Current and past alumni of the Insect Biodiversity and Biogeography Laboratory
Dr. Patrick SCHULTHEISS
Insects are faced with the challenge of navigating to find food and return it to the nest. I am interested in how they perform these navigational feats, with an emphasis on the visual modality. I aim for a complete understanding of navigation behaviour through an integrative approach – shining light on behaviour from many different angles. Much of my research has focused on ants, as they show great inter- and intra-specific variation in ecology, morphology and behaviour. My work strives to understand the mechanistic basis of behaviour through a combination of field and lab experiments, and neurobiological investigations. Find out more about my work on my website.
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Dr. Thiago S. R. SILVA (starting December 2021)
I am a Brazilian researcher working on ant systematics, specialized terminology, and applied metaphysics. I worked with ant systematics throughout most of my research career, focusing my efforts in taxonomic inquiries on a charismatic group of ants called Strumigenys. Most of my studies in this discipline are focused at nomenclature stability, species redescription, and provision of identification tools in the form of dichotomous and multi-entry keys. During my academic formative years, I also explored how terminological variation could affect descriptive statements in anatomical investigations and taxonomic endeavors. To achieve my goals in this particular field of inquiry, I used some frameworks found in other disciplines, mainly from applied metaphysics and information sciences. The premise that guides my research is that the descriptive understanding of particular properties of organisms is foundational for the provision of proximate and ultimate explanations of biological evolution. In this way, species descriptions in the form of observational statements are not only desirable, but necessary for the development of coherent explanatory accounts of species diversification.
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I grew up in California, U.S.A. where my love for Biology manifested rather late. My first real experience with the subject came in my Introduction to Biology course where I was astounded at the diversity of life our world contains. From that moment on I did what I could to explore this curiosity. I attended the University of California, Santa Barbara where I aided in the construction of a food web of the local sandy beaches. I continued to work with the Young Lab after graduation and was able to participate in the Palmyra Atoll Project, where I contributed to the collection and identifying of species to build an atoll wide food web. After that I started to explore different interaction networks, focusing on plant-pollinator interactions in multiple sites around the U.S. Ever since that first Biology course I have been fascinated with biodiversity and the mechanisms involved in the maintenance and structuring of it. With the threat of a changing climate, understanding these mechanisms will be crucial and I hope to explore these mechanisms throughout my PhD.
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Originally from Wuhan, China, I completed my Master’s degree at the Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. During my master, I have been fascinated by computer science and ecology and hope to help ecologists to advance their studies through my computer skills. Therefore, I tried to improve my computational biology abilities, and actively used them in practice. In the past three years, I have collected multiple web-database information using web worm skills and constructed an interface database about fish (offline). Meanwhile, I developed a computer vision program script about fishes to assist taxonomists to classify species using convolutional neural network (CNN) in Python. Considering application difficulty, I developed a GUI (graphics user interface) software which aimed to help scientists to simplify the process of computer vision model learning and programming, and focus on solving scientific questions, rather than spending time on complex math model construction and code writing.
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Danny Chi-Man LEONG
Originally from Macao, I completed my Bachelor and Master degrees in Entomology at the National Taiwan University (2013-2018). In the past four years, I have spent my free time to study the ant fauna of my hometown in the hope to understand its diversity. Ant species richness found in Macao was higher than previously thought despite the high level of urbanization and being one of the most densely populated region in the world. My first efforts have been rewarded through the publication of the first species checklist of Macanese ants and the description of Leptanilla macauensis; but much work remains to be done to fully grasp the richness of Macanese ants, understand their ecological roles, or the threat posed by introduced species. For my PhD, I am studying the impact of urbanization on ant communities across Asia and explore solutions to maintain the high diversity that characterize this part of the world. As urbanization diminishes biodiversity, it also reduces the appreciation that humans have of nature. I am thus committed to share scientific and entomological knowledge to raise children and adults awareness about nature.
