Research Summary

Research Interests

I am a naturalist with a deep interest in ants. My fascination with these creatures initially began with taxonomy but has since expanded to encompass a broader exploration of morphology. I am particularly intrigued by the relationship between kinematic locomotion, ecology, behavior, embryology, genomics, and morphology, and how these factors interrelate. To investigate this, I intend to employ methods such as geometric morphometry (landmarking) and pose estimation to quantify locomotion and examine its connection to muscle structure and external shape.

My research focuses on the striking morphological similarities between Neotropical fungus-growing ants and oriental cryptic hypogeic ants, specifically Proatta and Dacatria. These similarities are so remarkable that they cannot be easily explained by convergent evolution alone. By studying these ants, I hope to uncover new insights into the factors that influence the development of ant morphology. I strongly believe that comprehending the relationships between morphology, ecology, behavior, and locomotion can have wide-ranging applications in evolutionary biology. Furthermore, I am keen on exploring additional areas of study, such as the convergent evolution of desert ants, the taxonomy of male ants, and the global adaptive radiation of Apaenogaster.

What are the fundamental sources that cause morphological differences in the ants? How do muscle structures, derived from each ant's ecology or behavior, affect ant morphology? - Functional Morphology 
How do reproductive behaviors (or ecological factors) result in heterogeneous genital structures in male ants, and how can we delimit ant species, especially using reproductive castes? - Taxonomy, Phylogeny, Morphology 
How are Aphaenogaster ants distributed across the world, and where did they originate from? - Paleoentomology, Phylo-biogeography 
What are the potential ant species that could rapidly spread worldwide, and what ecological features do they possess? - Ecology 
Can deep learning and computer vision enhance taxonomy?

1. 3D Era in myrmecology

Micro-CT, 3D



3D Era in myrmecology

The advent of the 3D era in Myrmecology, spearheaded by micro-CT, has significantly accelerated ant research. It has revolutionized our ability to understand the previously inaccessible internal structures of ants, and this field is currently experiencing a surge of progress. During my time as a research intern at OIST, I gained valuable experience in utilizing micro-CT and segmenting of its results. This knowledge is pivotal as it has unlocked the door to investigating the fundamental question of the origin of form that has always intrigued me. We are enthusiastically embracing research that employs micro-CT and various other 3D techniques to delve deeper into this captivating realm.

L: 3D model of Neoponera sp. (Made by Dong)
Figuring out the clear morphological characteristics are still considered highly important in the taxonomy even though molecular studies based on various markers are getting more important to understand the taxonomic status of each species. 3D modeling can be a very useful method when it can be properly provided with CT-scanned file or many 2D scientific photographs or SEM images. It is also can be freely sent as a 3D file format and printed out. I expect that I might be able to get some 3D morphometrics data based on these 3D models. All the 3D files can be further animated by Autodesk MAYA and some of rendering programs to visualize the specific behaviors such as walking patterns or mating behaviors.

‌ A photogrammetry is very helpful method in examining the particular characters which are might very important in taxonomy but hard to visible in 2D photos. It can bring the micro habitats of each species to virtual reality as well. It will be way more informative than traditional biological descriptions. ‌


2. Kinematics of ants

Locomotion, Extracting walking patterns



Kinematic & Walking pattern of ants

Kinematics can influence both the shape of muscles and external morphology. I am curious about the potential effects of multiple variables, such as linked mandibles and heavy head weight, on kinematics, specifically in relation to walking patterns. Additionally, I am particularly interested in understanding how the shape of the petioles varies depending on the direction of gaster bending and its relationship with the muscles of the propodeum. In addition, It would be fascinating to standardize the walking patterns of each ant group and map them onto a phylogenetic tree. This approach might be providing valuable insights into the evolutionary relationships among different ant taxa and shed light on how locomoting behaviors have evolved over time.

L: Extracting walking pattern from Diacamma sp. (Made by Dong)

2. Ant Phylogeny & Evolutionary biology

Phylogenetics, Population genetics, Paleomyrmecology, Impression and amber fossils


Figure from unpublished data (Dong 2022)
Figure from unpublished data (Dong 2022)

1. Impression fossil excavated from Pohang

2. Impression fossil excavated from Jinju

3. Line drawing of impression fossil

3. Using deep learning and Computer vision in entomology

 Image segmentation, object detecting and motion tracking

Automatic ant ID:
Image segmentation, multiple object detecting and motion tracking

Deep learning and Computer vision are becoming very strong tools to solve the problems in many scientific fields. I can use some of basic skills for constructing deep learning which are represented by Pytorch and Tensorflow. Image classification by R-CNN algorithm, real-time multiple objects detection,  and Image segmentation will be very attractive ways to do many entomological studies that we could not been approached. 

L: Automatic ant ID program I made using Tensorflow. Please wait for a second to see how it works

4. Co-evolution: ants and other myrmecophile animals

The relationships between ants and other creatures