Dr. Bruno de Medeiros
Diversification, Systematics, Natural History, Genomics, Flower Weevils
I am interested in understanding the origins of insects' outstanding diversity in taxonomy, morphology, and natural history, focusing on flower-associated weevils. I work on systematics using both morphology and genomics, and I employ comparative methods to study speciation and macroevolution. I also document new natural history information on weevils that allows us to develop and test evolutionary hypotheses.
I started working with weevils in Brazil as an undergraduate student at the University of São Paulo. That led to a Master's thesis on the systematics of Anchylorhynchus, a genus of palm flower weevils. In addition to Anchylorhynchus, many other genera of weevils are common in palm flowers. When their natural history combines with the flowering biology of the host plant, this produces several interaction outcomes from mutualism to antagonism. As a PhD student at Harvard University, I documented these outcomes for many weevil species interacting with the same palms in the same geographical distribution. I then used comparative phylogeography to understand how interactions impact the generation of new species. They do not have a substantial effect: antagonists, mutualists, and commensals all seem to respond more or less equally to host differences. The long-standing idea that antagonistic insect-plant coevolution is the primary driver of phytophagous insect diversification probably needs revision. I also sampled palm flower weevils from over 60 species of palms, and I am currently working on the first phylogenies for several groups. At STRI, I am focused on understanding how a particular kind of pollination interaction emerged in palms: Anchylorhynchus weevils both pollinate and lay eggs in female flowers. Since palms are not as specialized as other plants like figs and yuccas, it is puzzling that this interaction is very stable through evolutionary time. I am currently gathering data on the costs and benefits of the interaction with Anchylorhynchus for a palm in Panama (Oenocarpus mapora). I am also generating high-quality genome assemblies for both weevils and palms. This will allow us to use this system involving weevils as a model for the evolution of mutualisms. In addition to this focus on palm flower weevils, I have worked on biogeography, light pollution, the evolution of insect egg morphology, the phylogeny of Dryophthorinae, and the description of new weevil taxa.
At the Field Museum, I am excited to expand this work and support postdocs and students interested in the evolution of weevils and other insects interacting with plants and their flowers. Projects that I will work on include a more comprehensive phylogeny of the Dryophthorinae using genomic data, macroevolution of flower-visiting behavior across insects using citizen science data and pollen extracted from entomological collections, speciation genomics of phytophagous insects, a new DNA barcoding tool using very low coverage whole genome sequencing, documentation of poorly known weevil taxa visiting flowers of plants other than palms, and the systematics of several weevil groups. Importantly, I am particularly excited about testing new mass digitization methods and establishing collaborations to facilitate the work of researchers who have easy access to tropical plants to study their tremendously diverse weevils but have barriers to access the necessary tools, collections, and literature. I know from my own experience that we need both to advance the understanding of weevil mega-diversity, and the more hands able to do it, the better.