Faculty, Postdocs, Graduate Students, Research Associates, & Research Assistants

I am a specialist on beetles (order Coleoptera), especially the Phytophaga, an enormous clade of tremendous ecological and economic importance containing the weevils, leaf beetles, and longhorned beetles. Specific research areas include beetle classification, phylogeny and evolution, timing and patterns of diversification, the genomic basis and evolution of plant feeding, biodiversity surveys and inventories, and geographic patterns of diversity and endemism, with a focus on the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere. Most projects involve international teams of collaborators, field studies, natural history collections, large molecular datasets, and computationally-intensive bioinformatic analyses. In recognition of the worsening biodiversity crisis, some projects have conservation biological goals/implications. I am currently involved in studies of insect biodiversity in North, Central, and South America, Africa, and Australia. My research is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the FedEx Institute of Technology. I teach courses in Evolution, Entomology, & Biodiversity.

Curriculum Vitae (brief; 2-pg version)

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Duane McKenna PhD
William Hill Professor of Biology
University of Memphis, Department of Biological Sciences
Founding Director, Center for Biodiversity Research
Director, Agriculture & Food Tech. Research Cluster, FedEx Institute

Richard Adams PhD
Research Associate
Assistant Professor of Bioinformatics, Georgia College (Milledgeville, GA)
PhD: University of Texas, Arlington

Rich is a broadly trained data scientist whose research interests focus on “Big Data” in biology at the intersection of computer science, statistics, and evolutionary genomics. A large part of his work is focused on developing new algorithms, analytical tools, theory, and software for studying molecular evolution at the scale of whole genomes. His recent work in the McKenna lab includes testing models of weevil diversification using genomic data and robust statistical procedures (see Baird et al. 2021). Recently, his newfound appreciation for the extraordinary evolution and diversity of Coleoptera has inspired new interest in leveraging beetle genomes to study the mechanisms underlying genomic innovation, adaptation, and diversification. This fall, Rich will be joining the faculty at Georgia College as an Assistant Professor of Bioinformatics, and he will also continue as a Research Associate in the McKenna lab while working on several new and exciting projects that seek to illuminate the remarkable evolutionary history of the beetle genome.

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Austin Baker PhD
Postdoctoral fellow (forthcoming)
PhD: University of California, Riverside

Contact

Austin is postdoc working on the NSF-funded Ensifera phylogenomics project, which aims to understand the evolution and genetic basis of acoustic communication in crickets, katydids, and their relatives. He received his Ph.D. in 2020 studying the phylogenomics and biogeography of ant-parasitizing wasps in the family Eucharitidae (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea). His research interests include using phylogenomic data to explore temporal and spacial patterns in insects, exploring trait-linked diversification patterns, and identifying and delimiting morphologically cryptic or polymorphic species complexes using combined morphological, molecular, behavioral, and/or ecological data.

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Cristian Beza-Beza PhD
Research Associate
PhD: University of Memphis

Cristian studies Neotropical beetle systematics, genomics, ecology, and evolution, and is a specialist on the beetle family Passalidae. He is also studying patterns of geographic distribution and endemism in Passalidae, and how the ranges of montane-endemic passalid species are changing in Mesoamerica as a consequence of global warming and habitat loss.

Michael Charles
PhD Student

Michael is a first-year PhD student studying the biology and distribution of the greater and lesser chestnut weevils, as well as their apparent differing degrees of host-specificity. He is also interested in phylogenomic methods, the phylogeny and evolution of weevils in the genus Curculio (Curculionidae: Curculioninae), and interactions between Curculio and their host plants. Prior to joining the McKenna lab as a graduate student, Michael was an undergraduate volunteer, and assisted with specimen imaging and DNA extraction.

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Hwalran Choi PhD
Research Associate
PhD: Seoul National University

Hwalran is an expert on aphids (Aphididae) and other hemipteran insects. Her research is focused on recontructing aphid phylogeny and evolution using genomic data. However, she also studies aphid-plant interactions and aphid classification.  Her doctoral research was focused on reconstructing the phylogeny of Macrosiphini (Hemiptera: Aphididae) using molecular data. She has also studied the taxonomy of aphids in the genera Myzus and Uroleucon in the Korean Peninsula. She has contributed to many different projects involving insect biodiversity, insect pests of agriculture, and insects of quarantine concern. Currently, she is studying host plant adaptation and functional genomics in aphids.

