The pond damselflies (Coenagrionidae) is the largest family in the insect order Odonata ("dragonflies and damselflies"). This large insect family consists of over 1300 recognized species, and they are distributed globally. Coenagrionidae are characterized by a remarkable diversity in colouration, both within and between species. Within species, it is very common in this family to have female-limited heritable colour polymorphisms, which have evolved in response to male mating harassment, and which are maintained through frequency-dependent sexual conflict where common morphs suffer from lowered fitness.
Our general research programme is funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR) and is aimed at linking microevolutionary processes with macroevolutionary patterns, and we are using a combination of different complementary research approaches, ranging from experimental evolutionary ecology and population biology to phylogenetic comparative methods of trait diversification. The latter approaches require access to high-quality time-calibrated molecular phylogenies, something our research laboratory is actively involved in, and where we also have several international collaborations with colleagues in the US.
The project we propose here is related to this general research programme that aims to establish odonates as a new model system in evolutionary biology, which has long been dominated by a few other model organisms, such as Drosophila and Arabidopsis.
For the purpose of the project we propose here, we have access to DNA-sequence information from both mitochondrial and nuclear loci from over 500 species of Coenagrionidae and their closest relatives in the family Platycnemidae ("featherlegs") and we now intend to produce a robust and time-calibrated molecular phylogeny to investigate the evolutionary history and drivers of phenotypic diversity in this group using modern phylogenetic comparative methods. These specimens have been obtained from field expeditions and colleagues in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, and we have complemented these field specimens with museum specimens from the US and New Zealand.
The questions that we will address are about the time, geographic location and ecological and phenotypic drivers of divergence events in the evolutionary history of this diverse group of insects. To achieve this goal we will use a Bayesian framework in which complex models can be implemented and uncertainty in phylogenetic parameters can be captured.
Applying these methods, particularly on a large dataset, enables us to get a robust yet detailed understanding of the processes shaping the global patterns of phenotypic diversity, but our analyses alsorequires high computational capacity to perform time-intensive likelihood calculations over a highly dimensional parameter space.