“An Inordinate Fondness For Rove Beetles: How Ants Have Shaped Beetle Diversity”
Joe Parker, Ph.D.
Columbia University, Department of Genetics and Development; Research Associate, Invertebrate Zoology-AMNH
The 400,000 described species of beetle are the products of an extraordinary level of diversification that has taken place over 300 million years. Yet, for the most recent 50 million or so years, beetles — like all other terrestrial invertebrates — have had to contend with the ecological dominance of ants.
In this talk, Dr. Joseph Parker, (Columbia University, Department of Genetics and Development) explains how members of one beetle group, the rove beetles (Staphylinidae), did not succumb to competition or predation, but instead capitalized on the success of ants to become the most speciose family of all animals (>61,000 species). By combining phylogenetic and paleontological evidence with observational natural history, Dr. Parker’s research has led to a new hypothesis: that major clades of staphylinids were preadapted for life in ant-dominated environments where they radiated extensively, achieving huge diversity and abundance. Moreover, equipped with anatomies that enabled coexistence with ants, numerous independent staphylinid lineages evolved to target the ant colonies themselves, living as socially parasitic “myrmecophiles” reliant on nest resources. Many such myrmecophiles rank among the most specialized arthropods known, with sophisticated morphologies, behaviors and chemistries for engaging in intimate symbioses with host ants. Dr. Parker began collecting and studying staphylinids as a teenager in Wales, but undertook PhD research on Drosophila developmental biology at the University of Cambridge, UK. In his current postdoctoral research at Columbia University he has come full circle, bringing the tools of modern genetics and molecular biology to bear on rove beetles. He will discuss his new findings on the evolution of molecular mechanisms underlying social insect symbiosis in this family of beetles, shedding light on the more general question of how interspecies interactions arise in nature, and evolve towards intimacy.
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