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.

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 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.

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.

Arthur Matte, Intern

Presently doing my MSc at the University of Montpellier in France, I am interested in the stories that evolution tells us. Ants are among the rare organisms to have extended reproductive division labor beyond the multicellular organism. However, the degree of specialisation between reproductive and worker castes varies considerably between ant lineages and my research seeks to understand why. More precisely, what are the driving factors and the consequences of these major transitions both morphological and social. Here in Arilab, by combining comparative anatomy using µ-CT, and phylogenetic analysis methods, I am trying to decipher the evolution of cheaper, anatomically simplified workers. This feature is shared by ants with the most advanced division of labor and is expected to mark a key innovation in the evolutionary history of ants.

Adrian Richter, Postdoctoral Researcher

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.