Research Group

Current Members Andrew Fasbender. Andrew’s research focuses on the biodiversity and phylogenetics of Ptychopteridae (Phantom Crane Flies), a small family of lower Diptera associated with saturated organic sediments. One of the primary outcomes of his project is compilation of a monograph of the family, as the group has suffered from insufficient taxonomic review outside of Europe. Andrew's investigation will provide comprehensive descriptions and illustrations of the global ptychopterid fauna from both extant subfamilies (Bittacomorphinae and Ptychopterinae), including basic ecological information for the Nearctic taxa. Additionally, the current classification of the family has been based on pre-cladistic methodology and is in need of reevaluation with modern methods and phylogenetic concepts; particularly the large and morphologically heterogenous genus Ptychoptera. Andrew has been developing and expanding morphological datasets to examine the phylogeny of Ptychopteridae at multiple levels, from relationships between species to the placement of the family within the wider phylogeny of lower Diptera. This has resulted in the characterization of the diversity and homologies of often complex morphology within Ptychopteridae, as well as the evaluation of a wide range of taxa across lower Diptera. Outside of his dissertation research, Andrew has broader interests in comparative morphology, species diversity, and the natural history of Diptera, particularly Anisopodidae, Trichoceridae, and Mycetophilidae s.l., among other groups. ************************************************************************ Ruben (Isai) Madriz. Isai’s interests focus on the ecological adaptations, phylogeny and biogeographical distribution of Diptera. His core research project is a systematic revision of the “Primitive Craneflies” (family Tanyderidae), an poorly known group of aquatic nematocerous Diptera. Tanyderidae are rarely collected and little is known about the family’s natural history. Species concepts within the family have been broad and based on a limited suite of characters. One of the primary goals of this revision is reexamining species diversity using existing and new character systems, supplemented with intensive sampling and field observation of the North American and Patagonian fauna. Furthermore, this work will reevaluate the group’s classification utilizing morphological and molecular characters within a cladistic framework, allowing further inferences such as historical patterns of biogeography. Isai will also be conducting biotic inventories of other aquatic insects in Patagonia, a project that aims to develop reliable rapid survey techniques of the taxonomic composition and diversity of stream ecosystems. These tools can be used to improve biodiversity knowledge and assist in the conservation and protection of the region’s aquatic biota. ************************************************************************ Ginny Morgal. Ginny recently graduated with a BS in Insect Science from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. During her undergraduate program she worked as a beekeeper for Dr. Marion Ellis and as a teaching assistant for Dr. Tiffany Heng-Moss. Ginny completed her senior thesis on the effects of formic acid on the brood area and development of Apis mellifera. Ginny began her position as Insect Zoo Educational Program Coordinator at Iowa State University in May of 2012. Since beginning her position the Insect Zoo has continued to bring quality education programs to people ages 3-103 all over Iowa. Ginny has also implemented several new programs including termite pheromone activities and behavior experiments with Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. Ginny continues to work on developing more programs for students grades 5-12 in hopes to strengthen the role of arthropods in the secondary education classrooms. Programs based on aquatic insects are under development as well, with the help of other members of the Courtney lab. ************************************************************************************************ Recent Graduates Rebecca (Brown) Sam. The lab's most recent graduate (April 2011), Becky's interests focused on the phylogeny and biogeography of Edwardsininae, a subfamily of Blephariceridae (Diptera) containing two genera, Edwardsina and Paulianina. While Blephariceridae are found on all continents excluding Antarctica, and on several continental islands (ex: Madagascar, New Zealand, Sri Lanka), Edwardsininae is confined to South America, Madagascar, Australia, and Tasmania, exhibiting a Gondwanan distribution. Becky conducted a systematic revision of the genus Paulianina, which is endemic to Madagascar. Recent collecting has greatly increased the number of known species. While Paulianina was thought to be monophyletic, there remained questions regarding the monophyly of the two subgenera within Paulianina, Paulianina (sensu stricto), and Eupaulianina. Becky's research addressed this question using morphological and molecular data sets. Becky was also a presenter for the Insect Zoo, an educational outreach program facilitated through the Department of Entomology. ************************************************************************ Jessica (Davis) Petersen. Jessica's research focused on combining an understanding of macroecological patterns with macroevolutionary processes. Her Ph.D. project examined aspects of taxonomy, evolution and ecology to form a rather complete picture of one group of flies. The first and most basic part included a systematic revision of a little known, semi-aquatic group of crane flies (Diptera, Tipuloidea). Her revision included an analysis of the evolutionary relationships among species of Neophylidorea by creating a phylogeny using molecular and morphological characters. This phylogeny provided a foundation to investigate macroecological patterns in an evolutionary framework. Jess took a top-down approach by first looking at broad scale climate envelopes which may be limiting the ecological distribution of species of Neophylidorea. From there she delved into smaller spatial scale questions about modes of speciation, interactions such as competition, historical biogeography, dispersal ability, extinctions, invasion potential, and responses to future climate change. Jess also led the Adopt-a-Trap: Iowa Insect Survey Project, which used a series of Malaise traps and the assistance of many students, educators and volunteers to gather baseline data on the state's insect fauna. Additional information about these and other projects is available at Jess' personal website. Jess currently is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University. ************************************************************************ Matthew Petersen. Matt was interested in how the ecological adaptations and biogeographic distributions of crane flies (Tipuloidea; Diptera) have been affected by their evolutionary history. Crane flies, a diverse clade containing over 15,000 species, have radiated to occupy a broad spectrum of larval habitats. While much work has been done to understand species richness, considerably less attention as been given to the taxonomy and classification of the group. This lack of attention has led to many problematic taxonomic divisions and maintenance of numerous paraphyletic genera. Matt's research addressed the problematic taxonomic structure while simultaneously examining why there is such diversity within this clade of flies. Through a cladistic analysis utilizing both morphological and molecular characters, his work provided a framework by which the taxonomy of the group will be based. This revised taxonomic framework provides insight into the origin of complex ecological adaptations and helps elucidate whether certain adaptations have created the observed species richness. Matt also conducted a systematic revision of the genus Lipsothrix. Matt completed his Ph.D. in 2008 and currently is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University. ************************************************************************ Matthew Wihlm. Matt conducted research on the Axymyiidae, a presumedly rare group of semi-aquatic flies. Matt's Masters research focused on Axymyia furcata, a species found in small streams, where the larvae tunnel through decaying hardwood logs. Through recent surveys, we found populations of this species throughout eastern North America, including Iowa and 9 other states where the family had not been previously recorded. Matt analyzed morphological and molecular characters in order to decipher whether or not more than one species of Axymyia is present, and to evaluate the phylogeography of resident populations. Matt also investigated the number of larval instars, larval densities, phenologies, and other life history characteristics. Besides working in the Systematics lab, Matt was the Rearing Room Supervisor in the ISU Insect Zoo. Matt completed his M.S. in 2009.