Insect Biodiversity and Evolution revolution

Last fall I gave a talk at the ESA annual meeting (see blog post about it) about re-envisioning our course on insect biodiversity and evolution (currently called, weirdly enough, Insect Biodiversity and Evolution (ENT432)). We’re in week five of the “revolution”, and it’s time to start being a bit more public about our efforts. That was, after all, the whole point of the talk I gave at ESA.

Redesigning a course is a complex undertaking, especially when we’re building on eight years of teaching history and bits and pieces of content from various colleagues. Hence we chose to start more or less from scratch, breaking the course down into modules that could be worked on in parallel:

  1.  Introduction – mostly logistics but also addresses the following questions: What are arthropods? What is systematics and why is it relevant?
  2. Arthropod morphology – lays the groundwork for understanding adaptations, evolution, and diagnosis
  3. 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
  4. Early arthropods, fossils, terrestrialization – fossilization processes, important arthropod fossils, adaptations to the challenges of terrestrial environments; where did arthropods come from?
  5. Outgroups – covers non-insect arthropods and the likely sister to Arthropoda, Onychophora [see drafts of slideshow and handout]
  6. Non-pterygote hexapods – this and the rest are self-explanatory
  7. Palaeoptera
  8. Polyneoptera
  9. Acercaria
  10. Hymenoptera
  11. Neuropterida
  12. Coleoptera, Strepsiptera
  13. Antliophora
  14. Amphiesmenoptera
  15. Natural history collections (could/should be done as one of the first modules)

Additionally, we’ve identified a set of cool stories, bro (20+ min, could involve a paper and discussion) that are highly relevant and important for students training to become professional entomologists to know:

  • origin of wings
  • holometabolous development
  • leaf mining/herbivory strategies
  • galls/galling
  • mimicry/aposematism
  • 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

And short vignettes (5–10 min, not much discussion maybe):

  • camouflage
  • pheromones
  • migration
  • wing coupling
  • cryophily
  • relicts
  • sucking mouth
  • xylophagy
  • resilin, jumping
  • tympana
  • mating position
  • foveation
  • parasitoidism
  • parasitism
  • predation

That could/should be peppered throughout the modules and revisited in multiple modules as necessary.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.17.19 PM.png

“Outgroups” handout, in development at Overleaf

We’re still getting organized about how to engage colleagues and share emerging content. At the moment we use Google Slides for the lecture slideshows (slide example) and Overleaf for handouts (above; see also handout example). Our rules are: (1) maximize note-taking potential where possible, i.e., minimize text and use images to stimulate discussion, (2) use CC BY or CC0 images where possible (avoid copyrighted images unless we have permission that we can document and/or we are using them in the spirit of fair use), (3) document all content, including image source(s), content source(s), and dates of retrieval, (4) develop content in a way that maximizes safe re-use.

Any thoughts? What have we missed? Expect more frequent engagement (hopefully weekly) as this project unfolds! We’ll tag ’em, so that they can be browsed conveniently: InsectSystematics.

2 thoughts on “Insect Biodiversity and Evolution revolution

  1. Pingback: Updates and thoughts on course materials | Deans Lab

  2. Pingback: Collaborative, open access course materials | Deans Lab

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