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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 3 (2014 Deadline)

Biodiversity conservation and scientific capacity development in the Brazilian Amazon using ants as bioindicators and ecosystem health indicators

PI:  Rodrigo Feitosa (, Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR)
U.S. Partner: Kenneth G. Ross, University of Georgia, Athens
Project Dates: September 2014 to September 2018
3-188 Project Team
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
In the second quarter of 2018, Dr. Feitosa reports that he and his team have made great efforts to acquire the final equipment and supplies necessary to process and store all the biological samples obtained during the project. In addition, they prepared and sent all the necessary requests to obtain permits for their last two planned field expeditions on the project. They will be visiting the Serra Bonita Ecological Preserve in Camacã, Bahia state, beginning on July 8, 2018. The next and final expedition will take place in the Réserve naturelle nationale des Nouragues, French Guiana, in late August. In a parallel action, they have re-established an agreement with the Curitiba City Hall to develop scientific capacity activities at public primary schools in the city. This will be the second edition of the "Scientists go to the school" project. The PI and his group intend to develop small workshops for financially vulnerable children ages 6-12 at various public schools and acquaint them with the routine of the fieldwork the researchers carry out in the Amazon areas visited on the PEER project. The school visits are schedule for September 2018. As for scientific output, Dr. Feitosa and several co-authors have recently published a paper related to the project in one of the leading journals in their field (March, C.J.; Feitosa, R.M.; Louzada, J.; and Ewers, R.M. Is beta-diversity of Amazonian ant and dung beetles communities elevated at rainforest edges? Journal of Biogeography, 2018. ( The PI and his team also plan to present several works at the upcoming 18th Congress of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects, the world’s leading scientific event involving social insects, which will be held in Guarujá, Brazil, August 6 to 10, 2018 ().

Thanks to PEER funding, the PI’s lab has been able to add some important new pieces of equipment this year. A new 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.

3-188 Digging for Ants3-188 Kids after Workshop
 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