Janina Kypke:
Phylogenetics of the world’s largest beetle family (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae)

Date: 23-12-2018    Supervisor: Alexey Solodovnikov

Rove beetles (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae) are the largest family of all animals that dominate ground-based cryptic habitats of any terrestrial landscape globally, inhabiting our planet for at least 200Ma. They are the best example where sheer species-richness hinders the reconstruction a robust phylogeny, rendering this group extremely challenging for systematic studies. Despite a considerable interest in them and the growing amount of taxonomic research, this major section of the planetary Tree of Life is still largely unknown.

Systematic entomologists generally agree that rove beetles are a monophylum and the majority of their 32 subfamilies seem to be well-defined lineages. However, with regards to groupings of subfamilies or even their ranking, very little is widely accepted. All hitherto performed attempts to infer an overall backbone phylogeny of staphylinids using only morphological characters of crown groups or a small number of genes have failed.

Ultimately, a comprehensive phylogeny for this hyper-diverse family should be inferred using a combined analysis that makes use of available morphological and genetic traits, and considering both the crown and the stem group diversity.

This motivated me to target exactly these missing links during my PhD. Overall, I wanted to enforce the application of soundly established methods by testing different technological advancements. So I acquired skills that enabled me to 1) use various rapidly generated genomic markers in this group for phylogenomic inference; 2) integrate data from extant and extinct species for phylogeny reconstruction; and 3) facilitate character mining in fossil specimens that are always challenging. With respect to those three key-skills, the thesis consists of three chapters: one manuscript on phylogenomics in preparation, one published paper with the morphology-based phylogenetic analysis of both extant and extinct taxa, and one paper in press on the application of technological advancements in the study of amber fossils.