#MustReads in entomology

[Note: This post was originally published on the Frost Curators’ blog.]

I’ve been working on my course (ENT 432) syllabus for what seems like forever, though it’s only been eight years. In the latest iteration I’ve tried to incorporate required reading from the primary literature—mostly empirical studies, rather than reviews—for each lecture. This exercise was mush more difficult than I anticipated!

My class is usually made up of incoming grad students and late stage undergrads, 99% of whom have no systematics background. I don’t want to require highly technical papers about phylogenetics and classification, or at least I don’t want that to be the emphasis of our conversation. I wanted to find papers that discuss key innovations, evolutionary trends and processes, and/or that tell compelling (and contemporary if possible) research stories. Two examples:

  • When we reach Hemiptera we could talk about so many aspects of their biology—adaptations for sedentary lifestyle, sucking pump and mouthpart morphology, phylogeny and classification (Homoptera vs. Hemiptera)—that it gets difficult to choose just one paper. For now I am going with sound production: Wessel et al. (2014).
  • For Diptera, it’s a no-brainer. Students should read Wiegmann et al.’s (2011) Episodic radiations in the fly tree of life. Sure it’s technical in its methods, but it also tells an interesting story about how Diptera have been so successful, describes natural history trends we see across the phylogeny, and discusses how robust the current classification is.

Perhaps you can see already the challenges in choosing #MustReads for entomology. Insecta is SO diverse and SO fascinating that numerous cool papers will invariably get left out. When we hit Dictyoptera what do we read about? Bioinspired robots? The evolution of eusociality? Bat detection? What papers do you feel are #MustReads for a course on insect biodiversity and evolution? Here is my first draft of a list: ENT 432 syllabus (2015). I would love some feedback!

scales on a butterfly wing, some flat, some hair-like

We will start discussing and examining Lepidoptera in late November. Scales are certainly a contributing factor to Lepidoptera’s diversity, and their patterns are important for determining species. Is their a great read about lep scales? Or should we focus our discussion on host plat relationships, chemical defense, moth avoidance, proboscis morphology …? Photo by Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Click for original.

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