Economo Lab Personnel

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.

Chisa Oshiro, Research 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.

Kenneth Dudley, GIS & Remote Sensing Technician

I graduated from the University of Utah with undergraduate degrees in Geography, Japanese, and Environmental Sustainability Studies. I then continued my studies in geography and obtained an MS in Geography at the University of Utah. My primary area of interest is remote sensing of vegetation using multispectral and hyperspectral datasets. I work with GIS and remote sensing datasets to study and model environmental phenomena. In my free time I create and update tools to improve processing of remote sensed images using Python and ENVI/IDL.

Francisco Hita Garcia, Staff Scientist

I am a systematicist interested in the biodiversity and evolution of ants on different spatial and organismal scales. My aim is to explore and document nature in order to increase our understanding of the biological patterns and processes that have shaped our planet’s biodiversity. My research broadly encompasses taxonomy, phylogenetics, and biogeography of ants. The backbone of my research is the revisionary taxonomy of a variety of ant genera based on an integrative approach combining traditional comparative morphology with modern techniques, such as phylogenomics and 3D modelling based on x-ray micro computed tomography. One of my current projects focuses on the evolution and biogeography of the African/Malagasy genus Terataner using next generation sequencing. The other large project I work on is the global phylogenomic study of the hyperdiverse genus Tetramorium. I want to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the genus to determine which underlying macroevolutionary and macroecological processes have led to its global success.

Yuka Suzuki, PhD Student

I am interested in theoretical and computational study in biology. I used computer simulation to study protein conformation change while an undergraduate. I have been specifically excited about network concept in biology, and generally interested in ecology too, so I have decided to work on networks in ecology by applying network theory to them. I have analyzed habitat distribution networks of ants. I am currently studying larval dispersal connectivities among coral reefs using both theoretical and realistic connectivity networks.

Evropi Toulkeridou, PhD Student

I have a degree in mathematics and a MSc in theoretical informatics, both at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. I have joined OIST as a PhD student since last year to study computational biology. My current research interest is on computer vision and, more specifically, its application for the analysis of microCT data.

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.

Nick Friedman, Postdoctoral Researcher

I am interested in the origins of biodiversity: how did we get so many species, and how did they get to be so different from one another? My research focuses primarily on trait evolution, examining the history of evolutionary change, how trait physiological has changed, and what selective context explains the cause of that change. I use the Australian honeyeaters and allies (Meliphagoidae) as a model clade to study the evolution of morphology and elaborate plumage coloration in birds. I want to understand how these traits are driven by natural and sexual selection in different ways across the various biomes of Australia and Papua New Guinea. In the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit at OIST, I also use these phylogenetic comparative approaches to explore patterns and mechanisms of diversification and disparification in ants.

Nao Takashina, JSPS Postdoctoral Researcher (on exchange in U. Bergen, Norway)

I am a theoretical ecologist primary interested in ecosystem management and conservation biology where trade-offs between ecological and socioeconomic benefits are widely observed in practice. To address this dilemma, I try to develop frameworks for decision-making processes for better management and conservation actions. My ongoing projects include developing ecological sampling theory and methods for population estimation to provide required (not necessarily be perfect) ecosystem information at a minimal cost and time, as well as understanding effect of marine protected areas from a broad point of view (e.g., their optimal size and spatial structure, and impact on competition between fishers in terms of game theory.

Fumika Azuma, Research Technician

Upon completing my undergraduate studies in University College London, 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.

Susan Kennedy, Postdoctoral Researcher

I’m interested in applying high-throughput methods to understand the biodiversity, network structure, and functional traits of arthropod communities. I’m currently working on a project characterizing arthropod biodiversity across multiple Pacific archipelagoes, using metabarcoding of mixed samples to obtain high data yields at low cost. We’re also using molecular gut content analysis to characterize trophic relationships among these arthropods. By comparing arthropod communities in several island systems and across temporal, spatial and disturbance gradients, we can understand how the structure and function of these communities change over time and in response to environmental perturbation. For my PhD (UC Berkeley, Prof. Rosemary Gillespie), I used similar methods to assess how trophic ecology changes over evolutionary time within the adaptive radiation of Hawaiian Tetragnatha (long-jawed orbweaver) spiders. While I find all arthropods fascinating, spiders are my first love, and one of my personal goals has always been to share my enthusiasm for these marvelous little animals – to convert arachnophobes into arachnophiles wherever I go. Spiders and insects are among the most phylogenetically, ecologically and behaviorally diverse organisms in the world, and they have a tremendous amount to tell us about life on Earth.

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.

Kosmas Deligkaris, Research Computing Technician

I graduated from Osaka University with a PhD in Frontier Biosciences. Since then, I worked in various organizations, such as University College London and Public Health England, utilizing my background in Engineering and Biology in order to conduct research and technical analysis. I am also interested in research reproducibility and transparency of research practices through the use of novel IT technologies within the academic environment. In the Economo lab, I support my colleagues with their computational needs in various pieces of work, such as the OKEON project, overseeing its IT infrastructure, and establishing systems for metadata management.

Jamie Kass, JSPS Postdoctoral Researcher

I am a biogeographer and spatial ecologist interested in ecological niches, community ecology, geospatial analyses, and statistical modeling. My doctoral work focused on incorporating biotic interactions into traditionally abiotic species distribution models, and how considering them can have benefits for invasive species management and conservation of threatened species. I also developed an interactive software called Wallace (R package wallace), which provides an interface that guides users through a species distribution modeling analysis from start to finish with connections to open databases and tools for reproducibility. Additionally, I am a developer of other R packages for ecological analysis, including ENMeval and rangeModelMetadata. As a JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow at the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit at OIST, I will be working with the OKEON ant dataset and fine-scale environmental data to develop community models for Okinawa that can predict species composition and richness across space, and will be exploring how co-occurrence with invasive species affects occupancy of native species.

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.