Thursday, March 24, 2016

LAWRENCE — For about 60 million years during the Eocene epoch, the Indian subcontinent was a huge island. Having broken off from the ancient continent of Gondwanaland, the Indian Tectonic Plate drifted toward Eurasia.

During that gradual voyage, the subcontinent saw a blossoming of exceptional wildlife, and when the trove of unique biodiversity finally made contact with bigger Eurasia, the exchange of animals and plants between these areas laid the foundations for countless modern species.

“Today, mainland Asia and India have all this unique biodiversity — but did the mainland Asian biodiversity come from India, or did the Indian biodiversity come from other regions of Asia?” asked Jesse Grismer, doctoral candidate with the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas.

Grismer claims the answer depends on the organism in question.

“If you picked Asian freshwater crabs, you’d see they started in India and made their way to Asia, but if you picked dragon lizards you’d get the opposite answer,” he said. “The opposing distribution patterns created a lot of conflict for a while. You’d see papers saying, ‘Everything came from India,’ and others saying, ‘No, everything came from Indochina and Southeast Asia.’ But they were looking at opposite ends of the same pattern, just with different animals.”

Now, Grismer has authored research appearing in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology showing that before the final collision of Eurasia and the Indian subcontinent, land bridges between the landmasses may have served as “freeways” of biodiversity exchange that flowed in both directions.

“Our paper shows that as India was approaching Eurasia, it was connecting by ephemeral land bridges,” Grismer said. “It was these land bridges that allowed for dispersal and exchange of all these species. There were two areas of suitable habitat separated by unsuitable oceans. But once that new area was exposed, species were allowed to disperse into mainland Asia or India, respectively, areas that these species had not been able to previously exploit.”

To arrive at their conclusion, Grismer and his co-authors performed a phylogenomic analysis of Indian Dragon Lizards, revealing multiple origins in Southeast Asia. The researchers included Alana Alexander, Phillip Wagner, Scott L. Travers, Matt D. Buehler, Luke J. Welton and Rafe M. Brown from KU and James A. Schulte II from Clarkson University. Grismer also credits his KU lab mates Chan Kin Onn, Robin Abraham and Carl Hutter with help on the research via “a lot of fruitful discussion.”

Importantly, the team showed that two land bridges connected the Indian subcontinent to Eurasia at two different times during the early to middle Eocene, some 35 to 40 million years ago.

“This hypothesis is based on evolutionary relationships between the species used in this study,” he said. Grismer added that his team blended new genomic data with previous studies and combined that analysis with new geologic studies about Eocene geology.

The KU researcher said Indian Dragon Lizards, or the Draconinae subfamily of the lizard family Agamidae, are an ideal species to study in order to piece together a picture of the exchange of biodiversity that took place due to the land bridges.

“Dragon lizards added new light because of the previous work that has been done on them, plus our new samples,” Grismer said. “They’re quite diverse as a group, distributed equally, and so they’re great study system for testing a new hypotheses.”

He added that conservation of certain species of Dragon Lizards and keeping them out of the international pet trade would help make possible more opportunities for understanding the history of this unique group of family of lizards.

“We were only able to do this because we had all these species to work with, and a future study with more data and new species could find a new result to this question ” he said. “Animals in general tell us a lot about our world and how we fit into it. I think protecting them is just as important as anything else we do.”

Top photo: Jesse Grismer, doctoral candidate with the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas, recently published research in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. Photo by Meg Kumin, KU Marketing Communications.

Top right image: A map shows the distribution of Draconinae and the four biogeographic area (differently colored borders) used in ancestral range reconstructions. Image courtesy Jesse Grismer.

Bottom right image: b Hypothesized position of the ISC and an early Eocene land bridge allowing for the first inferred dispersal event (D#1 in a) from Eurasia into India, 50–55 MYA. c. Hypothesized position of the ISC and a middle-late Eocene land bridge allowing for the second first inferred dispersal event (D#2 in a) from Eurasia into India between 35–50 MYA (paleomaps modified from Klaus et al.) Image courtesy Jesse Grismer.