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Dave Clarke PhD
Research Associate
Lecturer in Biological Sciences, UofM Lambuth Campus
PhD: University of Illinois, Chicago

Dave came to the University of Memphis in late 2014 to join the McKenna Lab as an NSF-funded postdoc working on the phylogeny and evolution of weevils. He wrote a Master’s thesis on the beetle fauna of a conservation island in New Zealand, and then moved to the U.S. to study beetle systematics and evolution. He came to Memphis by way of Chicago where he completed his doctoral training at The Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has worked as an instructor in biology and environmental science at several institutions in the Chicago area. His research interests span comparative anatomy and morphology, systematics, evolution, biogeography and paleontology of beetles, and his work addresses several questions related to biodiversity and its origins. Dave teaches courses in Evolution, and Human Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Memphis Lambuth Campus (Jackson, TN).

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Pat Faudree (on left; with daughter, Dr. Jill Faudree)
Research Assistant

Coming soon!

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Stephanie Haddad PhD
Research Assistant Professor
PhD: University of Memphis

Stephanie studies the ecology, systematics, and evolution of the longhorn beetle family Cerambycidae. She is currently investigating the morphology, diversity, and evolution of the chemosensory sensilla of cerambyciform beetles (Cerambycidae, Disteniidae, Oxypeltidae, & Vesperidae) and their close relatives within superfamily Chrysomeloidea in order to learn more about how they have evolved to efficiently sense their environments. In addition to her work with beetles, she has surveyed insect biodiversity in national and urban forests and is interested in conducting species inventories to determine the presence and abundance of different insect groups. She is interested in native insect pollinators and in understanding factors that promote their biodiversity, especially in urban environments. Stephanie has experience teaching general biology lecture and lab, entomology lecture and lab, and senior seminar. She is a proponent of science outreach and mentorship, and is passionate about exploring effective strategies for recruiting, retaining, and advancing minorities and underrepresented groups in science.

Xuankun Li
Postdoctoral Fellow (forthcoming)
PhD: Australian National University

Xuankun is a fly systematist focusing on bee flies (Diptera: Bombyliidae). He also uses genomic data to explore the evolutionary history of flies and moths.

Check back soon for more information.

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Soo-Hyun Jeong
PhD Student

Soohyun is interested in phylogenomics and Coleoptera evolution, with a particular focus on the ecology and evolution of beetle-plant interactions. Her former M.Sc. research was focused on the taxonomy and phylogeny of Korean flower flies, subtribe Xylotina (Diptera: Syrphidae). Subsequently, she worked as a researcher creating data about plant damaging pests at the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency of Korea.

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Seunggwan Shin PhD
Research Associate
Assistant Professor, Seoul National University (Seoul, Korea)

PhD: Seoul National University

Seunggwan studies insect molecular phylogenetics and evolution with a focus on beetles and flies (Diptera). He is also interested in the ecology and evolution of plant feeding in beetles and flies. He is an expert on black fungus gnats (Diptera: Sciaridae), including their taxonomy, systematics, and evolution. Currently, he is developing analytical pipelines and laboratory methods in support of comparative genomic, phylogenomic, and other studies in the McKenna lab. In addition to insect systematics and evolution, he has a strong interest and background in bioinformatics for phylogenomic studies, including the development of gene sets for target enrichment. He is Co-PI on a recent grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (a collaboration with Texas A&M University) studying the phylogeny and evolution of Orthoptera. Other collaborations involve researchers from CSIRO (Australia), NCSU (USA), and SNU (South Korea).

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Lynette Strickland PhD

NSF Postdoctoral Fellow

PhD: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Lynette studies how color variation is maintained in a highly polymorphic, Neotropical tortoise beetle, Chelymorpha alternans. Using a combination of genomics technologies, including genome assembly, linkage mapping and RAD-sequencing, she aims to elucidate the genomic mechanisms that contribute to color pattern maintenance across Panamanian populations of C. alternans. Additionally, she uses extensive ecological data to understand the extrinsic factors that maintain variation. This includes a combination of sexual selection and predation bioassays, as well as chemical analysis using GC-MS. Her current work focuses on assessing whether transcriptional differences in gene expression influences the sequestration ability of larvae, and the results on larval survival and adult levels of palatability. Lynette is also deeply passionate about working to make science a more diverse and inclusive environment, with the goal of having scientific institutions that are truly representative of society.

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