Notable Grants

Research Insights

ARTS: Deploying integrative systematics to untangle Lucidota, the Gordian knot of Neotropical firefly taxonomy 

This project will document the major firefly groups across South America. Documenting and understanding the diversity of life on Earth is an essential step towards preserving biodiversity in the face of global threats, especially for organisms that are poorly known. This is true even for fireflies, charismatic beetles that have inspired childhood memories and poetry for centuries, and contributed to advances in biotechnology and medicine. The firefly family Lampyridae includes about 2200 named species from all over the world, but twice as many species are thought to exist. About 25% of known species occur in South America, and it is likely that an equal number still remain to be discovered there. This project will document firefly diversity in South America by discovering new species, revealing their evolutionary relationships with other fireflies worldwide, and creating tools to facilitate future research on fireflies and other beetles. Students at all stages will be broadly trained to be capable of leading biodiversity exploration in the future. A series of educational videos for the public will allow a glimpse behind the scenes into the research life of scientists, insight into how species are described, and how biodiversity is documented. 
This project will significantly advance the state of taxonomy for Lampyridae by attacking the biggest barriers to research on the South American fauna. Specimens in museum collections and newly available material provided by a network of Brazilian and Colombian collaborators will be used to conduct phylogenetic analysis of novel and confusing groups of South American fireflies using DNA squences and morphological data. The researchers will rectify the confusing taxonomy of Lucidota, the most vexing South American firefly genus, using integrative taxonomic approaches. The researchers will develop powerful identification tools for all South American genera and targeted groups of species. They will generate a rich variety of biodiversity data that can be easily and freely used by other researchers, citizen scientists, and the public via a convenient, internet-based, central resource for South American lampyrid taxonomy. By assessing lampyrid diversity across all major neotropical regions, this project will highlight geographical areas that deserve additional attention, and identify higher-level groups with a large proportion of undescribed species that will be the target of future taxonomic studies. 

Funder: National Science Foundation

Amount: $1,200,000

PI: Kathrin Stanger-Hall, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Plant Biology