-Brendan M. Lynch

- See more at: http://news.ku.edu/2016/03/14/land-bridges-linking-ancient-india-and-eur...

Herpetology
Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Beetles are everywhere.

Of the roughly 1.5 million species described so far, beetles account for around 400,000 species, making them the most species-rich group known in the world. In contrast, birds account for only around 10,000 of all described species, while only 5,600 of all known species are mammals.

Beetles are incredibly adaptable and diverse. They have learned to use a wide variety of habitats, and have become very specialized in the process, playing crucial roles in the ecosystem. They are important pollinators, recyclers, scavengers and decomposers. Much of beetle diversity, however, is yet to be uncovered.

In Peru, Caroline Chaboo, an Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas, is doing just that. Since 2008, she has been meticulously collecting beetles in the Peruvian forests, hoping to build an accurate picture of the rich beetle diversity there.

“We know now that there are around 10,000 species of beetles in Peru, and there are many, many new species awaiting discovery and description,” Chaboo told Mongabay. “My work in Peru is analogous to documenting all the bird species in the world.”

Chaboo — fondly called a “bug doctor” by her seven year-old daughter — focuses on leaf beetles, one of the most common groups of beetles. Her love for beetles has taken her to Africa, where she lived with the San indigenous peoples to see how they use toxins from leaf beetles to make poison-tipped arrows.

In Peru, Chaboo works in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world — around Manu National Park and Kosnipata Valley. This region has a tremendous diversity of birds, mammals and insects, and is home to a number of indigenous groups. This place is also threatened by mining, oil and gas explorationlogging and agricultural plantations. Chaboo hopes that her beetle surveys will showcase the value of the Peruvian forests, which can then help protect them.

Mongabay spoke with Chaboo about her love for beetles, and her work in Peru.

Pseudocalaspidea: Very little is known about this spectacular leaf beetle from ACA Villa Carmen Biological station. Photo by Caroline Chaboo.
Pseudocalaspidea: Very little is known about this spectacular leaf beetle from ACA Villa Carmen
Biological station. Photo by Caroline Chaboo.

INTERVIEW WITH CAROLINE CHABOO

Mongabay: What got you interested in beetles?

Caroline Chaboo: My family’s from India. But I grew up in the Caribbean, in Trinidad, and I was lucky to have good teachers. I’ve always been a systematist at heart because I collect things. I liked insects, and I built my own museum at home. When I moved to New York, I worked at the Natural History Museum there. I saw American researchers collecting insects, and they would use all kinds of strange contraptions to collect the insects, which got me fascinated.

I got a scholarship one summer from my university to spend a month at a field station. There were many visiting researchers there and I got to see what they were doing. I fell in love with insects there. The Natural History Museum at New York has the fourth largest insect collection in the world and I had all the free time in the world to go through the specimen drawers. In parallel to that I started learning about the insects and what kinds of questions I would want to ask.

I liked the really colorful insects, and for various reasons I ended up choosing leaf beetles, which are very colorful. I did a master’s degree with a well-known beetle expert, then my Ph.D. So once you pick a group and pick some questions, you kind of keep specializing in that area, and I’ve been doing that for a long time.

Mongabay: What do you find most fascinating about leaf beetles?

Caroline Chaboo: The diversity. Why are there around 40,000 species of leaf beetles? Why are there 10,000 bird species in the world, or 5,500 mammals? Why was evolution so uneven that some groups became huge and some groups are small. We rank leaf beetles at the top five in insect diversity. The world outside looks the way it does largely due to beetles. Flowers evolved because of beetles. So my attraction to them is this extraordinary diversity and what are the factors that lead to this diversity.