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Felipe PEREIRA DA ROCHA
While coming from Brazil, which is known for its great myrmecofauna, my interest in ants showed up rather late in my life, during a course on Social Evolution at the University of Bristol (UK). What I always knew, though, was my passion for nature and animals. I completed my B.Sc. in Biology at the Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCar) with a special interest in ecology and conservation. I first studied the decision-making towards resources of a mass-recruiting ant (Pheidole oxyops). In order to deepen my knowledge in ecology and follow my research path, I did an M.Sc. in Ecology at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp), studying the bacterial communities of two ants species from the Brazilian Cerrado and Atlantic Rainforest. Now conducting my Ph.D. in Ecology and Biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong, I study the impacts of introduced species on natural ant communities. I will be also modeling the spread of a new alien ant species recently found in Hong Kong and Macao regions, and possibly working again with ant microbiomes. Although research is my main focus, outreach and teaching are also important to me, and opportunities to engage in these activities will be well received.
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Scientific research is a lifestyle and my lifelong pursuit. Born and raised in Yunnan, China, I was attracted and curious about the beauty and diversity of organisms surrounding me during my childhood, but also aware of their gradual decrease due to human activities. Discovering new species and understanding the secrets of their diversity fill me with satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment. Thus, my research interests lead me to study patterns of biodiversity and pursue efforts to keep species away from extinction. I am interested in taxonomy, evolution, ecology and biogeography of both insects and plants, expecting to do my part for wild lives one day.…………
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‘Biodiversity research requires more boots on the ground’ – E. O. Wilson, 2017. I aspire to attempt to fill one pair of those boots by understanding, cataloging and describing insect biodiversity, primarily ant diversity. My previous work has focused on British ant fauna, reporting on newly introduced species to the region, alongside assessing the impacts of slash and burn agriculture on Madagascan ants which I studied for my undergraduate honors project. Understanding biodiversity requires novel methods, so for my MSc dissertation I focused on understanding pipeline and sequencing depth modifications on a large scale metabarcode canopy coleopteran community across an elevation gradient and the subsequent impact these changes had on ecological inferences. At IBBL I focus on collecting, identifying and cataloging exotic insect species collected in the Exotic Species project, with records being used to identify hotspots of introduction as well as providing critical data on the newly introduced species to Hong Kong.
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I consider myself a curious person who is interested in all aspects of the world around us. For this reason, I have always been fascinated by nature, and more recently, by the world of insects (an incredibly diversified group which is surprisingly unnoticed by a part of our society). For my master’s degree, I studied the ecology and the biodiversity of wild bees in the Belgian lawns. I then followed my studies improving the competences on remote sensing and GIS. Such high performing tools are becoming more and more present in conservation and ecology research. Within the IBBL, I have the opportunity to interconnect these different aspects: insects, biogeography and conservation. I am involved in a project studying exotic insects in HK, investigating a 5 insect groups (ants, non-ant Aculeata, beetles, moths and mosquitoes). Using species distribution models, we will try to estimate the potential distribution of these species in HK. The goal of this project is to do a checklist of the current exotic species in HK and predict the hotspots and coldspots of exotic insects distribution in HK.
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Carlos Luis, NEVES JUNIOR
Brazilian biologist passionate about insects and science outreach. I believe science is a language that must be taken to all audiences and people, forming a great network of inclusion and knowledge sharing. I started my journey in Entomology during my undergraduate (Federal University of Maranhão – Brazil) carrying out a survey of bee species on an island in the Delta of the Americas (Northeast Brazil), and following my master’s degree (Federal University of Viçosa – Brazil) exploring aggressiveness in Azteca muelleri ants. My interests in Entomology involve social insects, pollination, ecology and insect-plant interaction. Now, at the IBBL and in partnership with K11 Musea, I will continue the project to collect, preserve and exhibit the insect fauna of Hong Kong. On Instagram, I also manage a scientific divulgation page talking about insects and pop culture on Instagram (@insetoepop, only in Portuguese).
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Aline, M. OLIVEIRA
I am a Brazilian entomologist. In my undergraduate at the Universidade Federal do Paraná (Curitiba, Brazil), I worked on ant diversity in the Brazilian Savanna, and later on the taxonomy of the ant genus Probolomyrmex. After that, I completed my master’s degree at the same university (2018 – 2020), working with the taxonomy of turtle ants (Cephalotes). In parallel, I was a teacher of Zoology to a preparatory course to enter the university (2014 – 2019). I participated in outreach activities, worked at a Museum of Natural Sciences, performed tours and insect workshops for schools. Over the last few years, research, education, and outreach became the foundation of my academic development. This led me to my current position as curator of the Hong Kong Biodiversity Museum. We are working to open the museum to schools and the general public. Our aim is to make this museum a great place for developing activities related to the three pillars of science (research, education, and outreach).
