Research - Arthropod Biology, Diversity, and Conservation

taxonomy workers


Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth at all levels ranging from genes to species to ecosystems, and it is the foundation for all of the life sciences.  There is now a broad scientific consensus that biological diversity is being eroded globally at a rate unprecedented in human history. We know that increasing loss of biodiversity is altering biosphere-level processes that we depend on for $3-33 trillion of environmental services annually. There is an urgency to conducting biodiversity studies, because burgeoning human populations and associated human activities worldwide are rapidly eliminating natural habitats that sustain biodiversity. The causes of biodiversity loss include human impacts on habitats (habitat destruction, fragmentation, restructuring) and organisms (over-exploitation, introduction of invasive species, predators, parasites). Biodiversity is essential to human well-being - the quality of air, water, and food depends on the renewable cycles and healthy ecosystems that are driven by biodiversity.
Research in the Department of Entomology positively influences understanding and conservation of biodiversity by describing the unique nature of the biota and by collaborating with local academic, government, and conservation entities. The pace of basic biodiversity research must be accelerated, and failure to do so will limit our capability to solve impending scientific and human problems.

Our objectives include original research, training of students, and public engagement through citizen science and extension activities. Specifically, we will:
1. Enhance our understanding of evolution, arthropod biodiversity, and systematics through collection-based research, comparative morphology, comparative genomics, and other appropriate data.
2. Conduct internationally recognized research on the evolution, ecology, and conservation of insects, particularly pollinators and native insects.
3. Train students in core content through formal coursework and experiential learning.
4. Based upon the best available research, work with conservation managers, decision-makers and others to develop and promote insect conservation policies for Nebraska and surrounding states.

A fundamental understanding of species diversity, life cycles, and population structure and dynamics is needed to understand the role and interaction of arthropods in natural ecosystems and to effectively design and develop pest management in agroecosystems.

  • Our efforts in systematics are nationally and internationally recognized. We house the U.S. National Collection of Scarabaeidae on loan from the Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution. Drs. Brett Ratcliffe and Matt Paulsen (UNSM collection manager, grad faculty) provide core expertise in Scarabaeidae morphology and molecular approaches. The recent addition of Dr. Susan Weller (UNSM Director, Ent. Grad faculty) adds additional expertise in comparative biology and systematics of Noctuoidea.
  • Our research on ecology, landscape dynamics, and conservation has a Nebraska-focus and supports our Extension efforts in apiculture, native pollinators, endangered species, and science literacy. We are developing a cluster of excellence with the addition of faculty members Dr. Judy Wu-Smart and Dr. Matthew Smart (2015) who complement existing research and citizen science programs. Research on the endangered Salt Marsh Tiger Beetle has enhanced our efforts to protect this species and resulted in its federal listing and setting aside areas of critical habitat.
  • Student training occurs in the classroom and research projects. Insect taxonomy is required for students in Insect Science, our graduate programs, and the Doctor of Plant Health program, thus contributing to the campus-wide Life Sciences Initiative. Insect biology also supports the Life Sciences Initiative and serves several undergraduate majors. Experiential learning occurs through undergraduate and graduate research projects and collection research assistantships.

We will conduct research in insect systematics, arthropod biology/ecology, and conservation in order to advance knowledge of insect biodiversity, and to better understand ecological processes in order to manage arthropod pests, ecosystem service providers (pollination, nutrient recycling, biocontrol), and endangered species.

Faculty and staff conducting research on Insect Biology, Diversity, and Conservation:
Dr. Jeffrey Bradshaw
Dr. Douglas A. Golick
Dr. Thomas Hunt
Dr. Justin McMechan
Dr. Lance J. Meinke
Dr. Matt J. Paulsen
Dr. Julie A. Peterson
Dr. Brett C. Ratcliffe
Dr. Autumn Smart
• Stephen M. Spomer
Dr. Ana Velez
Dr. Thomas J. Weissling
Dr. Susan J. Weller
Dr. Judy Wu-Smart

Entomology News at Nebraska

Breaking Entomological News...

  • Student working with a laptop for online degreeOnline students in the online Master's of Science (MS) degree program will benefit from a reduced credit-hour requirement and a reduced time requirement following changes by the UNL Graduate College and the Entomology Department. Starting next fall, students may earn an online MS degree for 30 credits, instead of 36 credits, under the Option B.  The new degree plan must be completed within five years, instead of 10 years.  More details about this change may be found on the IANR News website.
  • Dr. Gary Brewer
  • Dr. Gary Brewer, professor of Entomology has a new Push-Pull Strategy to manage Stable Flies.  These flies cause billions in economic losses for the US and the world. Brewer explains the Strategy on this YouTube Video. 
  • Annie KruegerAnnie Krueger, Ph.D. candidate in Entomology, was featured in the IANR Student Spotlight this week. Annie is from Stevensville, MD, and plans to graduate this August. She is mentored by Dr. Troy Anderson

  • Dr. Doug GolickDr. Doug Golick, associate professor of Entomology, received a $19,259 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) in April. He received one of 23 grants that were awarded to faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Golick will study Milkweed as a teaching tool in the classroom. 
  • Dr. Autumn SmartThe Economics of Honey Bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) Mgt. & Overwintering Strategies of Colonies Used to Pollinate Almonds,” co-authored by Dr. Autumn Smart, was chosen as a runner-up in the 2019-20 Readers' Choice Award for the Journal of Economic Entomology. Congratulations Autumn!
  • Matthew GreinerMS student Matt Greiner (mentored by Ana Vélez) was awarded 1st place in the student paper competition at the recent Ozark-Prairie SETAC meeting. The victory will provide him with funds to attend the national SETAC meeting in November. Way to go, Matthew!