PeerJ Award Winners at IUSSI 2022 International Congress

The International Congress of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI), held every four years, is the premier meeting on the biology of social insects. The 19th Congress, which took place July 3–7, 2022, in San Diego, was the first hybrid version, with over 500 in-person participants and another 150 attending remotely. The meeting featured live-streamed plenaries by leading scientists from around the world, nearly 400 symposium talks, 180 posters, and special sessions on diversity, equity, and inclusion, grant-writing, and the role of art in scientific research and communication. Registrants can continue to take advantage of the congress offerings through an on-demand archive housing poster presentations and recorded sessions.

Stephen Pratt, Program Committee Chair

 

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PeerJ Life and Environment recently opened for submissions to a Special Issue related to the Impact of Varying Environmental Landscapes on Insect Distribution, lead by editors Naureen Rana and Shahla Nargis. This Special Issue aims to highlight the latest research into insect distribution across diverse ecological regions.

 

 

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Rebecca Senft Undergraduate researcher, Kennesaw State University, USA. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I am a post-baccalaureate student, who returned to school during COVID. I had been working as a digital marketer for four years, but during COVID, I felt like marketing didn’t make me feel fulfilled. At that time, I was finding a lot of enjoyment in the outdoors (gardening, hiking, etc.) so I decided to return to school to learn more about biology.

In my second semester back, I ended up joining two research labs at KSU, one of them being Dr. Clint Penick’s lab which focuses on the study of social insects. I’ve been working in his lab for a year and a half, primarily studying ant microsculpturing. In addition to social insects, I’m also interested in invasive plants. The other lab I work with has a couple of projects that I assist with that focus on ecological changes due to invasive plants.

What first interested you in this field of research?

I was drawn into research because I wanted to understand the world around me. When I was interacting with the wildlife in my backyard, it hit me that there are tons of small organisms that all play a part, and I’d never stopped to wonder about them. Dr. Penick’s lab has allowed me to explore some of this curiosity. Ants (and other social insects!) can look really small, but they’re everywhere. So getting to do a deep dive on one facet of how ants interact with their environment has been really fulfilling.

You won the Best Poster award at the IUSSI Congress, can you briefly explain the research you presented?

Insect cuticle is a multifunctional material that provides structural support, protects against predation, and aids in desiccation resistance. In ants, the cuticle is often covered with ornate microsculpturing that has a largely unknown function. In our project, we tested whether a specific microsculpturing pattern, known as striation, could assist in abrasion resistance for ants that dig in sandy soil.

This was done by comparing the spacing between raised ridges that are present in the striated pattern. If the ridges of the cuticle are spaced close enough to block out sand, then the ridging may keep parts of the cuticle safe from contact with sand. We measured ants within the genus Pogomyrmex, commonly known as harvester ants since many are known to build nests in sandy soils. We found that the majority of these ants had spacing between their ridges that would be able to block sand, indicating support for the ridging’s ability to reduce abrasion. Additionally, we found that ridge sizing does not scale with head size. This further supports that the patterning is not a function of body size, and instead the ridge spacing is being selected by a functional purpose.

How will you continue to build on this research?

When we started, this project was designed to be COVID-friendly, so most of our research has come from activities outside of the lab. Now we’re hoping to move the project into the lab. We’d love to further explore the question by collecting additional Pogonomyrmex badius individuals and artificially abrading them, then placing them under a scanning electron microscope to see where that abrasion occurs. I think there are a lot of interesting avenues that this project could continue to explore, so stay tuned!

 

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