Why study the Cerylonid Series ?

Beetle diversity is a remarkable aspect of life on Earth. The beetle branch on the Tree of Life exhibits incredible variation in morphology, development, physiology, behavior, ecology, etc., and this diversity is reflected by an astounding number of species. A vast amount of beetle diversity, however, remains unknown. Researchers estimate that there are between one and ten million extant beetle species, but only about 350,000 have been discovered and formally described. The beetle superfamily Cucujoidea is comprised of 34 families that have been chronically understudied and remain in the frontier stage of taxonomic development.

Some cucujoids are economically significant herbivores (e.g., lizard beetles), stored product pests (e.g., grain beetles) or predators of pest insects (e.g., ladybugs). Most, however, are small, cryptic beetles that are closely associated with fungi and decaying plant matter, making them important components in healthy terrestrial ecosystems. A collaborative research and training project between laboratories at the University of Georgia and Brigham Young University will assemble a group of outstanding graduate students and an international team of researchers with complementary skills and institutional resources to produce worldwide taxonomic treatments of several lineages within the Cerylonid Series, a subgroup of Cucujoidea.

Phylogenetic analyses will be conducted using morphological and molecular data to form the basis for a natural and stable classification of these groups. The project will provide new information about the biology and immature developmental stages of these beetles. Evolutionary transitions in the cucujoid lineage will be examined, including trophic shifts (phytophagy, mycophagy, parasitism, predation), coevolution (e.g., with endosymbiotic yeasts), and the origins of inquiliny, gregariousness, and aposematism.

The project will create a mentored learning environment at the University of Georgia and Brigham Young University for the training of two postdocs, four graduate students, and ten undergraduates in modern systematic methods, with an overall goal of enhancing taxonomic resources and expertise in cucujoid beetle systematics.

The published results will be disseminated in scientific journals and through applications of modern technology, including Internet-accessible electronic identification keys, digital image galleries of specimens, digital reproductions of rare taxonomic literature, electronic species distribution maps, nomenclatorial databases, interactive databases of GIS-compatible specimen data, etc. Museum holdings of cucujoid taxa will be enhanced through curation by project participants and by augmentation of holdings with new material that will be generated through fieldwork.

This project will provide undergraduate and graduate students with an unsurpassed educational and research experience by taking advantage of the strengths of the PI's and their sponsoring institutions, and by providing close interactions with renowned taxonomic expert collaborators around the world. When the project objectives are met, a large and difficult slice of beetle diversity will become more accessible due to the immediate impact of the published taxonomic products, as well as the long-term impact that the infusion of taxonomic expertise will create.

 

 

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