Brian D. Farrell
Director, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies
Faculty Dean of Leverett House of Harvard College
We are generally interested in whether the diversity of species on earth is a cause or consequence of the diversity of roles different species play in ecosystems. Because beetles are famously diverse in both species and roles (as herbivores, predators, fungivores, decomposers and even parasites), they are good subjects for these kinds of questions, and lab members have worked on other insects and other topics as well. While we focus on what has happened in evolutionary radiations, it is equally important to notice what has not happened in evolution.
Most of our work is phylogenetic, based on variation in DNA sequences and morphological characters, and our studies vary in focus from principally ecological dimensions of resource use to emphasis on biogeographic or paleontological dimensions. The context of most of our studies is the interaction between insects and plants, ecological associates whose diversity and abundance make them the principal denizens of the terrestrial earth.
Research in our lab has focused on sampling insects in the field for studies of the phylogenetic history of speciation, and so projects have often centered on groups of closely-related species within a genus of herbivorous insects. We also trace the evolution of larger, older and more inclusive lineages of beetles and other plant-feeding insects around the world. We have documented evolutionary patterns that offer insights on many kinds of tiny consumers, including infectious diseases. A new research dimension in the lab concerns the ecology, diversity and life-history evolution of the Culicidae, the mosquitoes, and related blood-sucking flies.
Another new research dimension in the lab, initiated by undergraduates, concerns a different kind of resource, one in which insects may overlap with birds, frogs and mammals: the acoustic signals produced by these animals for mating and territory defense. The ecology of acoustic communities integrates evolutionary and community ecology with conservation and human biology, including the evolution of music, our own acoustic signal.
Caribbean Biodiversity and Bioinformatics
Professor Farrell's CV can be viewed here (PDF)
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