A live revision

Over the course of the next three years, some of us (me, John Sproul, and others) in the Maddison Lab will be “revising” the Bembidiina of North America.  This means we will be going into the field in the USA and Canada and collecting beetles, sequencing DNA of the beetles, looking at their structures, and studying specimens from some of the major museums.  In the process, we will be discovering the species that live here, and communicating the results, on the fly, as we find things.

This style of “live” science is somewhat scary to those of us who are used to having every i dotted and every t crossed before publishing, but we feel that it is necessary to both increase the pace of biodiversity discovery and engage a wider audience.  Over the next three years I will be blogging about how it all goes, and about some of the methods we will be using.

The “official” abstract of this work, written for a general audience, is as follows:

“Many species on Earth are unknown to scientists, and in some groups, such as beetles, many that are known are poorly documented.  This project will build general tools and methods to increase the rate of species discovery and documentation, and it will apply these tools to a group of ground beetles (Bembidiina) having over 300 species in the United States.  DNA sequences will be analyzed in novel ways using population genetic theory to delimit and discover species.  Photographs of the beetles and their structures will be captured and presented with the DNA results live as they are gathered in an open, online database to which other biologists can freely contribute.  From this database custom-built field guides or scientific monographs can be created and printed on demand by anyone, and tablet and smartphone apps can be created.

In addition to the knowledge that will be gained about this widespread, common group of beetles, this project will produce many tools that will enable others to discover and document species of any group of organisms more quickly.  The tools will include improved DNA analyses tools, to improved online database systems, to efficient mechanisms to synthesize identification guides and other products on demand. “

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