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Research projects

Systematic Biology Group

Alpha taxonomy of metalmark moths (Choreutidae)

Metalmark moths are a group that is mainly tropical and, as is often the case with tropical insects, much of their diversity is still unknown. Based on extensive sampling of metalmark moths in Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica, it appears that more than 60% of the species collected in tropical areas are new to science. Given the current biodiversity crisis and disappearance of tropical habitats, we need to make an effort to record as much of this diversity as possible. So far we have described three new genera: Niveas, with two species, one in Papua New Guinea and the other in Kenya; Alasea, a monotypic genus currently known only from Costa Rica; and Ornarantia, a genus described to circumscribe a Neotropical clade consisting of species that were previously placed in Hemerophila, but were not close relatives of the true Hemerophila. In the future dozens of new species (and perhaps more genera) from these areas will be described and named.

BIG4: Biosystematics, informatics and genomics of the big 4 insect groups

In collaboration with 10 institutions around Europe, we are looking into the systematics and diversification of the big four orders of insects, Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, Hymenoptera and Diptera. The consortium is funding 15 PhD projects of which two are taking place in the Systematic Biology Group. One of these projects will be developing protocols to advance the field of museomics (i.e. the genomics of museum specimens) and the other project will investigate diversification dynamics of several families of Lepidoptera. These projects are taking place at the Department of Biology, Lund University.

Diversification dynamics in the butterfly family Nymphalidae

The phylogenetic relationships of major lineages in the butterfly family Nymphalidae have been clarified in the past 10 years and it is now time to investigate what factors affected the diversification of the family. Over the years almost half of all 6000 species of Nymphalidae have been sequenced for standard gene regions. This data allows us now to infer more accurate times of divergence, which in turn allows us to look into when and where various lineages originated. In this project we aim to get a broad understanding of why Nymphalidae have been so successful in colonizing the world and speciating.

Metalmark moth (Choreutidae) evolution

We have been slowly working out the evolutionary history of metalmark moths. The most current molecular phylogeny of the group includes most of the genera and its backbone is now very well resolved, but more work remains to be done in clarifying the relationships especially within the most species-rich genera, Brenthia and Choreutis. The current phylogeny allowed us to infer a historical biogeography hypothesis for the family as a whole, providing us with an idea of how metalmark moths spread around the world since their first divergence in the Cretaceous, about 75 million years ago. Currently we are working on inferring the changes in host plant use across the phylogeny and how this affected the diversification of different clades.

Palaeoclimate of Australia and the evolutionary history of Hyperomma rove beetles, soil macroinvertebrates with poor dispersing abilities

The rove beetle genus Hyperomma Fauvel (Paederinae) forms a rich Australian fauna confined to the disjunct forest areas of the east and the south-west (outside of Australia Hyperomma only occurs in New Zealand). All Hyperomma species are relatively small (ca. 0.4-2.0 cm long) and flightless macroinvertebrates, living in moist ground-based habitats and show rather restricted distribution ranges. Hyperomma seems to be an old lineage originating ca. 60–85 million years ago (in prep. and Schomann 2014). The vast arid areas in the middle of Australia were caused by a drastical climate change in mid-Miocene and expanded especially in the last 14 million years, with a possible interruption and chance for faunistic exchange between east and west during Pliocene.

Tracing the evolution of poor dispersers like Hyperomma in space and time can help us get a better picture of Australian climate history, but also of the long-term effects of habitat fragmentation. Additionally, a taxonomic revision of Hyperomma will be done to overcome the very poor knowledge about Hyperomma diversity (only 19 species out of 70+ described) and make it accessible for further studies and actual use in, e.g., conservation.

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