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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 (rsmfeitosa@gmail.com), Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR)
U.S. Partner: Kenneth G. Ross, University of Georgia, Athens
Project Dates: September 2014 to February 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 third quarter of 2017, Dr. Feitosa and his group carried out the fourth field expedition on their project. The collection site was the Montanhas do Tumucumaque National Park, Amapá state, the northernmost region of the Brazilian Amazon Forest. Once again the team was the first to explore the ant fauna in this isolated region of South America. The fieldwork successful despite the adverse weather conditions, which required the researchers to cross rivers and travel along very poorly maintained roads. They were able to collect large numbers of samples in various localities in the park. In conjunction with the fieldwork, they again organized meetings with the leaders of local environmental agencies and small villages to present the project and explain the importance of scientific research for the conservation of natural areas using ants as models.

In addition, Dr. Feitosa reports making considerable advances regarding the processing of the material from their previous field expeditions. He and his team are testing different collection protocols and storage techniques that have the potential to be widely employed in ant surveys at a global scale. Their collection protocols and survey results will serve as the basis for the development of strategies for protecting endangered areas to be proposed to various Brazilian environmental agencies at the end of the project. Also, their proposed molecular protocol for DNA extraction and analysis for ants using ultra-conserved elements has the potential to provide information on interesting questions in ant evolution and will be made available at the end of the project. On the education side, each locality previously sampled in the project now forms a part of a scientific training project for young female students at the Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR). The PI has also established an agreement with the Curitiba City Hall to develop scientific capacity building activities at public primary schools in the city. He and his team have developed small workshops for financially vulnerable children (ages 6-12 years) at the schools, with the agenda including team members demonstrating the routine they follow on fieldwork in the Amazon areas they have visited under the project. 

 
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).

With the project scheduled to be complete by the end of February 2018, this team is organizing their fifth and final field trip, which will involve a visit to the Viruá National Park, in the state of Roraima, in the northern Amazon along the border with Venezuela. Also, they are organizing the XXIII Simpósio de Mirmecologia: an international ant meeting, which will take place at UFPR October 23-27, 2017. They intend to present several papers related to the project during this event. Efforts to prepare and submit other papers for publication are also ongoing.
 
 
PEER Cycle 3 Grant Recipients
 
PGA_147200PGA_147199PGA_147214PGA_147201PGA_147202