Featured Researcher

Dr. Sarah Smith

PhD in Entomology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA, 2013

MS in Entomology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA, 2009

BS in Animal Science, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA, 2006

Current position

Curator and collection manager, Albert J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection, Michigan State University

Research interests

Taxonomy, systematics, diversity, and natural history of the subfamily Scolytinae.

I have been collecting beetles for almost my entire life. My father was an amateur Coleopterist and shared his love of beetles and insects with me. As a child I spent lots of time outdoors collecting whatever bugs I could find in our backyard, school and during camping trips around Michigan and the US. I’ve actively maintained a collection since I was 6 years old and enjoyed spending time on school breaks identifying my specimens. I always had a love of biology and spent most of my teenage years working at a day camp that was also a working farm. I was dissuaded from pursuing entomology by a high school guidance counselor and enrolled at Michigan State University with the intention of becoming a large animal veterinarian. 

During my sophomore year, I noticed a flyer outside of one of my animal science classes seeking students to assist with emerald ash borer research in Dr. Deborah McCullough’s forest entomology lab. The species had just been discovered in Michigan near my hometown and I applied for the job. This serendipitous opportunity altered my career path and I realized how much I love entomology and working with beetles. Dr. McCullough encouraged me to take her forest entomology course where I was introduced to bark beetles. At that point I decided to pursue a graduate degree in beetle taxonomy and systematics. 

Coincidentally, Dr. Anthony Cognato was moving his systematics lab and students to Michigan State and was looking for a masters student. My masters project was a revision of Camptocerus (Scolytini), an extremely charismatic and colorful genus of ambrosia beetles that includes the only metallic scolytines. The project allowed me to undertake numerous field work opportunities in Central and South America. I had the opportunity to pursue PhD on Nearctic Scolytus (Scolytini) bark beetles under the supervision of Dr. McCullough. The research allowed me to spend months collecting in the mountains of the western United States. I continue to collaborate with Anthony Cognato on many taxonomy projects. After my PhD, I was offered two contracts at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to curate and image holotypes from the recently acquired collection of the preeminent bark beetle taxonomist Dr. Stephen L. Wood. This experience was invaluable and allowed me to broaden my taxonomic scolytine knowledge. In 2016 I was employed as a curator at the University of Florida’s Forest Entomology lab and worked with Dr. Jiri Hulcr to identify his cryo collection of scolytines which further broadened my knowledge of the Paleotropical fauna.  

Since 2016 I’ve been employed at Michigan State University as a curator and in 2022 I also became the collection manager of the Albert J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection. My research has focused on the taxonomy of Xyleborini ambrosia beetles from Southeast Asia and the Neotropics. I recently completed a monograph of Southeast Asian Xyleborini as well as the SE Asian Xyleborini ID tool which combines morphological and molecular identification of over 330 species with a Lucid key. I am currently updating a similar tool for world Xyleborini genera.

I am also revising the xyleborine genus Euwallacea to produce a revision and another online identification tool akin to the SE Asian Xyleborini ID tool. Ultimately I hope to revise the entire tribe and produce keys to aid in the identification of this economically important but challenging group.

I enjoy sharing my knowledge of scolytines and their identification at the Bark Beetle Academy. I am always open to collaboration. A list of my publications is available on Google Scholar

Last updated September 22, 2023