Andy Deans edited this page May 23, 2016 · 10 revisions

Insect Biodiversity and Evolution


This course is aimed at educating late stage undergraduates and early stage graduate students. The learning outcomes are listed below. The instructors assume students have basic knowledge of genetics and evolution. This course has variably been referred to as Insect Taxonomy, Insect Systematics, Insect Classification, etc.

Our aim is to collaboratively develop and improve the teaching materials—slideshows, handouts, lab exercises, etc.—for this kind of course, ultimately releasing them under a CC BY or similar license.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of this course students should be able to:

  • Label a generalized hexapod diagram with external anatomy terms
  • Name and sight-identify all local hexapod orders and several common local families
  • Solve taxonomic problems and describe how species and other taxa are named and described, i.e., understand the fundamentals of taxonomic practice
  • Draw a phylogenetic tree of relationships between hexapod orders
  • Teach others how to read a phylogenetic tree and know what kinds of data are used to estimate trees, how those data are analyzed, and what it means to be monophyletic
  • Describe key innovations and life history strategies of major hexapod lineages
  • Teach others how to collect, preserve, and transport hexapod specimens and describe why this process is important
  • Teach others about the natural history of insects more generally

Course organization

For collaborative development purposes the course has been divided into several modules or units:

  • Introduction – mostly logistics but also addresses the following questions: What are arthropods? What is systematics and why is it relevant?
  • Arthropod morphology – lays the groundwork for understanding adaptations, evolution, and diagnosis
  • Systematics and evolution – basics of evolution (natural selection, adaptation, Hox genes), history of classification and phylogenetics (Aristotle to Hennig and beyond); puts our knowledge into context
  • Early arthropods, fossils, terrestrialization – fossilization processes, important arthropod fossils, adaptations to the challenges of terrestrial environments; where did arthropods come from?
  • Outgroups – covers non-insect arthropods and the likely sister to Arthropoda, Onychophora - slideshow
  • Non-pterygote hexapods – this and the rest are self-explanatory
  • Palaeoptera
  • Polyneoptera
  • Acercaria
  • Hymenoptera
  • Neuropterida
  • Coleoptera, Strepsiptera
  • Antliophora
  • Amphiesmenoptera
  • Natural history collections (could/should be done as one of the first modules)

Dispersed across these units, as appropriate, we intend to address phenomena relevant to insect diversity and evolution. Some of these phenomena warrant deep discussions, while others are shorter vignettes.

Deep discussions:

  • origin of wings
  • holometabolous development
  • galls/galling
  • sound production – percussion (Plecoptera), stridulation (Hemiptera: Heteroptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, others), tymbals (Cicadamorpha), forced air (Blattodea)
  • sexual selection
  • fighting/weapons – or include in sexual selection?
  • sociality – haplodiploidy, other conditions that contribute to rise of eusociality
  • nest architecture
  • myrmecophily – tie in with nest architecture?
  • symbioses – seems too diverse for one long discussion, maybe better as series of short vignettes (one on Blattabacterium, one on polydnaviruses, another on yeasts in hemipterans, etc.)
  • aquatic adaptations (breathing, swimming) – lentic, lotic, boundary layer, plastron breathing, air straps, hydrofuge hairs, semiaquatic, surface skimming
  • silk – which glands produce it, chemical composition, uses

Short vignettes:

  • camouflage
  • migration
  • wing coupling
  • cryophily
  • relicts
  • sucking mouth
  • xylophagy
  • resilin, jumping
  • tympana
  • mating position
  • foveation
  • parasitoidism
  • parasitism
  • adaptations for predation
  • leaf mining/herbivory strategies
  • mimicry/aposematism

Graded exercises

Obviously there are many ways to evaluate student progress and learning. The examples below could be extended, adapted, and developed further, depending on the instructor. See examples:

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