In Peru's Madre de Dios, the forest stretches to the horizon in every direction. But this view is threatened by increased gold-mining (legal and illegal), oil palm and cocoa cultivations, logging and habitat conversion. Photo by Caroline Chaboo.
In Peru’s Madre de Dios, the forest stretches to the horizon in every direction. But this view is threatened by increased gold-mining (legal and illegal), oil palm and cocaine cultivations, logging and habitat conversion. Photo by Caroline Chaboo.


Mongabay: What drew you to Peru?

Caroline Chaboo: Again, the diversity question. At some point as a biologist you have to commit to places. You can’t just keep flying to every place, although I would love to do that. But it takes a lot of time to cultivate the right people, the permits, to learn how to work in a place. I also had a child, she’s seven now. So that brings up a different set of considerations — how long does it take to get to a place, how effective and efficient will my work there be, how fast can I come home.

I first went to Peru on a scholarship from the Amazon Conservation Association. I stayed at their field station, and there I realized how much there is and how much is unknown. And the unknown can be extremely attractive as a research problem.

I already knew that Peru was one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the world. Peru has the highest number of birds, the highest number of plants, the highest number of ferns. Because of leaf beetles’ relationships with plants you can predict that if a place has high plant diversity, it will have high diversity of herbivores. So I kept going back, and realized that there’s a lot to do there.

Mongabay: Which region in Peru are you focusing on?

Caroline Chaboo: I am highly focused on Manu National Park and buffer zones in Kosnipata Valley within my broader lens of Peru biodiversity. On the edge of Manu National Park, Amazon Conservation Association has three main field stations. We had access to these field stations and could build a long-term research project.

The three field stations are at different elevations, and I could access very different kinds of forests at these stations. There are two regions of hotspots here: one where the lowland forests meet the high elevation forests, and a second band of hotspot where the high elevation grasslands meet the forests. So just based on the landscape I could predict that this was a zone of high diversity.

Horizontally too, a rainforest is not the same throughout. Depending on the nature of the drainage basin, the river flow, or soil type, you can get variations within a rainforest. So you can get big patches of bamboo forests, palm forests, swamps where these rivers form oxbow lakes, and all this adds to diversity, besides the internal dynamics of the forests.

Typical cloud forest at Amazon Conservation Association's Wayqecha Biological station. Photo by Caroline Chaboo.
Typical cloud forest at Amazon Conservation Association’s Wayqecha Biological station. Photo by Caroline Chaboo.

Mongabay: What are you working on currently?

Caroline Chaboo: At this point now, I’ve been collecting beetles in Peru since 2008. We have just finished a massive project, kind of the first wave of the analysis of my data. We’ve worked with more than 50 beetle experts from around the world, all over Central and South America, and Europe. There are about 200 families of beetles in the world, and we have now documented 100 families of beetles in Peru.

Now, we are on a species-describing spree for beetles of Peru. I think this is going to be a lot of fun because the foundation has been built very solidly. We know what’s in the museums. I have all these great collections, and we have assembled all the literature. We have figured out the correct names, and I have the best people in the world to put laser attention on this. So it is very exciting.

Student setting out a colored pan trap line. Insects are attracted to different colors so we sample different flying insects in soapy water. Photo by Caroline Chaboo.
Student setting out a colored pan trap line. Insects are attracted to different colors so we sample different flying insects in soapy water. Photo by Caroline Chaboo.
 
 

Mongabay: Could you talk about your field work?

Caroline Chaboo: As an Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas, I’ve been free to develop certain courses to teach, and one of the courses I developed is a Field Biology Program with a research component. So I take between 6 to 14 undergraduate students with me on a field expedition.

Once we’ve arrived at the field stations, we take on a whole lot of different kinds of collecting equipment and head out. For example, if you want to collect insects that are flying at a low level in the forest, just above the forest floor, you will use certain kinds of traps. If you want beetles living in the mid canopy, you will need another set of traps. Similarly, leaf litter has its own beetle fauna, trees that have fallen over have a different set of insects.

