Why Biodiversity Matters: Discovering and Describing Novel Species in Brazil


Friday, October 8, 2021, 3:00pm to 4:30pm

Speakers: Gonzalo Giribet, Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Curator of Invertebrate Zoology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University; João Tonini, Postdoctoral Fellow, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University; Cristina Miyaki, Professor of Genetics and Evolutionary Biology, University of São Paulo; Tiago Simões, Postdoctoral Fellow, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University; Vera Solferini, Professor in the Department of Genetics, Evolution, Microbiology, and Immunology, Unicamp; Miquéias Ferrão, Postdoctoral Fellow, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.
Moderated by: Naomi Pierce, Sidney A. and John H. Hessel Professor of Biology, Curator of Lepidoptera in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University; Scott Edwards, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Curator of Ornithology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

As a part of Harvard Worldwide Week 2021, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies Brazil Office, Museum of Comparative Zoology and Department of Evolutionary and Organismic Biology kick off a three-part series of discussions on "Why Biodiversity Matters". This series aims to showcase the breadth of cutting-edge research related to biodiversity in Brazil being conducted by Harvard researchers and Brazilian colleagues as well as to promote broader discussions around the importance of studying and preserving biodiversity from scientific and societal perspectives. The first discussion on "Why Biodiversity Matters: Discovering and Describing Novel Species in Brazil", introduced by Gonzalo Giribet and moderated by Naomi Pierce and Scott Edwards, will feature an exciting line-up of leading Brazilian scientists, three of whom currently hold postdoctoral fellowships with Harvard, who will overview their ongoing research related to birds, fossils and spiders and discuss the broader implications of their projects and fields.

Gonzalo Giribet’s primary research focuses on the evolution, systematics and biogeography of invertebrate animals, including the use of morphology and next generation sequencing techniques. Current projects in the Giribet lab include a comprehensive study of the harvestmen of New Zealand, their systematics and biogeography, and a textbook on invertebrates. We also work on other projects on systematics and biogeography of arthropods, mollusks and onychophorans, among other groups. He is also interested in homology-related issues and the use of genomic-level data for inferring phylogenies.

João Tonini's research interests are related to understanding the relative importance of mechanisms generating biodiversity at multiple geographic scales and how human-driven environmental impacts accelerate species extinction risks. To investigate topics along those lines, João collects empirical data on phenotypic features, behavioral traits, genetics, and species distribution. In addition, to develop null distribution and test hypotheses, he uses model-based approaches that incorporate fundamental evolutionary and ecological processes affecting biodiversity patterns. His ongoing projects focus on the evolution of Cerrado biodiversity of birds and butterflies, evolution of frog calls, evolutionary history of phytotelm-breeding frogs, and systematics and biogeography of Neotropical frogs.

Cristina Yumi Miyaki is a Professor at the Biosciences Institute of the Universidade de São Paulo – USP (University of São Paulo). Her research focuses on avifauna as a model of molecular studies to understand its systematics, and aims at the conservation of biodiversity and at the understanding of biogeographic patterns and processes in the evolutionary history of the neotropical region. Miyaki obtained her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Biological Sciences in1990 and 1993 respectively from USP, and her PhD from the same institution in Biological Sciences (Biology/Genetics), in 1996.

Tiago Simões research interests include combining data from living and extinct species, as well as morphological and molecular data, to investigate deep time problems in reptile evolution. In recent years, he has revised previous phylogenetic and biogeographic hypotheses into the early evolution of lizards in South America and used high resolution micro computed-tomography scans of modern lizards to assess the adaptive role of the temporal region of the lizard skull. Recently, he has provided the largest dataset ever assembled to assess broad-scale reptile relationships, finding the first ever agreement between morphological and molecular hypotheses on the early evolution of lizards. Further, he demonstrated that the major reptile lineages first evolved prior to the greatest mass extinction in the history of complex life— the Permian Triassic Mass extinction. Currently, Dr. Simões is investigating the impact of the Permian Triassic Mass extinction on long-term evolutionary patterns in reptiles.

Vera Solferini is a Professor in the Department of Genetics, Evolution, Microbiology, and Immunology at the Unicamp Institute of Biology. She earned a bachelors and a masters in Biological Sciences (1979 & 1985) and a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences (Biology-Genetics) (1990) from the University of São Paulo. She joined the Unicamp faculty in 2007 and was named a Full Professor in 2013. Her research is in genetics and evolution, working on projects that utilize phenotypic, genomic and environmental information to understand the biogeographical history of neotropical biomes and the adaptive processes subjacent to biological diversification. She also works on education and knowledge dissemination.

Miquéias Ferrão is a biologist interested in taxonomy, systematics and ecology of Amazonian anurans and reptiles. Currently, most of his research focuses on using integrative taxonomy to identify, delimit and describe new species of frogs from threatened environments in Brazilian Amazonia, as well as redescribe taxonomically problematic species. He has described new treefrogs and toads of AllobatesAmazophrynellaAtelopusRhinella and Scinax. In addition to these genera, new species of AdenomeraOsteocephalus and Pristimantis are also being described by him.

Naomi E. Pierce received her BS in biology from Yale University and her PhD from Harvard, and has held appointments as a Research Lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford University, and as an Assistant and Associate Professor at Princeton. Her research focuses on insect behavioral ecology, and has contributed widely to the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology. She has been involved in reconstructing the evolutionary ‘Tree of life’ of insects, and together with her co-authors, published the first detailed molecular phylogenies of both the butterflies and the ants. She is a member of National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration, and has received awards including Fulbright and MacArthur Fellowships. Her fieldwork currently takes her to East Africa to study the ecology of the ant acacia and its complex associations with ants, fungi and bacteria.

Scott V. Edwards studies the evolutionary biology of birds and relatives, combining field, museum and genomics approaches to understand the basis of avian diversity, evolution and behavior. His guiding approaches include population genetics, which provides a quantitative framework for studying speciation, geographic variation and genome evolution; systematics, which acknowledges that the focal species of any study has relatives that are behaviorally and ecologically no less interesting; and natural history, which gives meaning to the genes and genomic patterns we study.

Presented in collaboration with Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology