Parasitic Hymenoptera are among the most fascinating of all organsims. My research focuses on understanding the phylogenetic and evolutionary history of Hymenoptera (Insecta), with a focus on parasitoids. Parasitoids are among the most speciose, morphologically diverse, and biologically complex of all insects, and therefore offer an idyllic system for examining the patterns and processes of evolutionary change. Robust, corroborated phylogenies are a necessary first step for comparative evolutionary research, allowing examinations into complex evolutionary patterns of both genotype and phenotype. My research extends from pure systematics, uncovering the phylogenetic history among Hymenopteran taxa at multiple taxonomic levels, to comparative evolutionary studies of complex genetic, morphological, and biological traits based on these phylogenies.
Most of my research focuses on Braconidae. Braconid parasitoids are extremely diverse and fascinating organisms – attacking a variety of insect groups.
Here is a link to an excellent video from National Geographic.
Evolution of Braconidae
Until recently, the phylogeny of Braconidae has been controversial and largely unresolved, especially at higher taxonomic levels. Our recent paper utilized multiple nuclear genes to examine evolutionary relationships within Braconidae. Data for this study can be accessed here.
Currently, I am examining divergence times across the major braconid lineages and how parasitism has evolved within the family. Members of Braconidae attack a wide variety of hosts. Some lineages are limited to specific groups of closely related insects (e.g. Helconinae on Cerambycidae and Buprestidae), while others have experienced multiple instances of host switching (e.g. Aphidiinae, Doryctinae). I am examining patterns of host usage in Braconidae and how host shifts may have contributed to differential diversification.
Hymenoptera and Ichneumonoidae Phylogenomics
Genomic information offers a powerful tool for inferring phylogeny and for understanding pattern and process in evolution utilizing a phylogenetic framework. We recently tested the utility of transcriptome data for inferring superfamilial relationships in Hymenoptera (bees, ants, wasps, and sawflies) See here. For abstract and links to raw data. Analyzed data for this study can be accessed here.
Currently, I am exploring novel data capture techniques (anchored target enrichment) for examing phylogenetic history and evolutionary patterns across Ichneumonoidea with Dr. Heather Hines and Dr. Andy Deans at Penn State University.
Konrad Lohse has been instrumental in utilizing genomic data for understanding phylogeographic patterns in gall wasp parasitoids. See here. We also produced a methods paper on how to develop EPIC markers
from ESTs in non-model organisms. See here.
Novel Methods for Species Delimitation
I am currently extending my phylogenomics research to examine how EPIC markers can be utilized for species delimitation and for delimiting species and determining host associations in parasitoids. In addition to informing taxonomic and evolutionary research, these methods have excellent utility in biocontrol, agriculture, and ecology. For example, I am working with Dr. Alejandro Costamagna to develop novel molecular methods for determining the hosts of predators in agroecosystems using intronic markers. These methods will provide cost-effective solutions to understanding food webs and the impact natural enemies have on crop pests.
Additionally, I am working with Dr. Goeff Allen at the University of Tasmania to examine a cryptic species complex of Eadya wasps (Braconidae). Molecular evidence thus far suggests a minimum of three species which may have an effect on the release of the wasps in New Zealand to control the Eucalyptus Tortoise Beetle, Paropsis charybdis (Chrysomelidae).
How introns evolve over time and in specific lineages is poorly understood. In collaboration with Dr. Domaratzki (Computer Science), we are examining how intron location, size, phase, and presence or absence evolves in insects and how these features can be predicted using phylogenetic methods. Mamun Sharif (M.Sc Computer Science) has developed automated tools to predict intron location in non-model organisms from transcriptome data. This tool will aid in rapid EPIC marker development as well as contribute to the studies of intron evolution.
Taxonomic research is fundamental to all scientific study. I specifically am interested in Braconidae, especially Helconinae and Brachistinae. For taxonomic identification keys, see keys. A revision of the world genera of Helconinae will be completed in 2016. Cryptic species of Eadya (Braconidae) and the effect on biocontrol of Paropsis charybdis (in conjunction with Dr. Geoff Allen’s lab, University of Tasmania).
I am also in the process of developing new biodiversity pages on Ichneumonoid wasps of Canada, including the Prairie Ecozone and Yukon. For a checklist of Braconidae in the Canadian prairies, See here . Additionally, biodiversity studies are being conducted in Honduras, Australia, and Peru. Check back soon for more information.
Mobile Integrated Pest Management
Identifying pests of agriculture have relied heavily on experts, either extension researchers or agronomists trained in entomology, plant science, or plant pathology. Interactive keys are relatively new tools that allow for non-expert users to more easily identify species that are well known. With multiple collaborators, we are developing a set of digital interactive keys to identify all known pests (including insects, weeds, and diseases) in all major Canadian field crops. These tools will be available to work in the field on smartphones so that producers and agronomists can identify pests in real time. We are launching the first set of insect identification tools in Spring 2015. For more information, See here.