Senckenberg German Entomological Institute

Coleoptera Research

Due to the broad scope of our questions, our research projects are quite holistic, integrating fieldwork, alpha taxonomy, phylogenetic comparative methods, spatial ecology, ecological biogeography and bioinformatics. Further, in recognition of the impacts of habitat loss and climate change on biodiversity, many of these projects have conservation goals and implications.

Our research program includes three primary areas:

1. Insect taxonomy, systematics and phylogenomics

Most of our research is focused on the evolution of phytophagous beetles. These taxa display remarkable morphological diversity in all life stages and unusual behaviors (e.g., maternal care, larvae defense mechanisms) and much of which remains to be described. Despite the great relevance and prominence in ecological and evolutionary literature of the “Phytophaga”, little is known regarding their natural history, taxonomy and systematics, complicating the evaluation of important evolutionary hypotheses.

Current projects:

  • Eocene Messel fossil: In collaboration with Sonja Wedmann (Senckenberg Messel – Paleoentomology) we are describing leaf-beetle fossils which will provide new calibration points for molecular analyses, and timeframe for the morphological development, ecological interactions and understand of the lineage diversification.
  • Convergent phenotypes linked to insect/host plant interactions: In collaboration with a team of international and SGN researchers (SDEI and Senckenberg Dresden) we are working applying a multidisciplinary approach, including anchored enrichment genomics, morphometrics, ecological and historical biogeography to construct a sound macroevolutionary and macroecological baseline for testing the ‘escape-and-radiate’ model to understand plant insect co-evolutionary dynamics within selected leaf-beetle clades.

2. Ecological Biogeography

A second focus of our research is bioinformatic modeling to understand biotic and abiotic interactions in defining the ecological distribution of species. My interest in ecological biogeography is theoretical and practical, the former taxon-independent, depending solely on the question at hand. This opens room for collaboration with specialists on different groups and backgrounds.

Current projects:

  • Diversity patterns and environmental drivers of leaf beetle diversity in Central Europe. Due to the economic relevance of leaf-beetles – acting as pests of different crops – understanding the drivers and patterns of this beetle family diversity, became crucial for monitoring future of pests within Europe, especially in face of future and present climate change effects. Thus, in collaboration with external researchers, we unite time series data (1920-2020) to identify the most relevant variables driving the leaf-beetle diversity and distribution within Central Europe.
  • Ecological model selection: In collaboration with Dr. Dan Warren (Senckenberg Institute for Biodiversity and Climate) and international researchers, we are studying and developing news tools to create reliable and more efficient ecological models which provide environmental tolerances and potential distributions of species from locality data and environmental predictors.
  • Niche and conservation: In collaboration with researchers from the Center of Natural History Hamburg (CeNak), we evaluate the genetic diversity, geographical and niche centrality of recently extinct vs. extant populations of Orthopteran species. This will enable understanding of factors that shape the likelihood of local extinction and identifying areas of habitat suitability that are essential to ensure their conservation under future climatic scenarios.

3. Digitization

With the majority of our projects being collection-based, we are also highly interested in the field of biodiversity informatics, promoting and generating methods to solve problems of organizing, accessing, visualizing and analyzing primary biodiversity data.

With the aim to promote and make our collection more accessible to external users, we are currently promoting the digitization of the types of ground beetles (Carabidae). The pilot project CARAB involves the digitization of type specimens of the group housed in Sencknberg Museum Frankfurt, Dresden and Müncheberg (SDEI). Ground beetles only make up six percent of Senckenberg’s insect population. Thus, digitization must continue and other families will be aimed in the next years.