FY2015 Annual Report

Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit
Assistant Professor Evan P. Economo

Economo Unit, 2015


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 not just to document and catalogue this diversity, but understand the complex interactions and dynamics that generate and sustain biological variation.  In FY2015, our research concentrated in three areas; our project on the evolution of the hyperdiverse ant radiations, our “Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics (GABI)” project which focuses on compiling analyzing global distributions of past and present ant biodiversity, and systematics and evolution of Indo-Pacific ant faunas.  Other ongoing projects include biodiversity theory, 3D morphometrics, ecological monitoring and complex systems research.

1. Staff 

  • Dr. Evan P. Economo, Assistant Professor
  • Dr. Benoit Guénard, Researcher
  • Dr. Masashi Yoshimura, Staff Scientist
  • Dr. Georg Fischer, Postdoctoral Scholar
  • Dr. Clive Darwell, Postdoctoral Scholar
  • Dr. Nicholas Ryan Friedman, Postdoctoral Scholar
  • Masako Ogasawara, Technician
  • Akino Miyagi, Research Assistant
  • Izumi Maehira, Research Assistant
  • Yasutaka Tamaki, Research Assistant
  • Lindaemiko Iha, Research Assistant
  • Shinji Iriyama, Research Assistant
  • Toshihiro Kinjo, Research Assistant
  • Cong Liu, PhD Student
  • Patricia Wepfer, PhD Student
  • Yafei Mao, PhD Student
  • Hitomi Shinzato, Research Administrator

2. Activities and Findings

2.1 Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics (GABI) Project

Our understanding of large-scale biodiversity patterns has recently increased dramatically, but available information is strongly biased towards a few groups of vertebrates and plants. Biodiversity patterns in invertebrates, such as insects, are poorly documented despite representing the large majority of species. To address this gap in our knowledge, the Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics (GABI) project has compiled over 250 years of ant research into a single database providing distribution information for all ant species. These data can be used to support all kinds of research and are being used somehow in most of our ant projects. However, the two main analyses we are working on with these data are analyzing global ant diversification patterns across the globe, and a comparison of how global patterns of ant endemism compare with vertebrate groups.

In FY2015 we have been continuing to grow the dataset, which now constitutes nearly 1.7 million records.  We developed and launched a new interactive website, antmaps.org, which allows visualization and interaction with the data.  In addition, we are using the data for studies on ant biodiversity, including systematics and biogeography projects. Notably, we used our data to analyze modern ant distributions compared to the fossil record, to understand how Earth’s geologic history has shaped modern distributions.


Figure 1: In FY2015 our unit designed and launched antmaps.org, an online web-mapping tool to visualize and interact with the GABI database.

2.2 Evolution, Ecology, and Systematics of Hyperdiverse Ant Radiations

Over evolutionary time lineages evolve in and out of ecological niches, evolve through morphological spaces, and ranges expand and contract in geographic space. These transitions may not be independent, some phenotypes may be better suited to certain ecological habitats, some habitats may promote dispersal and colonization, and colonization of new geographic areas may lead to ecological niche shifts. These ideas form the basis for integrative hypotheses like the taxon cycle. In collaboration with the Knowles lab at the U. of Michigan, we have an NSF funded project to examine the joint dynamics of these transitions in the famously diverse ant genus Pheidole, which contains over 1000 described species and is the dominant ant genus in many tropical ecosystems worldwide. We have reconstructed a new global phylogeny of the genus and used it to analyze the macroevolution and macroecology of the genus, with particular attention to the Old World. In FY2015, we continued to make progress on Pheidole, adding new taxa and publishing analyses of Pheidole biogeography in the old world and a treatment of the global pool of introduced Pheidole species.

In FY2015, we also initiated new projects on other hyperdiverse ant radiations, namely the genera Strumigenys (in collaboration with Doug Booher) and Tetramorium (led by Staff Scientist Paco Hita Garcia).  Strumigenys is a leaf-litter predator that has evolved a complex trap-jaw mechanism, and we are examining the evolution of this trait in time and space.  In Tetramorium, we are analyzing biogeography, morphological evolution, and transitions between ecological generalism and specialism.  Specimen work and RAD-sequencing for phylogenomics reconstruction is underway for these groups.