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Ho Him Anders, YU
I would described myself as an animal lover! I graduated from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Zoology. Nature is amazing with unlimited knowledge that we can acquire from it and certainly deserved our admiration and respect. Love between human and nature is what I pursue throughout my life journey. I am fortunate to be an education manager at the Hong Kong Biodiversity Museum. Let me show you the world of nature!
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Originally from Canada, I first oriented my studies towards adventure guiding. However, I soon came back to my lifelong passion; I have been a bug enthusiast ever since I was a toddler, dreaming of finding new insect species in the jungles of the world. Thus, I completed my B.Sc. and M.Sc. in biology. For my Master’s, I choose to focus on ants because they are ubiquitous, abundant, and incredibly diverse both morphologically and behaviourally. As such, I thought then that I would never tire of studying this taxon. After finishing my project, which looked into the environmental drivers of morphology across ant castes, I am now convinced that I won’t. Therefore, I came to the University of Hong Kong to further my knowledge in myrmecology. My goal here is to characterize the myrmecofauna of Macao. In doing so, I aim to better understand how and why ant species vary across urbanization and vertical gradients. Moreover, I hope this will also be the opportunity to realize my childhood dream of discovering new species!
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Kin, Ho CHAN
Studying in environmental science at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, my undergraduate had brought me rich and fruitful experiences in both ecological research and conservation. During those fieldwork and readings, I have figured out my interest in ants, especially their complicated social behavior and ecological functions. In hope of exploring more about ants, after graduation I have joined the IBBL lab to research on the effects of invasive red import fire ant on urban agriculture. To promote the importance of insects, I now work for a collaborated exhibition with Hong Kong Wetland Park that focuses on insect’s ecology and aims to bring the undiscovered beauty of insects to the public.
Dr. Chhaya CHAUDHARY
Being born and brought up in the lap of the Himalayas, I was surrounded by mountains and rivers my entire life. My love for nature motivated me to pursue biological sciences. I did my bachelor’s in biotechnology at Banasthali University followed by master’s in environmental management at Forest Research Institute, India. I found my passion in macroecology when I undertook my research internship at Indian Institute of Sciences, India. I studied the impact of pollution load on the spatial distribution of fishes in the river Tungabhadra. This project inspired me to pursue my PhD at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. During my Ph.D., I explored biogeography of nearly 50,000 marine species at a global scale in three dimensions (latitude, longitude, and depth). Contrary to the age-old paradigm of maximum species diversity at the equator, I found that species diversity dips there and peaks on either side of the equator with a decline in the higher latitudes and is likely to further dip in response to climate warming. I was intrigued by the results and wanted to pursue species-climate-space dynamics with one taxonomic group having a fine scale data. I found ants quite interesting, because they are ubiquitous and easy to track and could prove to be a potential indicator of climate and habitat change. I have joined Dr. Benoit Guénard’s lab in February 2019 to explore my questions further using the GABI database.
Hoi Ling CHENG
Becoming an entomologist was part of my list of fascination when I was young. A traumatizing event involving an over-friendly bluebottle fly, however, had me abandoned the dream at the age of four. I grew up like any other kids from Hong Kong, entered university, got myself a job, and just when I thought my life would go on forever in quietness I found myself fallen once again into the enchantment of insects. But it was not until I studied Environmental Management in HKU did I realize the importance of recruiting non-scientists in insect conservation. In a world where key decision-makers are seldom trained ecologists, the services insects do for human beings deserve much more discussion. It is with this vision I have joined the IBBL and collected stories from lab members about the fascinating life history and function of insects (ants included, of course). I seek to give the organisms a “voice” so that their importance will be better recognized.
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Roy, Shun Chi CHEUNG
Growing up in an area that is only a 20-minute walk away from the nearest country park, hiking has been one of my hobbies. Nothing is comparable to a relaxing morning walk in a forest trail with hundreds of little creatures are waiting to be discovered. My interest in insects led me to my decision of studying Ecology & Biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong.