So I set up a trap, and then everyday teams of students go and clean out the traps of the specimens. They make sure we have enough ethanol in the traps to kill the insects when we catch them. Other students walk trails and look at certain plants to collect beetles from. We might see fungus growing, we collect those and rear the insects out of the fungus.

Beetles are amazing that way. They partition a habitat in thousands of ways. So you can use broad collecting methods but you have to combine them with specialized collecting methods. I am hoping that now that we have these 50 plus experts, each expert will have their own little toys and gizmos and ways of looking at the forest that will give us a truly accurate species list.

There is one group of insects, for instance, that only flies at dusk and dawn (think of fireflies). Now, I’m doing all these trapping methods, so I’m exhausted at dusk and dawn. To get a truly accurate species list of that group, I need someone just focused on collecting beetles only at that time of the day. Then there are some insects that only come to carrion or rotting meat. So someone will have to be focused on just that group of beetles. For my group, I need to know the species of the plants.

Using my broad collecting methods we have a baseline of what beetles are there in Peru. To this, we need to add a layer of additional specialized collecting methods, and sample many different habitats. We need to go to the top of the Andes, to the coasts and deserts.

A total accurate species inventory for Peru for insects will require manpower, complicated set of trapping methods, and sampling of the diversity of habitats in Peru.

 

Chaboo with University of Kansas students ready for field work, ACA's Villa Carmen Biological Station. Photo by Caroline Chaboo.
Chaboo [second from left] with University of Kansas students ready for field work, ACA’s Villa Carmen Biological Station. Photo by Caroline Chaboo.

Mongabay: How will an accurate species inventory of beetles help?

Caroline Chaboo: I want Peruvians, especially, to know about this extraordinary treasure that they have. Most of the population of Peru lives on the coastal side of Peru, on the desert, and when you have a desert ecosystem, how do you comprehend a rainforest? And when you are making political decisions about the Amazon side of Peru, do you have the same values? But if they knew about their own biodiversity, we could perhaps influence their decision about which habitats are more important than others and which ones must be absolutely protected.

In general beetles are so diverse that they inhabit every niche — they are recyclers, decomposers, scavengers, and pollinators. So their roles must be understood to value and protect forests.

Mongabay: Does your daughter accompany you to the field?

Caroline Chaboo: She’s seen me collecting in Kansas, and other places. But she’s not been to a major expedition in Peru yet. She knows how to collect though, and she can hike. And because I collect insects, she calls me a bug doctor.

Article published by Shreya Dasgupta on March 1, 2016.

Entomology
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Hispaniolan trunk anole photographed at La Palma, Dominican Republic. Photo credit: Rich Glor

 

With a recent four-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, a University of Kansas researcher is undertaking the most-detailed analysis ever carried out of how reptiles branch into various species.

In doing so, Richard Glor, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU and associate curator of herpetology at KU’s Biodiversity Institute, is questioning some of the very methods scientists use to define species.

Further, by combining laboratory studies with fieldwork and genomic sequence data, Glor and his team hope to determine the genetic basis for species differences and why these species diverged in the first place.

Glor said biologists traditionally employ the idea of “reproductive isolation,” or the inability of one kind of animal to fruitfully breed with another, to determine boundaries defining individual species.

“Every student in biology has learned the philosophy of what a species is — something that can’t reproduce with other species,” Glor said. “So when someone describes a new species, you’d think they’ve done a bunch of crossing experiments [to see if a species can reproduce with another], but the answer is that nobody ever does that.”

He said more laboratory studies should be conducted to verify assumptions about boundaries between species and less reliance should rest on how animals look to the eye. His new grant is based on the idea that conventional methods have overlooked recent and ongoing speciation events.

“Traditional taxonomists say that if species exhibit differences in their appearance — this one is green, and this one is red — they likely aren't reproducing with one another,” Glor said. “I saw that as an understudied area in speciation research. We always talk about reproductive isolation, but we never test it.”

Glor has revealed this shortcoming in part by conducting crossing experiments on a group of lizards called bark anoles found on Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. These lizards are notable for the remarkable variation of their “dewlap,” or flap of skin along the throat, that can be found in different colors and patterns.