2.3 Biodiversity, Biogeography, and Evolutionary Ecology of Indo-Pacific Ant Faunas

Ants are among the most ubiquitous and ecologically dominant animal groups. Over millions of years, ant biodiversity has evolved and dispersed from Asia and Australia through the vast network of Pacific islands.  More recently, humans have unintentionally introduced many species from around the globe into the Pacific. We seek to understand the historical and contemporary processes that regulate ant biodiversity over time.  In FY2015, we continued a series of published works on the Indo-Pacific ant faunas.  We published a paper on the island biogeography of Oceanic archipelagoes (Triantis et al. 2015).  We also continued work on our high-throughput RAD-sequencing of the Fijian ant fauna.

2.4 OKEON Chura-Mori Project

OKEON Chura-Mori Project (OKEON stands for Okinawa Environmental Observation Network).  The goal is to develop an observation system to measure and monitor the environment of Okinawa, in collaboration with the people of Okinawa.  The primary scientific goal is to develop long-term space-time data series from sites across the island. 

Building upon progress from FY2014 in GIS, land use modeling, and sequencing, in FY2015 we focused on deployment of the field network.  Our team has set up 24 sites around the island, initiating arthropod sampling, camera trapping, and acoustic monitoring.  Meanwhile, we have steadily built our network of collaborators that includes over 60 partners inside and outside of Okinawa.

Figure 2: The OKEON Chura-mori Project involves a field observation network with around Okinawa, with acoustic monitors, environmental data loggers, and arthropod traps at each site.  The project has a heavy component of outreach and education, and many of our sites involve collaborations with local high schools or museums.  Find out more at the OKEON Chura-mori website.

3. Publications 

3.1 Journals 

  1. Economo, E., Hong, L., Page, S. E. Social Structure, Endogenous Diversity, and Collective Accuracy. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, doi: 10.1016/j.jebo.2016.01.003 (2016).
  2. Bharti, H., Guénard, B., Bharti, M., Economo, E. P. An updated checklist of the ants of India with their specific distributions in Indian states (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Zookeys, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.551.6767 (2016).
  3. Triantis, K. A.*, Economo, E. P.*, Guilhaumon, F., Ricklefs, R. E. Diversity regulation at macro-scales: species richness on oceanic archipelagos. Global Ecology and Biogeography, doi: 10.1111/geb.12301 (2015). *equal contribution
  4. Stoker, P., Rothfeder, R., Dudley, K., Dennison, P., Buchert, M. Comparing the utility of LiDAR data vs. multi-spectral imagery for parcel scale water demand modeling. Urban Water Journal, doi: 10.1080/1573062X.2015.1111915 (2015).
  5. Savage, A. M., Hackett, B., Guénard, B., Youngsteadt, E. K., Dunn, R. R. Fine-scale heterogeneity across Manhattan's urban habitat mosaic is associated with variation in ant composition and richness. Insect Conservation and Diversity, doi: 10.1111/icad.12098 (2015).
  6. Sarnat, E. M., Fischer, G., Guénard, B., Economo, E. P. Introduced Pheidole of the world: taxonomy, biology and distribution. Zookeys, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.543.6050 (2015).
  7. Liu, C., Guénard, B., Hita Garcia, F., Yamane, S., Blanchard, B., Yang, Da-R., Economo, E. New records of ant species from Yunnan, China. Zookeys, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.477.8775 (2015).
  8. Liu, C., Hita Garcia, F., Peng, Y. Q., Economo, E. P. Aenictus yangi sp.n. - a new species of the A. ceylonicus species group (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, Dorylinae) from Yunnan, China. Journal of Hymenoptera Research, doi: 10.3897/Jhr.42.8859 (2015).
  9. Liu, C., Fischer, G,. Economo, E. A rare ant on Samoa: first record of the cryptic subfamily Proceratiinae (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) and description of a new Proceratium Roger species. Journal of Hymenoptera Research, doi: 10.3897/JHR.46.5849 (2015).
  10. Guénard, B., Perrichot, V., Economo, E. P. Integration of global fossil and modern biodiversity data reveals dynamism and stasis in ant macroecological patterns. Journal of Biogeography, doi: 10.1111/jbi.12614 (2015).
  11. Guénard, B., Economo, E. P. Additions to the checklist of the ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of Peru. Zootaxa, doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4040.2.8 (2015).
  12.  Fisher, B. L., Guénard, B., Robson, S. Borneo, fANTastique!. ASIAN MYRMECOLOGY, doi: 10.20362/am.007018 (2015).
  13. Fischer, G., Azorsa, F., Hita Garcia, F., Mikheyev, A. S., Economo, E. P. Two new phragmotic ant species from Africa: morphology and next-generation sequencing solve a caste association problem in the genus Carebara Westwood. Zookeys, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.525.6057 (2015).
  14. Economo, E. P., Sarnat, E. M., Janda, M., Clouse, R., Klimov, P. B., Fischer, G., Blanchard, B. D., Ramirez, L. N., Andersen, A. N., Berman, M., Guénard, B., Lucky, A., Rabeling, C., Wilson, E. O., Knowles, L. L. Breaking out of biogeographical modules: range expansion and taxon cycles in the hyperdiverse ant genus Pheidole. Journal of Biogeography, doi: 10.1111/jbi.12592 (2015).
  15. Clouse, R. M., Janda, M., Blanchard, B., Sharma, P., Hoffmann, B. D., Andersen, A. N., Czekanski-Moir, J. E., Krushelnycky, P., Rabeling, C., Wilson, E. O., Economo, E. P., Sarnat, E. M., General, D. M., Alpert, G. D., Wheeler, W. C. Molecular phylogeny of Indo-Pacific carpenter ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae, Camponotus) reveals waves of dispersal and colonization from diverse source areas. Cladistics, doi: 10.1111/cla.12099 (2015).

