What I’m working on now?
For the past 4 years, I have been concentrating on a phylogenetic analysis of all the genera of Ceratopogonidae. The basal lineages were pretty secure from my earlier work but no one has previously attempted an evolutionary tree (cladistic) of all 112 of the genera. Although I have been compiling notes and observations for decades, it was time to pull it all together and so I examined 370 different features of adults, finding that only 146 of them were informative in terms of relationships, added another 40 features from my previous 2014 work on pupae and another 16 from larvae and even 2 from the eggs. I also discuss 90 features that have been used in the past or might yet be informative but cannot yet be interpreted with confidence. I’m now in the process of writing up a summary of previous work and its various problems and then need to complete numbers of illustrations and photographs to illustrate the many new features discovered. My optimist goal is to publish in 2024.
I’m also working on completing, with a valued Polish colleague Patrycja Dominiak, an overview of the biting midges of Great Britain. There are 174 species (only a few bite people or other animals) and we have keys to the various genera and species mostly completed. There is still some writing to do as well as figures to produce this Handbook, part of a series of works portraying the fauna of this country.
In 2019, my wife Annette, who accompanies me on nearly every trip, and I went to New Zealand, a part of Gondwana that separated early in earth history and therefore of great biogeographic interest. No ceratopogonid expert has ever collected there and the last overview was published in 1932 by J.W.W. Macfie, a British worker who had been sent some specimens. As one might expect, there were many more species discovered and representatives have been slide mounted by an expert slide maker Annia Picado. My hope is to see an overview of the New Zealand fauna, with descriptions of new species and an explanation of why only certain groups of biting midges occur there.
A major contribution will be a revision of the subgenus Culicoides (Monoculicoides) spearheaded by Phillip Shults who undertook this group as a Ph.D. project and who I helped supervise. These flies bite ungulates, like cattle and deer, and some species are vectors of Bluetongue and Epizootic Hemorrhagic Viruses to their hosts. There are now 26 species known (including new ones) in the Nearctic and Palearctic Regions and a couple in the Afrotropical Region. We hope to get this out as a publication in the coming year.
I am also a junior coauthor on a paper headed by Elyssa Loewen (University of Regina) on fossil inclusions in Big Muddy amber, dated at 67 million years and therefore exceptionally interesting as it was preserved just before the asteroid hit Earth at the end of the Cretaceous.
I am also working with colleagues in Argentina, Gustavo Spinelli and Florentina Dīaz, starting a species-level analysis of the 200 Ceratopogonidae species I previously reported as present in the 4-hectare cloudforest at Zurquí, Costa Rica (as part of Diptera biodiversity project noted elsewhere). We already know that there are 19 genera present and that these include at least 200 different species, previously recognized only as morphotypes. We are now sitting down to see how many of these are named, which requires studying the previously published literature in some depth, and determining how many are undescribed. This will give us an estimate of how many further new species we might expect in similar tropical settings and it is the first objective appraisal of such diversity. Even though we strongly suspect many thousands of unnamed species are present in the world, based on what we have seen in museums, as well as through collecting ourselves, this will provide the first concrete percentages for each genus and for the family.
Taxonomists, as they age, start to accumulate numbers of projects that would be cool groups to revise, some weird species calling to be described, a fauna from a particular place (like tropical islands) and other interesting science to undertake and I have my fair share. If I live to be 115 I might have a chance of completing them all (assuming there are no new additions)! Regardless, there are nearly countless projects describing the biodiversity of Ceratopogonidae that are worth undertaking that could be completed by others. It is a remarkably interesting group!