Effort clarifies major branch of insect tree of life

Christopher Dietrich and Kevin Johnson

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The insects known as Hemiptera are not a particularly glamorous bunch. This group includes stink bugs, bed bugs, litter bugs, scale insects and aphids. Their closest relatives are thrips, bark lice and parasitic lice. But with a massive number of species, two-thirds of which are still unknown to science, these insects together make up one of the twiggiest branches on the tree of life.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences collected a vast amount of molecular data on these insects and used the information to help tease out their family relationships and evolutionary history. The findings – and the data, which are now publicly available – will aid future research into some of the most abundant and economically important insects on the planet, the researchers said.

Read the full story from the University of Illinois News Bureau here.

Study of bird lice shows how evolution sometimes repeats itself

Kevin Johnson

CHAMPAIGN, lll. – Birds of a feather flock together and—according to a new analysis—so do their lice.

A study of the genetic heritage of avian feather lice indicates that their louse ancestors first colonized a particular group of birds (ducks or songbirds, for example) and then “radiated” to different habitats on those birds – to the wings or heads, for instance, where they evolved into different species. This finding surprised the researchers because wing lice from many types of birds look more similar to one another than they do to head or body lice living on the same birds.

Read the full story from the University of Illinois News Bureau here.

Long-extinct passenger pigeon finds a place in the family tree

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