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Dr Chenyang Cai

Beetle phylogeny, the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution, and the efficacy of molecular clock methods

Beetles (Coleoptera) are the textbook example of a hyperdiverse clade, known from more than 390,000 living species (one third of animal species) that display an extraordinary morphological, taxonomic, and ecological diversity. However, their evolutionary history is obscured by (i) unclear interrelationships among extant Coleoptera, (ii) poor characterization of the diversity and phylogenetic affinity of fossil Coleoptera, and (iii) molecular clock analyses have used dated methodologies. With Prof Philip Donoghue and other Palaeobiology group members, we will divine the origins of the extraordinary diversity and disparity of Coleoptera using the latest molecular clock methods. This will facilitate tests of the co-diversification of beetles and flowering plants as part of a Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution (KTR), which underpins much of terrestrial biodiversity, as well as a framework of evaluating the efficacy of competing approaches to the establishment of evolutionary timescales.

Selected Publications:

1. Cai, C., Leschen, R.A.B., Hibbett, D.S., Xia, F., Huang, D., 2017. Mycophagous rove beetles highlight diverse mushrooms in the Cretaceous. Nature Communications 8, 14894. doi: 10.1038/ncomms14894.
2. Cai, C., Engel, M.S., Newton, A.F., Eldredge, K.T., Huang, D., 2017. Early evolution of specialized termitophily in Cretaceous rove beetles. Current Biology 27(8), 1229–1235.
3. Cai, C., Thayer, M.K., Engel, M.S., Newton, A.F., Ortega-Blanco, J., Wang, B., Wang, X., Huang, D., 2014. Early origin of parental care in Mesozoic carrion beetles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 111(39), 14170–14174.
4. Cai, C., Newton, A.F., Thayer, M.K., Leschen, R.A.B., Huang, D., 2016. Specialized proteinine rove beetles shed light on insect–fungal associations in the Cretaceous. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283, 20161439.
5. Huang, D., Nel, A., Cai, C., Lin, Q., Engel, M.S., 2013. Amphibious flies and paedomorphism in the Jurassic period. Nature 495, 94–97.
6. Huang, D., Engel, M.S., Cai, C., Wu, H., Nel, A., 2012. Diverse transitional giant fleas from the Mesozoic era of China. Nature 483, 201–204.

Research keywords

  • palaeobiology
  • palaeoethology
  • biogeography
  • insects
  • fossils
  • amber