Most of the scientific knowledge on Indian biodiversity is 60 to 100 years old, dating back to the pre-independence era. During this time, there have been tremendous scientific developments in areas such as evolution, molecular phylogenetics, biogeography, and conservation genetics. This has substantially advanced our understanding of the evolution and dispersion of biodiversity on Earth. Unfortunately, much of this development has largely excluded India, which is unfortunate considering the crucial biogeographic role that the Indian Subcontinent plays. India is at the junction of the Palearctic and Oriental zoogeographic regions, and is believed to have been critical in the evolution and exchange of many important faunal elements across these regions. Thus, understanding the evolution and biogeography of Indian faunas is important in constructing a more complete picture of biological diversification in the Palearctic and Indo-Australian Regions. Using cicadas as a tractable invertebrate group, this project aims to: (1) study the origin and diversification of cicadas in India in relation to neighboring regions, (2) generate a higher-level phylogeny of Indian cicadas that will form a backbone of all subsequent studies, and (3) help inventory cicada diversity, including cryptic species, with the help of molecular data. The researchers involved will intensively sample cicadas across the length and breadth of India and will apply DNA sequencing, phylogenetic methods, and recently developed genomic methods. This work should generate valuable new information on the taxonomy, diversity and endemism, biogeography, and conservation needs of cicadas and other invertebrates.
With its burgeoning industries, a high gross domestic product, and an already considerable and yet ever-increasing population of technically and technologically well-trained youth, India is poised to become a significant scientific and technological power in the near future. However, the country is struggling to meet the demand for ecologists and conservation biologists. This project will help by supporting two Master’s-level students to study the diversity, taxonomy and biogeography of Indian cicadas, with the aim of promoting the development of indigenous biological expertise and local involvement in documenting and conserving biodiversity in India. Improvements are also needed in the local infrastructure that will complement research in frontier areas of biology. Currently, the best reference research collections on Indian fauna are outside the country, thus keeping certain kinds of research such as species discovery and evolution of biodiversity out of reach for most Indian biologists. The research collection that Prof. Kunte is building at his institution will begin to tackle this issue. This collection already has more than 3,000 specimens, including several dozen cicada specimens, which are well-curated, with geo-referenced data and a DNA library associated with each specimen. The collection is set to have space and instruments for microscopy, high-resolution close-up photography, sound recording, and electronic data archival and retrieval systems. This collection, which is freely accessible to Indian and foreign scientists, will form a major infrastructural resource especially for Indian biologists, boosting the breadth and depth of biological research in India.
Summary of Recent Activities
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The project team started DNA sequencing of 78 cicada specimens that had been collected from the Western Ghats and Nagaland regions in the weeks before project funding arrived. The molecular data from these sequences are being shared with U.S. collaborator Chris Simon and will be included in a global dataset. The PI made two field trips to survey cicada activity. He also met with officials in the state of Meghalaya to obtain survey permits and to give updates on the project. The project team developed a Website: < http://biodiversitylab.org/indian-cicadas
Once the cicada season begins in March 2014, the PI and his project team will be spending time in northeastern India to collect samples of the Chremistica cicada in order to sequence its genome in collaboration with the U.S. partner. The team also plans to do other phylogenetic and biogeographic analyses on samples collected.