Research

Of the 4-6 million arthropod species estimated to live on the planet, taxonomists have described only about one million species, barely scratching the surface on the amazing biological diversity around us. Surprisingly, much of this biodiversity is in our own backyards in the United States. For example, several new species of millipedes have recently been described in the Appalachian Mountains. These are colorful invertebrates that exhibit three different color morphs (yellow, red or orange) and squirt hydrogen cyanide from pores lining the sides of its body as a chemical defense.

A central mission of our research is the exploration and description of biodiversity, especially Appalachian millipede species. Research in the lab focuses on two areas: (1) arthropod systematics and taxonomy and (2) the evolutionary ecology of aposematic coloration and mimicry. We use molecular systematics to provide an evolutionary context to address our research questions pertaining to the ecology of aposematism and coloration. Here are some new research projects in the lab, which reflect our research program’s focus in taxonomy, systematics, evolutionary ecology, and the discovery and description of biological diversity.

Studying the evolution of warning coloration helps us to understand animal adaptation and how evolution produces the diversity of life on the planet. Taxonomic research is significant because it supports the description of Earth’s biological diversity. Although preserving species diversity is critical to the environment and society, we are losing species to extinction at a staggering rate.