The new collection shows cutting-edge techniques in insect morphology: Details inside

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Doctoral candidate Brendon Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, edited a special collection of articles published today (Nov. 12) on “Current Techniques in Morphology” for the Entomological Society of America journal, Insect Systematics and Diversity (ISD).

For the year-long project. Boudinot and Mikó gathered articles illustrating cutting-edge research techniques in insect morphology and phylogenetics, including videos, interactive 3D images, and augmented reality.

Boudinot marvels at the 3D models “which open new pathways of research and which you can manipulate on your computer, and another which can project your model in virtual reality on your phone or tablet.”

Boudinot also wrote an editorial on the future of morphology titled Toward Phylomics in Entomology: Current Systematic and Evolutionary Morphology.

, The new collection shows cutting-edge techniques in insect morphology: Details inside
The new collection shows cutting-edge techniques in insect morphology: Details inside

Boudinot said the six papers “span an arc from integrated methods of phenotype observation and visualization to methods and background for phylogenetic modeling of morphological characters.”

UC Davis senior Ziv Lieberman co-authored the work on “Revision of the Highly Specialized Ant Genus Discothyrea.” (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

“Morphology, encompassing the study of phenotypic form and function, is one of the ancient branches of human knowledge and is foundational for organismal classification,” Boudinot wrote in his editorial.

“Two decades into the current century, the specialized biological knowledge of the history and pattern of evolution has been revolutionized by genome-scale sequencing technologies, and cryptic variation within and among species is quantifiable even with a few genetic markers.

The application of statistical phylogenetic models of nucleotide and amino acid substitution to sequence data has enabled revised interpretations of morphological identities—be they population-level generalizations, such as species diagnoses, or the definition and homology of specific anatomical entities—and evolutionary transformation across the tree of life (e.g., insect genitalia, ancestral morphology of Polyneoptera).

These models are also being adapted for phylogenetic analysis of morphological data, allowing explicit incorporation of fossil terminals and their stratigraphic information.”

Boudinot coined the word, “Phylomics,” which he said “can be defined as the inference of organismal evolution at the molecular and morphological scale, through the use of genomic and phenomic data (the ‘phenome’ being a physical model of the phenotype of an organism, such as seen in the ISD special collection).

The idea ultimately is to model the morphology of organisms across the phylogeny, through time, literally depicting ancestors and seeing the transformation from ancestor to descendant across the tree of life.”

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