Grants and current projects

Biodiversity and evolution of Malagasy stick insects: Ancient lineages or recent adaptive radiation? - BR 2930/2-1

Madagascar is one of our planet's leading biodiversity hotspots exhibiting an extraordinarily distinct and diverse, but also severely endangered biota. Many elements of its fauna are poorly documented and remain largely unexplored. For example, the evolutionary history of the Malagasy stick insects (order Phasmatodea) is entirely obscure. Stick insects are large terrestrial arthropods with limited dispersal abilities, forming at least four distinct taxonomic groups on Madagascar, i.e., endemic families and subfamilies with completely unresolved phylogenetic affinities in respect to continental lineages. An extensive multigene phylogenetic analysis and molecular clock approach is supposed to infer whether (i) the Malagasy phas-matodean fauna can be explained by vicariance biogeography (forming relics of the Gond-wana fragmentation), (ii) if it is the product of a single post-Gondwanan colonization, or (iii) the result of multiple recent oceanic dispersal events. This project is also designed to investi-gate the adaptive clade diversifications and microendemism of phasmatodeans on Mada-gascar. By using Bayesian reconstruction methods in combination with quantitative mor-phometric and discrete anatomical characters the project is aimed to significantly advance our understanding of the phylogeography and evolution of distinct ecomorphs of stick insects on islands, e.g., ground-dwellers and canopy-dwellers, flying and flightless forms.