“The dewlap is colorful, kind of like a fancy car or jewelry in the human population,” Glor said. “It shows the female you’re attractive and helps her recognize her own species, so it’s critical to sexual selection. The group that I study is particularly noteworthy because a single species exhibits very different dewlap colors and patterns (i.e., some populations are yellow, while others are red). Most anole species exhibit only a single color.”

Previous biologists have relied on variation in dewlaps to separate bark anoles into different subspecies.

“When herpetologists drove across Haiti's mountainous Tiburon Peninsula more than 50 years ago, they saw bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps at the beginning of their journey, bark anoles with orange and then wine red dewlaps further along, and then started seeing bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps again by the time they reached the far tip of the peninsula,” Glor said. “As a result, they described these populations with different dewlap colors as distinct subspecies.”

But as Glor and his colleagues obtained genomic data from the lizards, they found dewlap colors weren’t a trustworthy sign of the underlying genetic differences scientists expect to find in distinct species.
“These populations don’t seem to be genomically differentiated,” he said. “Some of those taxa that traditional methods show to be different species probably aren’t different species. Natural selection is driving them to have different dewlap color and appearance for reasons not related to them being different species.”

In other cases, Glor said traditional methods missed species that appear to be strongly differentiated genetically because they are nearly impossible to distinguish externally.

Glor’s work represents the most detailed and integrated analysis ever performed on squamate reptiles — a group of almost 10,000 species, including all lizards and snakes. The research will result in the establishment of a new laboratory model organism, the first squamate genome assembled through linkage mapping and the first “estimates of heritability and the genomic basis for phenotypic traits” vital to systematically studying reptiles in general.

Further, the research has resulted in a public exhibit now on display at the KU Museum of Natural History.

Ultimately, however, Glor said that evolution in species is an unending and fluid process that biologists might always struggle to catalogue and measure.
“All of these ideas like reproductive isolation or morphological divergence are all just benchmarks that occur as new species are forming,” he said. “It could be that some species exhibit all these benchmarks, and some display only one or two. The problem identifying species is that we're trying to put discrete start and stop points on a process we know is continuous.”

- Brendan Lynch, KU News

Herpetology
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Hispaniolan trunk anole photographed at La Palma, Dominican Republic. Photo credit: Rich Glor

 

With a recent four-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, a University of Kansas researcher is undertaking the most-detailed analysis ever carried out of how reptiles branch into various species.

In doing so, Richard Glor, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU and associate curator of herpetology at KU’s Biodiversity Institute, is questioning some of the very methods scientists use to define species.

Further, by combining laboratory studies with fieldwork and genomic sequence data, Glor and his team hope to determine the genetic basis for species differences and why these species diverged in the first place.

Glor said biologists traditionally employ the idea of “reproductive isolation,” or the inability of one kind of animal to fruitfully breed with another, to determine boundaries defining individual species.

“Every student in biology has learned the philosophy of what a species is — something that can’t reproduce with other species,” Glor said. “So when someone describes a new species, you’d think they’ve done a bunch of crossing experiments [to see if a species can reproduce with another], but the answer is that nobody ever does that.”

He said more laboratory studies should be conducted to verify assumptions about boundaries between species and less reliance should rest on how animals look to the eye. His new grant is based on the idea that conventional methods have overlooked recent and ongoing speciation events.

“Traditional taxonomists say that if species exhibit differences in their appearance — this one is green, and this one is red — they likely aren't reproducing with one another,” Glor said. “I saw that as an understudied area in speciation research. We always talk about reproductive isolation, but we never test it.”

Glor has revealed this shortcoming in part by conducting crossing experiments on a group of lizards called bark anoles found on Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. These lizards are notable for the remarkable variation of their “dewlap,” or flap of skin along the throat, that can be found in different colors and patterns.

