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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Evolution, diversification, and biogeography of Cicadas (Insecta: Hemiptera: Cicadidae) on the Indian Subcontinent

PI: Krushnamegh Kunte (National Center for Biological Sciences)
U.S. Partner: Chris Simon (University of Connecticut)
Project Dates: August 2013 to December 2015
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
Dr. Kunte reports that the focus of the first quarter of 2015 was on sequencing samples from the specimens they have collected, including carrying out PCR with the primers that Prof. Simon’s group uses for the global cicada phylogeny. They are also continuing to identify species and organize their images so that all the material gathered over the past two years can be put on the cicada website that they have created, which is available at As of April 2015, they had already created 125 species pages out of the 250 species pages that the website should have for India. This number is increasing rapidly as they process images of type specimens from the Natural History Museum, London. So far, the site has 347 reference images, and this number is expected to increase as the team begins a new field season. Dr. Kunte envisions the site as a long-term and fairly ambitious project, which he and his colleagues are committed to sustaining beyond the life of the current PEER project. 

A no-cost extension has been issued through the end of December 2015. In the coming months Dr. Kunte and his team will be working to bring the project to a successful conclusion. Specific objectives include (1) finishing all sequencing and forwarding the data to Prof. Simon’s group so that it can be included in the global phylogeny of cicadas, (2) drafting papers based on the results of the project, (3) continuing work on their cicada website, and (4) finishing curation of the specimen collection so that it is available for taxonomic studies by all interested parties. Dr. Kunte also plans a research visit to the Natural History Museum in London in the summer of 2015. While there, he will work with their cicada collections with the aim of describing at least half a dozen species of cicadas new to science that he and his team have found during their PEER-supported work.
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