Therevid PEET Program
the first National Science Foundation announcement of a special
competition on Partnerships for Enhancing Expertise in Taxonomy
(PEET) in 1995, five
competitions, held every two years have awarded a total of 70
grants. They have been granted to researchers working on poorly
known organisms, with an emphasis on training the next generation
of systematists, and bringing their organisms into the electronic
age through publications, databases, and websites.
Therevid PEET project, Towards a World Monograph of the Therevidae
(Insecta: Diptera) DEB-95-21925, was one of the first group of 21
projects funded for five years, starting 21 August 1995. The principal
investigators on the grant, Michael E. Irwin,
University of Illinois (UIUC); Brian Wiegmann,
North Carolina State University (NCSU); David
Yeates, University of Queensland (UQ), Australia each brought
their own expertise and strengths to the project. They were joined
by collaborators F. Chris Thompson, USDA-SEL based at the US National
Museum of Natural History; Gail Kampmeier
and Don Webb, Illinois Natural History
Survey; J. Marie Metz, scientific illustrator
at UIUC; Evert I. Schlinger, Schlinger Foundation;
and graduate students Stephen Gaimari,
Mark Metz, Kevin Holston,
and Martin Hauser, UIUC; Shaun
Winterton, UQ; and Longlong Yang,
the project was renewed for a second five years (DEB-99-77958 from
21 August 2000-2005), PI Yeates had moved to CSIRO in Canberra,
Australia and was joined by postdoc, Christine
Lambkin; Hilary Hill became a graduate
student at NCSU. Throughout all, the project has been partnered
by the institutions housing the scientists and the Schlinger Foundation,
which funded numerous expeditions, students and hourly workers,
and the scientific illustrator (see sponsors).
this project was funded by the NSF PEET program, the insect family
Therevidae (Diptera: Asiloidea) had been among the poorest known
and least understood of the flies worldwide. Therevids are collected
infrequently because the predaceous larvae are hidden within dry,
friable substrates, and adults are usually secretive, frequenting
habitats rarely sampled by collectors. This medium-sized family
of flies (4,000 species) is critical to the sound functioning of
arid and semiarid environments, including agroecosystems and forests
in those zones. Due to the ancient divergences of therevid taxa
during the Jurassic and low propensity to long-distance dispersal,
stiletto flies are excellent model organisms for addressing a variety
of biogeographical questions - from those related to continental
drift to island biogeography to local speciation.
long-term project goal is to fashion a stable, predictive classification
of stiletto flies (Diptera: Therevidae), comparing reconstructed
phylogenies with historical geographies of associated land masses
and determining the evolutionary placement of the family among other
families of the Asiloidea.
students are the primary focus of the training component of this
project, producing five Ph.D.s in systematics and dipterology, and
four Masters degrees, two which then earned or will earn Ph.Ds in
the program, one pursuing a Ph.D. elsewhere, and the fourth a Masters
of Art Education. Over 35 students have been trained in databasing,
and we have begun an internship program to train scientists in countries
with severely threatened biota.
the scope and breadth in science and professional development are
stressed, we have been fortunate to be able to invest heavily in
fieldwork to instill graduate students with a foundation to interpret
morphological, ecological, and behavioral characteristics of organisms
in their environments. Expeditions were funded with matching funds
from the Schlinger Foundation.
keystone of information management for the project is Mandala.
The name "mandala" emphasizes the interwoven relationships
underlying a suite of databases developed in FileMaker Pro.
Specimens are tagged with unique numbers and identified by taxon
name, which includes the history of the name, its use in the literature,
misuse or changes, hierarchical classification, location of holotype,
valid name, and synonymies. Also attached to specimen records is
information about collecting locality, including latitude and longitude
for use in biogeographic studies, conditions surrounding the collecting
event, floral and faunal associations, collectors, determinations,
illustrations, GenBank data, and the collection location where the
specimen is and has been housed. Mandala is cross platform (Macintosh
and Windows OS) and can be easily modified for use with other taxa.
are the basic building blocks for monographs. Over 100 museums and
private collections have been combed for therevid material. Collections
have been visited to study primary types and unsorted material.
Huge taxon/geographic gaps in extant therevid material and the lack
of well-preserved material for molecular studies have led to targeted
expeditions over the course of the grants by various members of
the therevid PEET team to Southwestern Europe, Australia, New Caledonia,
New Zealand, Middle East, Africa, Madagascar, and the Americas.
More than 111,000 specimens have been catalogued into Mandala from
the expeditions and loans from museum.
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