The golden bordered beetle, Calloodes grayianus.
CSIRO scientists embark on Tree of Life for beetles
If you thought there were lots of different beetles, you were right - 23 000 species described so far in Australia alone, although the real number is probably between 80 000 and 100 000.
Now, CSIRO Entomology scientists Dr Adam Slipinski and Dr John Lawrence are joining a large international team to work on the Beetle Tree of Life project. They have received funding of $400 000 for four years to work with overseas colleagues to trace the evolutionary history of beetles.
Beetles come in all shapes, sizes and colours. They are also multi-talented - many are plant feeders, some are predators and still others are scavengers, feeding on rotting plants, dung and carrion. They are an integral and important part of all ecosystems, although a few are considered pests.
Both Dr Slipinski and Dr Lawrence are known worldwide for their work on classifying beetles. This research is part of the much larger Tree of Life project funded by the US National Science Foundation and will be led by Brian D Farrell, Professor of Biology at Harvard University.
“This new Beetle Tree of Life project will build up an evolutionary history for beetle families and subfamilies by gathering and analysing DNA information from more than 3000 species and data on the morphology (structure and form) of adult and larval beetles from over 400 species.”
“Worldwide there are more than 350 000 described beetle species,” Dr Slipinski says. “That’s a quarter of all described organisms and means beetles make up the largest single branch in the Tree of Life. Not only do beetles have the numbers but they also dominate most terrestrial ecosystems.”
According to Dr Slipinski, few attempts have been made so far to decipher the evolutionary history of beetles as a whole, probably because their sheer numbers and enormous diversity have made it a formidable task.
This new Beetle Tree of Life project will build up an evolutionary history for beetle families and subfamilies by gathering and analysing DNA information from more than 3000 species and data on the morphology (structure and form) of adult and larval beetles from over 400 species. The large fossil record left by beetles will also be used to work out when major shifts in beetle life history occurred.
Dr Slipinski says that the end result will be a major leap forward in deciphering what is one of the most important phenomena in the Tree of Life's last 300 million years - the diversification of beetles.
Dr Slipinski and Dr Lawrence, with support from 40 overseas beetle experts, will coordinate the morphological part of the project by developing a matrix based on characters of adult and larval beetles.
Two of the main outcomes of the project, in addition to several research papers in high profile international research journals, will be the addition to the main Tree of Life Web Project (http://tolweb.org/tree/phylogeny.html) of a set of web pages covering all the beetle families and subfamilies and the production of a new, interactive key to beetle families. Dr Slipinski will also be responsible for the interactive key.
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