I have started working in the Insect Biodiversity and Biogeography Laboratory when I was an undergraduate in 2015. Assisting in field and laboratory works in different projects inspired me to start my own final year project on aggression behaviour between native and invasive ant species. I am now working as a full-time research assistant in the lab. My work focuses on ant sampling in Hong Kong and continuing the confrontation experiments in my final year project.
My work at IBBL includes the collection, preservation, and display of Hong Kong’s diverse insect community for a public education project in collaboration with K11 Musea. I am also particularly interested in plant-insect interactions (e.g. extrafloral nectar production and use) and resource use by invasive species. For my master’s work in ecology at the University of Dayton (OH, USA), I examined interactions between two invaders of the US Gulf Coast – the extrafloral nectar-producing Chinese tallow tree (Triadica sebifera) and the destructive tawny crazy ant (Nylanderia fulva) – as mediated by a specific herbivore adventive from China. Previously, I conducted host range assessments on potential insect biological control agents (moths and thrips) for invasive weeds with the USDA-ARS Invasive Plant Research Lab in Florida. I have a BA in Sociology-Anthropology from Lewis & Clark College in Oregon. For more about my work and experience, please visit my website.
Dr. Roger Ho LEE
My first unforgettable experience with insects was watching the migration of Monarch Butterfly as a kid. Before joining HKU, I worked on agricultural projects and I was inspired by the services that both bees and ants provided us with. I also experienced the territoriality of social insects through an attack by the Red Imported Fire Ants, Solenopsis invicta.
Insect not only represents one of the major components of biodiversity, but also provides a wide range of ecological services to our society. As ecosystems and biodiversity face tremendous development pressure as well as higher threats with the introduction of invasive species, we now require a better understanding on how these changes will affect insect communities. I am currently working on a study to assess the long-term dynamic of ant communities in Hong Kong through urbanization. The aim of this research is to understand how environmental disturbances and biological invasions might affect insects communities and their ecological functions.
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My first experience of Hong Kong was in 2013, as an exchange student. I spent one semester at HKU as an undergraduate student, taking classes from the Ecology and Biodiversity department, and I was really impressed with the courses and the research that came from the department. After my exchange semester I went back home, to the University of Melbourne, to finish my Bachelor of Science with a major in Zoology. During my Bachelor’s degree I had the opportunity to study whether bill markings in black swans (Cygnus astratus) had an effect on dominance behaviour, and also what effect size and colour had on heat uptake in skinks. Before starting my position as a research assistant in this lab, I had very little experience with insects. However, since then I have realised that insects, especially ants, are incredibly interesting creatures and I love learning new things about them every day.
My interests lie at the intersection of geography and evolution – how topography and climate influence biodiversity patterns and exert selection pressure at different levels. Here at HKU I am working to protect the biodiversity of ants, which along with other insects are hugely underrepresented in conservation efforts. I am developing assessment strategies to place ants on the IUCN Red List, particularly by using species distribution modeling to infer their threat levels. This work is especially pressing in Hong Kong, where rapid urbanization may oust rare species. Tweet me @vagr_ant or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Sabine NOOTEN
I am an insect ecologist interested in the biodiversity and community ecology of insects in a changing world. I use trait-based approaches to study the role of environmental factors — be that climate or habitat change — in shaping insect communities. My work focuses on questions relating to relationships between functional species traits and environmental habitat characteristics. In past projects, I have been working on a range of taxa, including beetles, bugs, bees and ants to assess their responses to environmental changes. I started off studying these relationships in native forest habitats but soon focused my attention on anthropogenically modified landscapes, such as agricultural and urban areas. I now investigate how the environment shapes functional traits and diversity of ant communities in tropical urban environments. For more information visit my website.
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My love for ants and adventure has taken me to many interesting places. Originally from Utah, I now have the opportunity to live and work in Hong Kong. My love for ants began early, collecting nests in the Colorado mountains. After many stings and the face full of formic acid, I figured out there’s a lot more to learn from these tiny beasts. Curiosity led to investigation, and eventually to start my ant career during my undergraduate at the University of Utah.
