Aaron Smith

Research Associate

(212) 769-5616

Research Interests

My research interests are broadly centered on questions relating to the biodiversity and systematics of beetles (Coleoptera); including revisionary taxonomy, biogeography, evolutionary ecology, speciation, and the integration of molecular and morphological data in phylogenetic studies. I am also part of a collaboration building the Coleoptera Anatomy Ontology to produce semantically enriched taxonomic descriptions using an explicit controlled vocabulary. My primary taxonomic focus is on the species rich (~20,000 described spp.) family Tenebrionidae, also known as the darkling beetles. Thanks to strategic purchases and the collecting efforts of American Museum staff and associates, especially during the David Rockefeller Mexican Expedition of 1947, the AMNH contains significant holdings of both North American and worldwide tenebrionid species. I am currently working on revisions within the distantly related tribes Asidini and Amphidorini, both of which are flightless and widespread in western North America. In addition to their taxonomy and evolutionary history, I am examining the evolution of defensive mechanisms within and between the two tribes; these include crypsis (background matching), predator swamping, the production of noxious defensive compounds within Amphidorini (often with associated aposematic warning displays), and mimicry (both Müllerian and Batesian). Several asidine species have been implicated as Batesian mimics of chemically defended Eleodes(the largest genus of amphidorines) models, while many Eleodesspecies are thought to be involved in Müllerian mimicry complexes with co-occuring species of the same genus.  Beyond research, my work for the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) has included recruiting and mentoring the dedicated undergraduate researchers of theWheeler Lab, at Arizona State University, who help collect, curate, database, and image insect specimens (mostly tenebrionids) for our research (tenebrioniDBase) and the Frank Hasbrouck Entomology Collection (ASUHIC). They have also maintained numerous darkling beetle colonies (generally 30-50 colonies at a time from as many as 35 species) for behavioral and larval studies, pursued independent research under my supervision, and engaged in outreach activities over the last two years.