Beetles are magnificently diverse. For reference, there are about 10,000 species of birds living in the world. Nobody really knows how many beetles there are, but a good guess is about 1 million species. We’ve discovered and given names to about 400,000 of those species. Discovering their relationships is important. Why are there so many beetles? Why aren’t there 1 million bird species?
I study a group of closely related beetles that live in eastern North America. The genus name is Conotrachelus and this group, overall, has about 1,200 species within it. My study group is the 40 or so species that co-exist in eastern North America. Beetles found in this genus include the plum curculio (which feeds on fruit), the butternut curculio (which feeds on walnuts), the hickory nut curculio (which feeds on pecans), and the cocoa fruit borer (which feeds on cocoa).
I’ve used a multi-locus molecular approach to analyze the relationships of Conotrachelus species in eastern North America. I’ve extracted DNA from over 200 individuals, most of them pinned museum specimens. From these I’ve sequenced 3 markers and analyzed the data using gene tree and species tree methods under parsimony, likelihood, and Bayesian inference. This dataset was also used to test taxonomic classifications based on morphology and to assess host-use evolution in the group, which is a very labile trait.
These results are being written up for publication this Fall.