Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit (Evan P. Economo)
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 to document and catalogue this diversity and understand the complex interactions and dynamics that generate and sustain biological variation. Towards those ends, we integrate a variety of approaches including quantitative theory, phylogenetics, high-performance computing, ecoinformatics, morphometrics, field sampling, and taxonomy. Our research is strongly rooted in biodiversity collections, and the lab manages a research collection of approximately 50,000 ant specimens. Also see our Lab Website.
Post by Gaurav Agavekar, PhD student: One of the things I like about my PhD work is that I get to do a little bit of everything: fieldwork, molecular lab work, and bioinformatics. This helps keep monotony at bay and supplies a variety of interesting problems to solve. Although I like switching back and forth between these tasks, I probably enjoy fieldwork the most. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I haven’t had much of an opportunity to conduct fieldwork outside of Okinawa.
I am on sabbatical this year at Harvard University, where I was lucky enough be named the Mary I. Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. The fellowship program includes 50 scholars to reside here for a year and work on projects in an interdisciplinary environment. The fellowship program has a heavy weight toward Humanities and Social Sciences, which is a great change of pace after being at Natural Science-only OIST for the past years.
One of the most striking features of ant diversity is the sheer variety and ingenuity of mandibles. Mandibles are a primary way that ants interact with the world, and are used as diverse tools for many tasks and purposes. Ant mandibles are cutters and carriers, but also trap-jaws, snap-jaws, millipede shavers, seed millers, wood borers, and beyond. There are truly a huge number of mandible shapes and functions to explore from ecological, evolutionary, biomechanical, and developmental perspectives.