Our research is driven by three essential questions: Why are some taxonomic lineages so diverse, how can phylogeny inform us about innovations relating to diversity, and how do the organisms themselves discern between congeners or conspecifics? The taxon we currently focus on are the charismatic and economically important Jewel Beetles (Buprestidae). Buprestids exhibit an abundance of evolutionary innovations including infrared organs, chemical defenses, sexual signaling and dimorphisms, a variety of food breadth and natural history strategies, and a diversity of brilliant color schemes.
In particular, we have chosen to concentrate on one of the most ubiquitous, yet lesser-understood sensory systems within these flashy beetles — vision. By focusing on the evolution of visual systems via Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) data, our recent research has revealed the presence of complexities not recovered to date among the Coleoptera (Lord et al. 2016). Investigations of the economically important emerald ash borer and other buprestids have yielded the presence of multiple expressed visual pigment protein (opsin) copies and differences in copy number between sexes. Through structural analyses of the amino acid variation comprising the opsin proteins, we have been able to identify putative sites critical to spectral tuning. These findings suggest the subfunctionalization of opsin gene duplications to achieve sensitivity to portions of the light spectrum not available to other beetles. As we begin to understand the molecular and physiological processes underlying vision, this research has potential to inform not only entomology and visual systems ecology, but may prove valuable in the economic control of pest species.
New research from our collaborative team focuses on the diversification of visual systems across the Coleoptera, and the interplay between odorant genes, vision genes, and correlations with natural history strategies.
See some of our publications here.