Integrated studies of insect systematics, genomics, evolution & diversity

We study the phylogeny and evolution of beetles (order Coleoptera) and other insects, the evolution and genomic basis of plant-feeding, and interactions between insects and plants on ecological and evolutionary time scales. Related interests include the evolution of insect genomes, and geographic patterns of insect and plant diversity and endemism. Most studies involve molecular data from genomes or transcriptomes, morphological and other data from museum specimens, or ecological data, such as host plant associations, and geographic distributions.


We 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.

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.


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, and chemosensory evolution (including pheromones used in host and mate finding).


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

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

Diversification, Diversity & Endemism

We are studying timing and patterns of diversification in beetles and other insects, and geographic patterns of beetle diversity and endemism. Most studies focus on the tropics and S Hemisphere. In recognition of the  impacts of habitat loss and climate change on biodiversity, some projects have conservation biological goals and implications. Collage images courtesy of Udo Schmidt (used with permission).


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