“The dewlap is colorful, kind of like a fancy car or jewelry in the human population,” Glor said. “It shows the female you’re attractive and helps her recognize her own species, so it’s critical to sexual selection. The group that I study is particularly noteworthy because a single species exhibits very different dewlap colors and patterns (i.e., some populations are yellow, while others are red). Most anole species exhibit only a single color.”

Previous biologists have relied on variation in dewlaps to separate bark anoles into different subspecies.

“When herpetologists drove across Haiti's mountainous Tiburon Peninsula more than 50 years ago, they saw bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps at the beginning of their journey, bark anoles with orange and then wine red dewlaps further along, and then started seeing bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps again by the time they reached the far tip of the peninsula,” Glor said. “As a result, they described these populations with different dewlap colors as distinct subspecies.”

But as Glor and his colleagues obtained genomic data from the lizards, they found dewlap colors weren’t a trustworthy sign of the underlying genetic differences scientists expect to find in distinct species.
“These populations don’t seem to be genomically differentiated,” he said. “Some of those taxa that traditional methods show to be different species probably aren’t different species. Natural selection is driving them to have different dewlap color and appearance for reasons not related to them being different species.”

In other cases, Glor said traditional methods missed species that appear to be strongly differentiated genetically because they are nearly impossible to distinguish externally.

Glor’s work represents the most detailed and integrated analysis ever performed on squamate reptiles — a group of almost 10,000 species, including all lizards and snakes. The research will result in the establishment of a new laboratory model organism, the first squamate genome assembled through linkage mapping and the first “estimates of heritability and the genomic basis for phenotypic traits” vital to systematically studying reptiles in general.

Further, the research has resulted in a public exhibit now on display at the KU Museum of Natural History.

Ultimately, however, Glor said that evolution in species is an unending and fluid process that biologists might always struggle to catalogue and measure.
“All of these ideas like reproductive isolation or morphological divergence are all just benchmarks that occur as new species are forming,” he said. “It could be that some species exhibit all these benchmarks, and some display only one or two. The problem identifying species is that we're trying to put discrete start and stop points on a process we know is continuous.”

- Brendan Lynch, KU News

Herpetology
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Hispaniolan trunk anole photographed at La Palma, Dominican Republic. Photo credit: Rich Glor

 

With a recent four-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, a University of Kansas researcher is undertaking the most-detailed analysis ever carried out of how reptiles branch into various species.

In doing so, Richard Glor, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU and associate curator of herpetology at KU’s Biodiversity Institute, is questioning some of the very methods scientists use to define species.

Further, by combining laboratory studies with fieldwork and genomic sequence data, Glor and his team hope to determine the genetic basis for species differences and why these species diverged in the first place.

Glor said biologists traditionally employ the idea of “reproductive isolation,” or the inability of one kind of animal to fruitfully breed with another, to determine boundaries defining individual species.

“Every student in biology has learned the philosophy of what a species is — something that can’t reproduce with other species,” Glor said. “So when someone describes a new species, you’d think they’ve done a bunch of crossing experiments [to see if a species can reproduce with another], but the answer is that nobody ever does that.”

He said more laboratory studies should be conducted to verify assumptions about boundaries between species and less reliance should rest on how animals look to the eye. His new grant is based on the idea that conventional methods have overlooked recent and ongoing speciation events.

“Traditional taxonomists say that if species exhibit differences in their appearance — this one is green, and this one is red — they likely aren't reproducing with one another,” Glor said. “I saw that as an understudied area in speciation research. We always talk about reproductive isolation, but we never test it.”

Glor has revealed this shortcoming in part by conducting crossing experiments on a group of lizards called bark anoles found on Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. These lizards are notable for the remarkable variation of their “dewlap,” or flap of skin along the throat, that can be found in different colors and patterns.

“The dewlap is colorful, kind of like a fancy car or jewelry in the human population,” Glor said. “It shows the female you’re attractive and helps her recognize her own species, so it’s critical to sexual selection. The group that I study is particularly noteworthy because a single species exhibits very different dewlap colors and patterns (i.e., some populations are yellow, while others are red). Most anole species exhibit only a single color.”