My work in Hong Kong involves carrying out an ant diversity survey throughout Hong Kong, focusing on the ecological impacts of invasive ants. The goal is to establish a thorough survey of where invasive ant species occur, how they affect the diversity of native insects, and finally determine what are their impacts on decomposition processes. This project will contribute to a better understanding of the biodiversity of Hong Kong, invasive species ecology, and ultimately to the conservation of biodiversity.
Dr. Kavyanjali SHUKLA
It feels so exciting to learn endlessly about nature and its wondrous forms. The interest and excitement of exploring mysteries of animal life directed me towards pursuing a Ph.D. in Zoology at University of Lucknow, India. Exploring “under the microscope” as well as outdoors fascinates me and so does communicating my work.
Learning about an unusually hard working organism like “ants” is just awesome!! I had previously studied arthropods during my master’s program, but I got the opportunity to learn about ants under Dr. Guénard’s expert guidance. Currently, I am studying the ecological characteristics and biological invasions of various ant species from marine commercial and leisure ports of Hong Kong and surrounding areas. Detection of invasive species will help us analyze the harmful potential of their population. We hope to determine some effective management strategies and mitigation measures. I find this research intriguing, so much of a fun and I enjoy doing it!!
Dr. Christopher TAYLOR
I’m a New Zealand/Australian entomologist, with a background in insect and arachnid taxonomy. I’m here in Hong Kong to look at insect diversity around the region’s mangroves. Mangroves are one of Hong Kong’s most threatened habitats, and our research will help understand how changes in the mangrove environment have affected the species dependent on them.
The beauty of plants and animals, the intricacy and complexity of the interactions between organisms – organisms filling every conceivable form and function – have inspired my ultimate goal to become actively involved in research, environmental education and conservation. My fascination with all forms of life, insects especially, has developed out of a childhood curiosity for nature. Thanks to the encouragement and endless patience of my parents, I was able to explore, observe, and experience the natural world by actively engaging with it. This childhood curiosity and amazing experiences working at a zoo led me to study ecology, behavior and entomology at Cornell University.
Now at The University of Hong Kong, my research involves surveying the biodiversity of ants and moths at the Hong Kong International Airport. Through monitoring non-native species, providing tools to educate the public on Hong Kong’s biodiversity, and by developing action plans for airport authorities, we hope to minimize potential threats imposed to Hong Kong’s native fauna.
Dr. Mark WONG (University of Oxford, co-advised )
My love for the natural world may be traced to my early childhood. However I developed a specific interest for research during my Honours year at the Australian National University (2014), where I found that parapatric populations of Australian funnel-web spiders displayed patterns of intraspecific variation in morphological traits – but not physiological traits – which responded to underlying phylogeographic structure. While holidaying in Hong Kong at the end of 2014, I volunteered with Benoit at HKU – this was when he introduced me to the fascinating world of the ants. I returned to Singapore to serve in the government from 2015 to 2017, and continued to explore the taxonomy and ecology of ants in my free time. Under Benoit’s generous long-distance mentorship, I described three new ant species from Singapore, documented the natural history of rare genera, and also reviewed the diversity, ecology, and sampling methods for the world’s subterranean ants . In hopes of acquiring a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the natural world, in October 2017 I began a DPhil at the University of Oxford to investigate community ecology – how and what happens when different organisms come to live and interact in the same place and time – with ants as my focal model. My doctoral research is advised by Owen Lewis (Oxford) and Benoit (HKU), and supported by a Clarendon Scholarship from Oxford and a grant from the National Geographic Society.
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Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com.au/citations?user=e-J0JoIAAAAJ&hl=en
Louisa was our first Education Manager for the Hong Kong Biodiversity Museum from March to August 2021
Gordon YONG (Singapore)
My interest for insects started with a field trip with the National University of Singapore (NUS) to Sri Lanka, where I got my first dose of the great diversity laden in the world of insects. Ants in particular have always been a very fascinating creature to me. They are found everywhere you look with many specializations in different niches. While most look similar to the untrained eye, their diversity truly shines upon more detailed observations under a microscope. Through the recommendation of Mark, I volunteered at the Insect Biodiversity and Biogeography Laboratory and learnt a great deal about ants under the stellar guidance of Benoit. I am currently still a year 3 undergraduate student at NUS looking forward to uncovering the diversity of ants in Singapore!