Economo Lab Personnel

Chisa Oshiro, Research Unit Administrator

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.

Fumika Azuma, Research Technician

Upon completing my undergraduate studies, I interned at Arilab to map the global distribution of all known ant species in order to identify species richness on a global scale. As a technician, I will continue with this project, while assisting lab members through micro-CT scanning and specimen curation. My interests lie in understanding the roles of historical and contemporary factors in controlling the spatial pattern of diversity, especially in tropical ecosystems. For my undergraduate thesis, I utilised GIS and spatial packages in R to map and model mangrove regrowth trajectories in abandoned aquaculture ponds in Singapore.

Yazmín H. Zurita-Gutiérrez, PhD Student

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

I started out as a naturalist, photographing and documenting butterfly diversity in Chiplun, my hometown in the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats of India. I soon developed broad interests in documenting biodiversity patterns and understanding the ecological and evolutionary forces that shape them. Before starting my PhD at OIST in fall 2018, I did a masters in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at NCBS, Bangalore. I studied diversity and community assembly of ants in the Andaman Islands for my masters thesis, which led me to continue research on ant biodiversity for my PhD. For my rotation in the Economo Unit, I am focusing on the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of ant diversification in Fiji Islands, and generally figuring out the details of what my PhD thesis is going to be about.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Minsoo Dong, Research Intern

The beauty of ants has led me to explore the forests of North and South America, East Africa, Russia, Japan, Indochina, Borneo, Sumatra, and Sulawesi. I obtained my Bachelor's degree from Kangwon National University in Korea, and during my time there, I published several books on Korean ants. Prior to joining OIST, I worked as a research assistant at the National Institute of Biological Resources in Korea. My research interests revolve around the evolution of ant morphology. Currently, I am interested in the surprising morphological similarities between Neotropical fungus-growing ants and some Oriental hypogeic scavengers, such as Proatta and Dacatria. I do believe that such striking similarities within groups, which cannot be explained by convergent evolution, may shed new light on the factors influencing morphology and evolution. Additionally, I am interested in studying the adaptation of Aphaenogaster ants across East Asia, as well as the convergent evolution tendencies of ants in desert environments. Other research areas that interest me include estimating paleo-ecological niche of fossil ants, developing male-based taxonomic keys for ants, utilizing 3D modeling techniques, and species delimitation.

Azumi Kudaka, Research Intern

Before joining the Arilab as a research intern, I was a Masters student at the University of the Ryukyus (Okinawa) where I surveyed ant species composition across the Ryukyu Islands and analyzed the link between the environment and ant diversity. During my internship, I will conduct research on the geographic variation in the genus Rhopalomastix in the Ryukyu islands.

Karen Kohama, Research Intern

I recently completed my undergraduate studies at The City College of New York. During my time there, I studied the spatial diversity patterns of butterflies in the Philippines. My research focused on analyzing whether the species-area relationship holds true for this dynamic region of the world. Additionally, I calculated the network modularity values between formerly connected islands and butterfly species to quantify any community structures within the island system. 
Here at OIST, I aim to further expand my project by incorporating geometric morphometric analyses. Specifically, I will be investigating butterfly wing size, shape, and pattern variation across the Philippine archipelago while also learning geometric morphometrics and µ-CT methods on ant stingers.

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.

Henry Cerbone, Research Intern

I recently received my undergraduate degree in robotics, philosophy, and biology from Harvard University. While at Harvard, I also received my master's in computer science. After my time at OIST, I will begin as a graduate student in the Oxford Flight Group under Professor Graham Taylor as a Rhodes Scholar. During my undergraduate career, I primarily worked under Professor Robert Wood in the Harvard Microrobotics Lab. As I spent more time looking to biology for inspiration for robotics, I found myself drawn in by fundamental questions of form and function in organisms. This led me to do fieldwork in Arizona under Deborah Gordon (working with harvester ants) and write an undergraduate thesis on the water-running of basilisk lizards. I am interested in utilizing modern techniques such as 3D imaging, motion capture, and robotic models to better understand how animals exist in the world. I have previously done research in robotics (EPFL, Harvard), biology (Harvard, Stanford), and philosophy (Harvard). I have ongoing research projects in evolutionary graph theory w/ Martin Nowak, adaptation in birds of prey w/ Scott Edwards, and philosophy of biology. 

Eli Sarnat, Taxonomist-at-Large

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.