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The PEET Program

The superfamily Scarabaeoidea is one of the largest and most diverse superfamilies of Coleoptera, including over 31,000 described species. Current estimates suggest that the Scarabaeoidea includes at least 50,000 species worldwide; therefore, only 62% of all scarab species have been described. Based on the current rate of description, and because of the recent decline in scarab systematists, it will take over 150 years to describe the scarab fauna of the planet. This project extends the goals of our previous NSF-PEET support (1997-2002) by creating keys and databases to ALL genera of New World scarab beetles (approximately 600), and it builds on our existing foundation in scarab systematics to monograph poorly known groups of New World scarab beetles and train students in scarab systematics.
Scarab beetles are prominent members of the entomofauna and are important biocontrol agents, agricultural pests, and habitat indicators. Despite the economic importance, diversity, and ecological significance of scarab beetles, less than 50% of the New World genera can be identified with reliablity. The New World tropics contains the greatest diversity of scarab species, yet it is the poorest known taxonomically. Thus, we have targeted scarab groups from this region for training in monography, phylogeny, and bioinformatics. Study of extensive museum holdings will be supplemented with field expeditions to regions where diversity is poorly represented in museum collections and where target taxa are distributed. Morphological and molecular characters will be integrated as part of monographic and phylogenetic analyses with attention to synthesizing information from the literature and resolving nomenclatural problems at all taxonomic levels.
The proposed research will create comprehensive catalogs and electronic databases of specimen-level information, including character data, geographic and temporal distributions, host plant associations, and images. It will produce monographs, an identification guide to genera of New World scarabs, and a database of New World genera of scarabs that are retrievable electronically. Phylogenetic research will stabilize the higher-level classification of the Scarabaeoidea by targeting enigmatic and long-neglected groups. The research will contribute to the development of computer infrastructure for organizing and accessing knowledge about scarab beetles, and it will provide the foundation for future work in scarab systematics.
Systematics is the prime source of discoveries and new ideas in biology. Implementation of this proposal will help to train a new generation of systematists as well as advance ou
r taxonomic knowledge of a prominent but poorly known superfamily of insects. The taxonomic monographs published as a result of the research will help to strengthen the foundation for all fields of biology.