We humans are far outnumbered by organisms that are much smaller and “less complex” than ourselves. The cartoon above depicts representatives of major groups of organisms, and each organism is drawn such that its size reflects the number of species contained within its group. The bird, the fish, and the trees look as expected, but you may notice the enormous beetle. No, beetles are not generally larger than trees or elephants, but there are more species of beetles than any other group of organisms. Beetles are a wonderful representative of the biodiversity of the earth because they can be found in almost every terrestrial and non-marine aquatic environment!
Our guest this week, Antonio Gomez from the Department of Integrative Biology, studies a group of beetles called clivinines (pronounced kliv-i-nīnz) which has 1,200 species, and potentially more that have yet to be discovered. Antonio is also particularly interested in the morphological diversity and evolution of clivinine beetle sperm. Antonio wants to know: What is the evolutionary history of clivinine beetles? What is the pattern of morphological diversity of sperm in clivinine beetles, and how are sperm traits evolving? The objective is to collect beetles, study their form, sequence their DNA, and understand their diversification.
This is no small task, but Antonio is well equipped with microscopes to dissect and describe beetle anatomy, a brain geared to pattern recognition, and some fresh tools for genome sequencing. All of this is used to build an evolutionary tree for beetles. This is kind of like a family tree, but with species instead of siblings or cousins. Antonio and other students in the lab of David Maddison are adding knowledge to the vastness of the beetle unknown, bit by bit, antenna by antenna, gene by gene.
Like many of our graduate students at Oregon State, a group of great mentors can make all the difference. Before working with Dr. Kelly Miller at University of New Mexico, he never knew beetle phylogenetics meant exploring exotic locations around the world to collect and potentially discover new species. As an undergraduate, Antonio even named a species of water beetle, Prionohydrus marc, after the undergraduate research program that go him started as a beetle systematist, the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program. Pretty amazing. That was not his first or last research project with insects before he joined ranks at Oregon State, he also was participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduate program at the California Academy of Sciences and completed a Master’s at University of Arizona. Now he has ample experience working with beetles and is maybe a little overwhelmed but still excited by the unknown beetle tree of life. Next on his list of questions: did the ancestor of all clivinines likely have sperm conjugation?
You’ll have to tune in on Sunday April, 16 at 7 pm to hear more about that evolutionary arms race!
Not in Corvallis? No sweat! Stream the show live.
Can’t get enough? Follow this link to learn about Stygoprous oregonensis, a blind subterranean diving beetle that had not been seen in 30 years. Recently, a team of researchers that included Antonio Gomez reported the discovery of more specimens, which allowed them to place Stygoporus in an evolutionary tree.