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Research

Photo by Sebastián Mena

Background & Motivation

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I might consider myself as one of those people who is "born to be a lepidopterist/entomologist". The most memorable moments during my childhood were when I was in the field with my net, rather than pursuing the activities of other more typical children. As I grew older, I became interested in the butterfly fauna of my own country of Japan, and built my own personal collection, collecting most of the butterfly species that occur in the country. At that time, to me, the Neotropical region was a place that only existed in books, until I had the opportunity to actually travel to Ecuador in person when I was wrapping up my senior year in college. Although the main purpose of this trip was to satisfy a lifelong desire to see some of the many magnificent and rare Neotropical butterflies, I was also amazed to see the vast tropical rainforest, the variety of habitats within a single country, and the high diversity of butterflies – none of which was comparable to my own country. My initial trips as a collector soon changed and I began to focus on Neotropical butterflies in a more scientific manner, realizing that my true interests and real passion lay in research on Lepidoptera, where I could make significant contributions to science and feel a sense of accomplishment. 

photos by Alan Highton

some photos from my trips to Venezuela which led me to spend my life in contemplation of Neotropical butterflies

How has Neotropical butterfly diversity been assembled and evolved, and why does this region harbor such a disproportionate amount of the earth’s biodiversity? I have had these questions in mind ever since I was first exposed to the biodiversity of this region. Such research is especially urgent at a time when the biodiversity of the Neotropics is threatened, since it will be impossible to recognize and document the region's unique elements of biodiversity after they are gone. My research, therefore, is conducted in a view of answering this research question as a long-term goal, whilst understanding species diversity of the Neotropical region as a short-term goal.

The genus Agrias motivates and challenges me to understand the butterfly diversity in neotropics

Field Work & Museum Visits

Field work form an integral part not only for my research but also of my life as a Lepidopterist. So far, I have conducted field work in various Central and South American Countries, including Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and French Guiana. Some of these expeditions were aimed to explore one of the most enigmatic and remote areas of the Amazon basin. In addition to field work, my research on butterfly systematics have relied heavily on museum collections. Such study has involved curation, databasing, dissecting and comparative morphological study, collecting tissue samples for DNA work, and imaging of museum specimens at public and private collections around the world, such as the Natural History Museum (London, UK), American Museum of Natural History (New York, USA), Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC, USA), Center for the study of Biological Diversity (Georgetown, Guyana) and many others.