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Integrated Studies of Insect Systematics, Genomics, Evolution & Diversity

Research Summary: I study insect systematics and evolution, with a focus on beetles (Coleoptera), and the ecology and evolution of insect-plant interactions. Other interests include the evolution of specialized plant-feeding, gene and genome evolution, chemosensation, digestive physiology, and temporal and geographic patterns of insect and plant diversity and endemism. Most studies involve genomic and morphological data, museum specimens, temporal information from fossils, and ecological data, such as host plants and geographic distributions. My lab engages collaborators and takes part in field studies on all 7 continents, but my interest is focused on the tropics. Research in my lab has been supported by grants from the US National Science Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture,  the US Environmental Protection Agency, the FedEx Institute of Technology, and other organizations.


Broader Impacts Summary: I seek to catalyze biodiversity science, education, and conservation through advocacy, generating new knowledge, and helping build a diverse and inclusive community of broadly-trained naturalist-scientists. Locally, efforts are focused on education and research engagement with underserved populations, while globally the focus is on growing capacity for biodiversity science, education, and conservation in Earth's most biodiverse places. Members of my lab regularly contribute to outreach activities and policy discussions and development relevant to biodiversity science, education, and conservation.

See the Projects Page on this website for information about current projects in the McKenna Lab.


Members of my lab are reconstructing insect phylogeny & evolution through analyses of large-scale molecular & morphological data sets. Most work involves beetles (order Coleoptera), especially the Phytophaga, an enormous clade of tremendous ecological and economic importance containing the weevils, leaf beetles, & longhorn beetles, most of which feed on plants.

S Haddad, N Gutiérrez, FA Noguera, S Shin, P Svacha, & DD McKenna. 2021. Phylogenetic placement of the enigmatic longhorned beetle Vesperoctenus flohri Bates (Vesperidae) and a first description of its female internal structures. Arthropod Systematics & Phylogeny 79: 99-114.


DJ Clarke et al. 2019. The weevil fauna preserved in Burmese amber – snapshot of a unique, extinct lineage (Coleoptera: Curculionoidea). Diversity 11(1), 219pp.

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Comparative genomic studies seek to reveal the genomic basis of insect biodiversity, with a focus on the evolution of plant-feeding and chemically mediated interactions. We are involved in several international efforts (e.g., Earth Biogenome Project, Insect 5,000 Genomes Project) to generate reference-quality insect genomes and other genomic resources.


N Shin, S Shin, Y Okamura, R Kirsch, V Lombard, P Svacha, O Denux, S Augustin, B Henrissat, DD McKenna, Y Pauchet. 2021. Larvae of longhorned beetles (Coleoptera; Cerambycidae) have evolved a diverse and phylogenetically conserved array of plant cell wall degrading enzymes. Systematic Entomology.

GWC Thomas et al. 2020. Gene content evolution in the arthropods. Genome Biology. 21 (1), 1-14.

Ecology & Evolution

We are investigating the nature, ecology and evolution of host plant associations and chemically mediated interactions in plant-feeding insects, especially beetles. Ongoing work includes studies of beetle digestive physiology, the evolution of specialized plant-feeding, sequestration of plant allelochemicals, polymorphism, aposematism, and chemosensory evolution (including pheromones used in host plant and mate finding). Most of these studies involve leaf beetles, longhorn beetles, or weevils (Phytophaga).

DD McKenna. 2020. Evolution: Symbiotic microbes mediate host range of herbivorous beetles. Current Biology. 30(15): R893-R896.


RF Mitchell et al. 2019. The diversity and evolution of odorant receptors in betles (Coleoptera). Insect Molecular Biology. 10.1111/imb.12611.

Biogeography, Diversity, Diversification & Endemism

We are studying timing and patterns of diversification in beetles and other insects, and geographic patterns of beetle distribution, diversity and endemism. Most studies focus on the tropics and southern Hemisphere, and several have conservation biological goals and implications. Collage images courtesy of Udo Schmidt (used with permission).


HP Baird, S Shin, RG Oberprieler, M Hullé, P Vernon, KL Moon, RH Adams, DD McKenna, & SL Chown. 2021. Fifty million years of beetle evolution along the Antarctic Polar Front. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 10.1073/pnas.2017384118.


DD McKenna et al. 2019. The evolution and genomic basis of beetle diversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 10.1073/pnas.1909655116.

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