The eco of my evo devo

09/25/2017

Studying the evolution and development (evo devo) of morphological features can provide profound insight into the underlying genetic mechanisms that drive critical evolutionary processes. Despite this, evo devo studies sometimes fail to address the actual functional implications of the morphological features on which they are focused. In an effort to connect the "eco" (ecology) to my evo devo work I am interested in projects that explore this often overlooked side of animal morphology.

Exploring the functional value of beetle elytra under various stresses

Beetles are often distinguished from other insects by their evolutionarily modified forewings, elytra. These elytra are presumed to be critical to the evolutionary success of beetles by protecting the beetle against harsh environmental factors (such as desiccation, predation, cold, and mechanical stresses); however, few studies have demonstrated these roles. In fact, an interesting situation has arisen, where insect and beetle-based textbooks tout the importance of these forewings without any reference to studies validating this claim. The primary literature, in turn, references the textbooks, and an endless cycle of non-citation-citation begins. In this work, I sought to empirically determine the function of the elytra using Tribolium as a model. I hypothesized (as posited by the text books) that Tribolium elytra serve protective roles against a variety of environmental stresses, and that beetles lacking elytra would be negatively impacted under these stresses. To address this, I examined how elytra contribute to protection from four stresses: hindwing damage, desiccation, predation, and cold shock. For all four stresses beetles lacking elytra were negatively impacted compared to their control counterparts. These analyses provided the first quantitative evidence supporting the importance of beetle forewings in the tremendous evolutionary success of beetles.