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Remote islands: Stepping stones to understanding evolution

The scientists used Winkler traps to extract the trap-jaw ants out of leaf litter into flasks of ethanol. Credit: OIST For millions of years, remote islands have been hotbeds of biodiversity, where unique species have flourished. Scientists have proposed different theories to explain how animals and plants colonize and evolve on islands but testing ideas for processes happening over long time scales has always been a challenge.

Recently, cutting-edge techniques in DNA sequencing, 3-D imaging, and computation have opened up opportunities for investigating historical processes. In a new study published in Evolution, researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and collaborators from the University of the Ryukyus investigated evolutionary and ecological changes in ants in the South Pacific archipelago of Fiji to examine a controversial theory for how evolution occurs on islands.

“Islands like Fiji, which are small and remote, act as perfect natural laboratories to study the interplay between ecological and evolutionary processes,” said Dr. Cong Liu, first author and former Ph.D. student from the OIST Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit. “But until recently, there haven’t been many studies on ants.”

The team focused on Strumigenys trap-jaw ants, the genus with the greatest number of ant species […]

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