Revision of the hard tick genus Amblyomma
A collaborative project with Drs. Lorenza Beati and Lance Durden at Georgia Southern University, and Norman Johnson at Ohio State University. Our goals for this project are (1) a revision of all species in the genus Amblyomma s.l. (that is including the former genus Aponomma, but excluding taxa currently assigned to the genus Bothriocroton), including (re)description of all instars; (2) solving the problem of unidentifiable immatures by linking immatures and adults through molecular barcoding; (3) making available data on all instars of amblyommine ticks in the U.S. National Tick Collection and OSAL available through an on-line database. The project is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF1026146).
Development and taxonomy of the Opilioacarida
A collaboration with Dr. Ma. Magdalena Vázquez at Universidad de Quintana Roo, in Chetumal, Mexico and Dr. Leopoldo de Oliveira Bernardi at Univ. Lavras, Brazil. Opilioacarida form a small group of mites that superficially resemble small Opiliones. Molecular systematic studies suggest they belong in the order Parasitiformes, possibly as sistergroup to the assemblage of Holothyrida and Ixodida. Because of their basal position and numerous oddities in their development (e.g. they are the only parasitiform mites retaining a prelarva), they are of interest in studies on the evolution of basal mites. We are trying to use Opilioacarida to re-evaluate segmental composition in all Parasitiformes. Diversity may be larger than previously appreciated with numerous new species in the Neotropics, as well as in Madagascar and Australia.
Revision of the Heterozerconoidea
A collaboration with Dr. Beverly Gerdeman at Washington State University. This group of two families of mesostigmatid mites is characterized by their association as adults with Myriapoda, centipedes for most Discozerconidae, millipedes for most Heterozerconidae. We are primarily interested in the evolution of the highly unusual sperm transfer organ in Heterozerconidae, the spermatodactyl. This often bizarre modification of the fixed digit of the chelicera is clearly species specific. In order to do this analysis we are first conducting (1) a revision of generic concepts in the group, (2) a phylogenetic analysis of relationships among the genera, and (3) taxonomic work describing some of the many new species in our collections. A revision of the genus Afroheterozercon describing 6 new species, based on work conducted by Milan Amin, an undergraduate student, was published in 2013.
Deep soil mites
This is a Ph.D. project by Sam Bolton. Sam is interested in (1) evolution of mouthparts in basal Acariformes, (2) relative rate of evolution in sexual vs. asexual mite lineages; (3) species level diversity among those mites. The current focus of these studies is on the families Nematalycidae and Nanorchestidae. The latter includes taxa that are very similar to 360my old fossils. The former appear to be asexual, but still show quite extensive amounts of morphological variability. The project includes collaborations with Dr. Pavel Klimov, Univ. Michigan (molecular systematics) and Ronald Ochoa and Gary Bauchan, USDA, SEL, electron microscopy group (LT-SEM and confocal imaging).