#EntSoc14, a quick review

I have had a wonderful time at my first big bug conference – the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. Amid secretive (or not so secretive) break-out sessions to Voodoo Doughnuts, the meeting has been abuzz with several interesting symposia and posters, vastly covering (a) invasive species and their control, (b) human mediated biological control, (c) anthropological effects on habitat modifications, (d) bacterial symbionts and pathogens, (e) phylogeography and population genetics of native and non-native species, (f) insects as disease vectors, (f) ecological and genetic mechanisms of phenotypic variation in mobility, wing patterns, pheromone diversity, homing behavior, eusociality, to name a few.

Darwinilus sedaris

Darwinilus sedaris, only known sample of the species to be collected by Charles Darwin in 1832, in display at #EntSoc14. Image courtesy: Entomology Today -http://entomologytoday.org/2014/11/16/charles-darwins-rove-beetle-imaged-on-site-in-portland-or/

Here were my top three topic-picks for Molecular Ecology enthusiasts from #EntSoc14!

1) Resolving insect phylogeny in recent findings by Misof et al (2014) – Every entomologist that I talked to was flaunting this neat study. The reason – arthropods are the most speciose animals, and resolving their closest extant relatives has been a subject of debate, much so like amniotic mammals, or anapsid turtles. This study dates the evolution of arthropods to ~500 million ybp, with flight having evolved within 100 million years since. The study generated a lot of press last week and can be accessed here. Their phylogenomics methods are state-of-the-art and definitely worth a read!

2) Biological control offers a very interesting evolutionary model – repetitive augmentation and release of control insects into agricultural lands has consequences on not just targeted preys, but also on native conspecifics and cohabiting/competing/intraguild predatory species. The adaptive evolutionary implications of control are perhaps worth building population genetic models for. Classic examples of control insects that I learned about at #EntSoc14 include several predatory coleoptera (beetles) and parasitoid hymenoptera (particularly wasps).

3) Epigenetics and the evolution of social behavior in eusocial insects – these critters aren’t just models for kin selection any more! With numerous methylomes of non-social, primitively social, eusocial hymenoptera being published in the last year, I point everyone to this excellent review by Yan et al (2014) in Nature Reviews Genetics, for a catch-up.

And props to the organizers for the Darwin beetle appearance!

 References:

Misof, Bernhard, et al. “Phylogenomics resolves the timing and pattern of insect evolution.” Science 346.6210 (2014): 763-767. dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1257570

Yan, Hua, et al. “Eusocial insects as emerging models for behavioural epigenetics.” Nature Reviews Genetics 15.10 (2014): 677-688. dx.doi.org/10.1038/nrg3787

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About Arun Sethuraman

I am a computational biologist, and I build statistical models and tools for population genetics. I am particularly interested in studying the dynamics of structured populations, genetic admixture, and ancestral demography.

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