Cycle 3 (2014 Deadline)
Biodiversity conservation and scientific capacity development in the Brazilian Amazon using ants as bioindicators and ecosystem health indicators
U.S. Partner: Kenneth G. Ross, University of Georgia, Athens
Project Dates: September 2014 to September 2018
|Dr. Rodrigo Feitosa and his PEER team. Photo courtesy of Dr. Feitosa|
The Amazon is one the most biodiverse regions in the world, yet it is under threat from human encroachment and global climate change. Biodiversity research has focused mostly on vertebrates, paying less attention to other taxa that are arguably more important for ecosystem health and function, such as insects. This is especially true of ants, which are incredibly species-rich, ecologically diverse, and have the highest biomass of any animal in the Neotropics. Ants are key ecosystem engineers, contain many different guilds, and are often highly sensitive to environmental perturbation, which makes them ideal bioindicators. Using ecologically relevant bioindicators allows highly sensitive insight into rapid changes in habitat health and ecosystem function. Unfortunately, a taxonomic impediment limits their use, since many tropical species are undescribed or new to science, greatly slowing morphological species identification. This research study seeks to address this shortcoming by conducting an inventory of ant diversity using DNA sequence data. The collected samples will form the nucleus for a growing entomology collection at the Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR), which will be developed into an active research collection to support the study of systematics, biodiversity, and natural history of the ant fauna of the Amazon and Brazil.
Ants contain several important tropical agricultural pests and invasive species. The project will thus be important for Brazilian agriculture and food security as potential pest species will be identified. Assessment of ant biodiversity at various levels and assigning species to functional guilds will lay the baseline for continued monitoring of ecosystem health and biodiversity under climate change, and will help inform conservation decisions by allowing rapid and efficient appraisal of ecosystems. The development of cheap and rapid genetic identification tools is expected to have immediate and lasting impact on biodiversity assessment and conservation practices in the Amazon. Coupling genetic and species-level biodiversity assessments with ecological functional information will improve economic valuation and management impact of ecosystems. This will strengthen environmental governance and advance sustainable management of natural resources and biodiversity conservation in the face of environmental and global climate change. The use of genetic markers will allow in-depth understanding of pest and bioindicator population genetics and dynamics, which are important considerations when developing and applying control or conservation management plans. Additionally, the generation of high-throughput DNA barcoding and next-generation population genomic data will form the foundation for cutting-edge science, technology, and innovation in conservation genetics and bio control and will provide a long-term investment for the PI Dr. Feitosa to develop and train genomic capacity in Brazil.
Summary of Recent Activities
The last quarter of 2017 was entirely dedicated to processing biological material collected in the most recent field expeditions. Dr. Feitosa and his group are also organizing their project database to begin preparing taxonomic publications related to the research. For that, they have recruited four young women to join the team, namely Ana Carolina Neundorf, Jaqueline Andressa Macarroni Paes, Suiane Alves Pereira, and Paloma Leal de Andrade. All four are undergraduate students of the Universidade Federal do Paraná enrolled in the university's social program for students from less advantaged backgrounds. They are receiving specific scientific training, and Dr. Feitosa hopes they will become graduate students in his laboratory after completing their undergraduate studies.
Thanks to PEER funding, some important new pieces of equipment will soon arrive in the PI’s lab. A new high-powered automatic microscope will allow the group to obtain high-resolution digital images of all the species sampled in the project. The scientific potential of this stereoscope is tremendous, considering the wide range of research and studies involving detailed animal morphology, taxonomy, systematics, inventories, and catalogs that may benefit from this purchase. In addition, Dr. Feitosa has also begun the procedures to obtain some molecular processing equipment of similar quality to that used by his student and recent PhD recipient Gabriela Camacho in the data extraction phase of the project while she was visiting the United States. The equipment will be the first of its kind at any lab at UFP and will allow the PI and his team to achieve full independence regarding the molecular biology and sample processing procedures.
On the outreach side, Dr. Feitosa has made two presentations at recent public events. At the XVI Summer Course on Entomology, held at the Universidade de São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo, January 22 - February 2, 2018, he gave a talk entitled “Systematics and biology of ants: the superorganism.” In addition, he made a presentation entitled “From the Neotropics to the world: the biogeography of the spider-ants” at the symposium “Biogeography of the XXI Century: an integrative approach of space, time and shape... finally!” This session was part of the XXXII Congresso Brasileiro de Zoologia (Brazilian Congress of Zoology), which was convened at Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná, February 26 - March 2, 2018.
This PEER project has been extended through September 30, 2018, to allow for completion of the equipment purchase and installation and some more work in the field and the lab. Two additional field trips are scheduled for the coming months, with the most likely destinations being (1) the Nouragues Field station, Inselberg Camp, in French Guiana, and (2) the Serra Bonita Reserve, Bahia, Brazil. The PI and his students also intend to present several works related to the project in at least two international events, including the Congress of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects. Also, with the help of the new young scientists recently added to the group, they expect to advance in the processing of the biological material from the expeditions in order to prepare and submit taxonomic papers derived from the project.
| The team collected numerous samples during their fourth field expedition in the summer of 2017.||The team meets with local children following a scientific capacity building workshop with the primary school (photo courtesy of Dr. Feitosa).|
PEER Cycle 3 Grant Recipients