May 24, 2011

Opening Presents

I specialize in chrysomelid leaf beetles. Chrysomelidae (about 40,000 species) forms one of the largest radiations of animals, and they present many interesting research problems. My approach is holistic, with extensive fieldwork to explore life histories, ecology, behavior, and laboratory study of morphology and molecules. In this part of Peru, I am particularly interested in chrysomelids that have become specialists of bamboos and bambusiform grasses, palms (at least the ones a 5-foot tall person can reach!) and a particular chrysomelid species that lives in unopened or slightly opened leaves of monocot plants in the Marantaceae and Heliconiaceae families. This latter group is particularly abundant here – nearly every rolled leaf has a few individuals of different species living in this tight semi-aquatic space. I like thinking of unrolling a leaf in the forest as opening a Christmas present – which specimens, how many individuals, what is their feeding pattern?

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The Biodiversity Institute is home to about 60 graduate students and 30 research scientists and curators. They participate in field expeditions to all seven continents and represent areas such as entomology, ornithology, paleontology, parasitology and herpetology. As the authors of this blog, they share their experiences and adventures in collections-based biological research all over the world.

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