe fellowship is competitive, with Prof. Economo becoming one out of 52 fellows, drawn from a pool of 1,383 applicants. His cohort includes representatives from nine countries.

“The 2021–2022 fellowship cohort is characterized by intellectual reach, excellence in scholarship, and creativity,” said Radcliffe Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin, who is also the Daniel P. S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School and a professor of history in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Many of them are also focused on the most urgent problems of the day.”

“In the wake of an unprecedented — and profoundly difficult — 14 months, the challenges facing our society are daunting. Some of these challenges are new, others are merely new to the spotlight—deep and longstanding issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and its far-reaching consequences. Our newest class of fellows will reckon with this moment and its meaning, and they will push the limits of knowledge and practice across the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities. We cannot wait to welcome them.”

The full list of fellows can be found online here.

About OIST

The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) is an international graduate university which conducts outstanding education and research in science and technology, with global recognition. A truly interdisciplinary research environment with world-class facilities available for all, there are no barriers between scientific fields and scientists are encouraged to cross over and collaborate in new branches of knowledge. For more information, visit www.oist.jp.

About the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University

Harvard Radcliffe Institute is a unique space within Harvard—a school dedicated to creating and sharing transformative ideas across all disciplines. Each year, the Institute hosts leading scholars, scientists, and artists from around the world in its renowned residential fellowship program. Radcliffe fosters innovative research collaborations and offers hundreds of public lectures, exhibitions, performances, conferences, and other events annually. The Institute is home to the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library, the nation’s foremost archive on the history of women, gender, and sexuality. For more information about the people and programs of the Radcliffe Institute, visit www.radcliffe.harvard.edu.

Header image credit: John Phelan

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