Naturwissenschaften

, Volume 96, Issue 11, pp 1293–1312

Charles Darwin, beetles and phylogenetics

  • Rolf G. Beutel
  • Frank Friedrich
  • Richard A. B. Leschen
REVIEW

Abstract

Here, we review Charles Darwin’s relation to beetles and developments in coleopteran systematics in the last two centuries. Darwin was an enthusiastic beetle collector. He used beetles to illustrate different evolutionary phenomena in his major works, and astonishingly, an entire sub-chapter is dedicated to beetles in “The Descent of Man”. During his voyage on the Beagle, Darwin was impressed by the high diversity of beetles in the tropics, and he remarked that, to his surprise, the majority of species were small and inconspicuous. However, despite his obvious interest in the group, he did not get involved in beetle taxonomy, and his theoretical work had little immediate impact on beetle classification. The development of taxonomy and classification in the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth century was mainly characterised by the exploration of new character systems (e.g. larval features and wing venation). In the mid-twentieth century, Hennig’s new methodology to group lineages by derived characters revolutionised systematics of Coleoptera and other organisms. As envisioned by Darwin and Ernst Haeckel, the new Hennigian approach enabled systematists to establish classifications truly reflecting evolution. Roy A. Crowson and Howard E. Hinton, who both made tremendous contributions to coleopterology, had an ambivalent attitude towards the Hennigian ideas. The Mickoleit school combined detailed anatomical work with a classical Hennigian character evaluation, with stepwise tree building, comparatively few characters and a priori polarity assessment without explicit use of the outgroup comparison method. The rise of cladistic methods in the 1970s had a strong impact on beetle systematics. Cladistic computer programs facilitated parsimony analyses of large data matrices, mostly morphological characters not requiring detailed anatomical investigations. Molecular studies on beetle phylogeny started in the 1990s with modest taxon sampling and limited DNA data. This has changed dramatically. With very large data sets and high throughput sampling, phylogenetic questions can be addressed without prior knowledge of morphological characters. Nevertheless, molecular studies have not lead to the great breakthrough in beetle systematics—yet. Especially the phylogeny of the extremely species rich suborder Polyphaga remains incompletely resolved. Coordinated efforts of molecular workers and of morphologists using innovative techniques may lead to more profound insights in the near future. The final aim is to develop a well-founded phylogeny, which truly reflects the evolution of this immensely species rich group of organisms.

Keywords

Darwin Coleoptera Classification Phylogeny Systematics 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rolf G. Beutel
    • 1
  • Frank Friedrich
    • 1
    • 2
  • Richard A. B. Leschen
    • 3
  1. 1.Entomology groupInstitut für Spezielle Zoologie und Evolutionsbiologie mit Phyletischem MuseumJenaGermany
  2. 2.Biozentrum Grindel und Zoologisches MuseumUniversität HamburgHamburgGermany
  3. 3.New Zealand Arthropod CollectionAucklandNew Zealand

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