3.2 Books and Other One-Time Publications 


AntMaps.org.  Economo, E.P., Guénard, B., Janicki, J., Ziegler, M., Narula, N. Published online July, 2015.  

3.3 Oral and Poster Presentations 

  1. Yoshida, T., Yoshimura, M., Ogasawara, M., Economo, E. Long-term environmental monitoring project targeting  the main island of Okinawa, Coalition conference of the 76th Entomological Society of Japan and the 60th Japan Society of Applied Entomology & Zoolozy, 2016, Osaka, Japan, Mar 29 (2016).
  2. Economo, E. Comparative analysis of three global hyperdiverse ant radiations, The 63rd Annual Meeting of The Ecological Society of Japan, Sendai, Japan, Mar 24 (2016).
  3. Liu, C. Reorganization of taxonomic, functional, and phylogenetic ant biodiversity after conversion to rubber plantation, The 63rd Annual Meeting of The Ecological Society of Japan, Sendai, Japan, Mar 24 (2016).
  4. Yoshimura, M., Yoshida, T. Ogasawara, M., Economo, E. Starting of OKEON Chura-mori Project, the new Environmental Monitoring system with social networks in Okinawa, The 63rd Annual Meeting of The Ecological Society of Japan, Sendai, Japan, Mar 22 (2016).
  5. Friedman, N. R., Remeš, V. Ecogeographic gradients in plumage coloration among Australasian songbirds, The American Society of Naturalists, Asilomar, USA, Jan 12 (2016).
  6. Yoshimura, M., Ogasawara, M., Yoshida, T., Economo, Evan P. Starting the new environmental monitoring network project in Okinawa, Japan - OKEON Chura-mori Project -. The 10th ANeT International Conference 2015, Sri Lanka Oct 25 (2015).
  7. Fischer, G., Huang, J-P., Morgan, B., Fisher, B. L., Knowles, L. L., Economo, E. P. Radiation of the ant genus Pheidole in morphological, ecological, and geographic space in Madagascar, Evolution 2015, Guaruja, Brazil, Jun 29 (2015).
  8. Liu, C. The effects of human-induced habitat change on biodiversity at multiple levels: species composition and genetic structure of ant communities in Southeast Asia, Onna, Japan, Jun 19 (2015).

4. Meetings and Events

4.1 Seminar, “Modeling soil community resiliency to climate change”

  • Date: November 18, 2015
  • Venue: OIST Campus Center Bldg
  • Speaker: Dr. Timothy Keitt (University of Texas at Austin)

4.2 Seminar, “Phylogenetics and Biomechanics of Coral Reef Fishes”

  • Date: September 28, 2015
  • Venue: OIST Campus Lab3
  • Speaker: Dr. Mark W. Westneat (University of Chicago)