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About HymATol











HymAToL is a project funded by the National Science Foundation under the “Assembling the Tree Of Life” initiative, which aims to reconstruct the evolutionary history of all organisms. Our goal is to construct a large-scale phylogenetic analysis of the Hymenoptera, an insect order that encompasses approximately 10% of the species diversity of life. Approximately 115,000 species have already been described and estimates for the total number of species range up to 2.5 million. Solving the taxonomic problems within the Hymenoptera will aide researchers in many biological fields, as Members of the Hymenoptera have an enormous impact on ecosystem function and our everyday lives. Most potential insect pests have hymenopteran parasitoids that help keep populations below outbreak levels; ants account for much of the biomass in many ecosystems; and the pollination of plants, including many of our food crops, is dependant on the Hymenoptera.

There are 90 families of Hymenoptera presently recognized, but we are uncertain about the monophyly of 20 or these. The taxonomy of Pteromalidae (Chalcidoidea) represents one of the worst problems, with more than 700 genera and 33-35 subfamilies, and functioning as essentially a dumping ground for lost chalcidoids. The situation in the Chalcidoidea is by no means unique. Even the monophyly of some hymenopteran superfamilies is suspect, such as Xyeloidea, Evanioidea, and Proctotrupoidea. For a project of this size, we have assembled an international team, who together bring expertise in morphology, molecular, and fossil data. For this analysis we aim to include morphological characters from adults, larvae and fossils, and molecular characters from mitochondrial, nuclear and ribosomal genes. Numerous (over 40) investigators offer expertise in different taxonomic groups and character systems. We will share specimens and images and also work in small teams on selected morphological investigations, broken up by major body regions. Molecular markers selected are 18S, 28S (D2-D3), COI, EF1a, with current exploration on other protein coding genes. For a dataset of this magnitude, involving thousands of taxa, two approaches will be used. A selected group of taxa, designated “skeletal taxa”, will be used to reconstruct the evolutionary relationship among the superfamilies. More intense sampling of 400 species or more will be conducted with each of the hyper-diverse clades, such as the Aculeata, Ichneumonoidea and Chalcidoidea.

Working as a team in the creation of the skeletal matrix will help standardize morphological terminology across the Hymenoptera. Currently there is a great deal of instability in basic morphological terminology. For example, we have three different systems of wing nomenclature and even more systems for genitalic features. We hope that our results will set precedents for methodological approaches for large-scale studies and provide framework for all future systematic studies of Hymenoptera.

Project proposal (pdf)