Previous biologists have relied on variation in dewlaps to separate bark anoles into different subspecies.

“When herpetologists drove across Haiti's mountainous Tiburon Peninsula more than 50 years ago, they saw bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps at the beginning of their journey, bark anoles with orange and then wine red dewlaps further along, and then started seeing bark anoles with pale yellow dewlaps again by the time they reached the far tip of the peninsula,” Glor said. “As a result, they described these populations with different dewlap colors as distinct subspecies.”

But as Glor and his colleagues obtained genomic data from the lizards, they found dewlap colors weren’t a trustworthy sign of the underlying genetic differences scientists expect to find in distinct species.
“These populations don’t seem to be genomically differentiated,” he said. “Some of those taxa that traditional methods show to be different species probably aren’t different species. Natural selection is driving them to have different dewlap color and appearance for reasons not related to them being different species.”

In other cases, Glor said traditional methods missed species that appear to be strongly differentiated genetically because they are nearly impossible to distinguish externally.

Glor’s work represents the most detailed and integrated analysis ever performed on squamate reptiles — a group of almost 10,000 species, including all lizards and snakes. The research will result in the establishment of a new laboratory model organism, the first squamate genome assembled through linkage mapping and the first “estimates of heritability and the genomic basis for phenotypic traits” vital to systematically studying reptiles in general.

Further, the research has resulted in a public exhibit now on display at the KU Museum of Natural History.

Ultimately, however, Glor said that evolution in species is an unending and fluid process that biologists might always struggle to catalogue and measure.
“All of these ideas like reproductive isolation or morphological divergence are all just benchmarks that occur as new species are forming,” he said. “It could be that some species exhibit all these benchmarks, and some display only one or two. The problem identifying species is that we're trying to put discrete start and stop points on a process we know is continuous.”

- Brendan Lynch, KU News

Herpetology
Sunday, January 17, 2016

Thompson Reuters recently named three KU scientists as the only KU researchers ranked "Highly Cited Researchers" for 2015.

Biodiversity Institute scientists Jorge Soberon and A. Townsend Peterson, as well as incoming professor James Bever, were selected for the list, which represents some of world’s most influential scientific minds. About three thousand researchers earned the distinction by writing the greatest number of reports officially designated by Essential Science Indicators as “highly cited papers.” This ranked them among the top 1% most cited for their subject field and year of publication, earning them the mark of exceptional impact.

Soberon’s interests are in documenting and understanding large-scale spatial patterns in the biodiversity of terrestrial species, using tools such as Geographical Information Systems software, mathematical models and software specifically for niche modeling. He also studies the political and institutional aspects of biodiversity governance. 

Together with Robert Guralnick, Soberon and Peterson edit the online, open access journal Biodiversity Informatics

Peterson’s research is diverse, ranging from systematic ornithology and species-level distributional ecology to spatial epidemiology, and the ecology of zoonotic diseases in natural systems. The general focus is on the geography of biodiversity, in a context of international collaboration and education.

James Bever, professor of biology at Indiana University, will join the KU Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS) in January 2016. He is considered a world leader in microbiology, especially plant-soil microbial interactions.

Biodiversity Modeling & Policy
Sunday, January 17, 2016

Thompson Reuters recently named three KU scientists as the only KU researchers ranked "Highly Cited Researchers" for 2015.

Biodiversity Institute scientists Jorge Soberon and A. Townsend Peterson, as well as incoming professor James Bever, were selected for the list, which represents some of world’s most influential scientific minds. About three thousand researchers earned the distinction by writing the greatest number of reports officially designated by Essential Science Indicators as “highly cited papers.” This ranked them among the top 1% most cited for their subject field and year of publication, earning them the mark of exceptional impact.

Soberon’s interests are in documenting and understanding large-scale spatial patterns in the biodiversity of terrestrial species, using tools such as Geographical Information Systems software, mathematical models and software specifically for niche modeling. He also studies the political and institutional aspects of biodiversity governance. 

Together with Robert Guralnick, Soberon and Peterson edit the online, open access journal Biodiversity Informatics

Peterson’s research is diverse, ranging from systematic ornithology and species-level distributional ecology to spatial epidemiology, and the ecology of zoonotic diseases in natural systems. The general focus is on the geography of biodiversity, in a context of international collaboration and education.

James Bever, professor of biology at Indiana University, will join the KU Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS) in January 2016. He is considered a world leader in microbiology, especially plant-soil microbial interactions.

Biodiversity Modeling & Policy
Sunday, January 17, 2016

Thompson Reuters recently named three KU scientists as the only KU researchers ranked "Highly Cited Researchers" for 2015.

Biodiversity Institute scientists Jorge Soberon and A. Townsend Peterson, as well as incoming professor James Bever, were selected for the list, which represents some of world’s most influential scientific minds. About three thousand researchers earned the distinction by writing the greatest number of reports officially designated by Essential Science Indicators as “highly cited papers.” This ranked them among the top 1% most cited for their subject field and year of publication, earning them the mark of exceptional impact.

Soberon’s interests are in documenting and understanding large-scale spatial patterns in the biodiversity of terrestrial species, using tools such as Geographical Information Systems software, mathematical models and software specifically for niche modeling. He also studies the political and institutional aspects of biodiversity governance. 

Together with Robert Guralnick, Soberon and Peterson edit the online, open access journal Biodiversity Informatics

Peterson’s research is diverse, ranging from systematic ornithology and species-level distributional ecology to spatial epidemiology, and the ecology of zoonotic diseases in natural systems. The general focus is on the geography of biodiversity, in a context of international collaboration and education.

James Bever, professor of biology at Indiana University, will join the KU Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS) in January 2016. He is considered a world leader in microbiology, especially plant-soil microbial interactions.

Biodiversity Modeling & Policy
Friday, January 22, 2016

The University of Kansas Natural History Museum has been named the top natural history museum among public universities by Best College Reviews. In "The 30 Most Amazing Higher Ed Natural History Museums," the museum ranked fourth overall behind private university museums at Harvard, Drexel and Yale.

To be named to the select list of 30 museums, each institution had to be open to the public. Additional ranking criteria included:

• Number of artifacts/specimens in the collection
• Opportunities at the museum for college students
• Community involvement

"We are honored to receive this recognition of nationwide leadership in the study of the life of the planet for science and society,” said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. “We have the finest scientists, graduate students and public program staff in the country."

The KU Natural History Museum, a part of the Biodiversity Institute, seeks to engage and inspire diverse audiences through nature and science. The museum offers programs for the public, K-12 teachers and students and the university community, and includes four floors of exhibits. It is home to more than 9 million plant, animal and fossil specimens, and 1.5 million archaeological artifacts.

Natural History Museum
Friday, January 22, 2016

The University of Kansas Natural History Museum has been named the top natural history museum among public universities by Best College Reviews. In "The 30 Most Amazing Higher Ed Natural History Museums," the museum ranked fourth overall behind private university museums at Harvard, Drexel and Yale.

To be named to the select list of 30 museums, each institution had to be open to the public. Additional ranking criteria included:

• Number of artifacts/specimens in the collection
• Opportunities at the museum for college students
• Community involvement

"We are honored to receive this recognition of nationwide leadership in the study of the life of the planet for science and society,” said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. “We have the finest scientists, graduate students and public program staff in the country."

The KU Natural History Museum, a part of the Biodiversity Institute, seeks to engage and inspire diverse audiences through nature and science. The museum offers programs for the public, K-12 teachers and students and the university community, and includes four floors of exhibits. It is home to more than 9 million plant, animal and fossil specimens, and 1.5 million archaeological artifacts.

Natural History Museum