ARTS: Systematics of the darkling beetle genus Eleodes: Integrating morphology DNA and bioinformatics to resolve a taxonomically impeded genus

Project: Research project

Project Details


ARTS: Systematics of the darkling beetle genus Eleodes: Integrating morphology DNA and bioinformatics to resolve a taxonomically impeded genus ARTS: Systematics of the darkling beetle genus Eleodes: Integrating morphology, DNA, and bioinformatics to resolve a taxonomically impeded genus rich lineage of darkling beetles (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) in North America, and represents one of the most widespread and easily recognizable groups of primarily desert dwelling invertebrates in the western U.S. and Mexico. Despite their familiarity and ubiquity, many taxonomic problems still hinder Eleodes identification and impede our understanding their evolution. In particular, relationships within the genus are poorly understood and have never been tested within a phylogenetic framework, and species identification tools with adequate descriptions and images are lacking. Here we propose to address the evolutionary relationships among Eleodes subgenera and species using quantitative methods. In particular, we will: (1) Reconstruct a robust Eleodes phylogeny based on a combined molecular (8 genes) and morphological (>200 characters) approach with dense taxon sampling (~2/3 of the species); (2) Produce a semantically enriched e-monograph of the genus with matrix-based descriptions, high-resolution images, and dynamic specimen-level georeferenced distribution maps of all 193 Eleodes species and an estimated 30 new species ( using the mx software platform, and linked to peer-reviewed publications and an ontology (ColAO) of morphological terms and images; (4) Submit peer-reviewed publications to disseminate Eleodes information; (5) Create an archive of data in GenBank, MorphBank, ITIS, and EOL; and (6) Preserve taxonomic knowledge by (a) mentoring an early career researcher (Smith) in cybertaxonomy and thereby positioning him as an international leader in darkling beetle systematics; (b) training a Ph.D. student in systematics through his/her project revising the Eleodes subgenera Promus (21 spp.) and Tricheleodes (8 spp.); and (c) train at minimum 8-12 undergraduate students in taxonomy and biodiversity studies, including independent research on Eleodes adult and larval behavior and life histories. Broader Impacts. This project will lay a foundation for future, web-based collaborative systematics projects. Specifically, by (1) combining both phylogenetic data (morphological and DNA matrices) and taxonomic information (name histories, references, images, specimen localities) within the innovative mx biodiversity informatics platform, and (2) linking morphological data to the emerging Coleoptera Anatomy Ontology ( to establish an ontologycompatible vocabulary for taxonomic descriptions, this project will break new ground in tackling taxonomically difficult beetle lineages based on semantically rigorous and dynamically available methods and data. Taxonomic knowledge of Eleodes and of tenebrionids in general will be preserved and advanced by training a postdoc and a Ph.D. student in revisionary systematics. At least 8-12 undergraduates involved with this study will participate in all aspects of data collection and analysis. This study will also foster collaborations between ASU and the CNIN, by facilitating the research of at least one Mexican Ph.D. student (Paulina Cifuentes) via her inclusion in collecting trips and participation in the larger tenebrioniDBase project, and providing a synoptic collection of identified Eleodes to the CNIN. A dynamic website with species keys, images, literature, and biogeographical data will serve the products of this and other tenebrionid studies to researchers and the wider community. Outreach efforts will be further facilitated through the International Institute for Species Exploration, including a sister website to the tenebrioniDBase,"Electronic Library of Eleodes Observations" (ELEO), which will motivate teachers, students, and citizen scientists to identify Eleodes species and record occurrence data, with the goal of providing a long-term census of species and their ranges. The ELEO site will also provide an auto-tutorial guide to morphology and species recognition for students and teachers, using E. carbonarius as a model for understanding biodiversity research, discrete versus continuous variation, and how species are defined, recognized, and classified.
Effective start/end date4/1/138/17/14


  • NSF: Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO): $167,577.00


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