EEB graduate student Jen-Pan Huang is this year's recipient of the Donald W. Tinkle Scholarship from theU-M Museum of Zoology.
UMMZ's most prestigious student award is given on the basis of outstanding performance as a doctoral student.
“My research focuses on how to quantitatively and objectively define species, the effect of different taxonomic decisions on biodiversity studies, and how biodiversity is generated and structured geographically and ecologically," said Huang.
He studies the rhinoceros beetles (genus Dynastes and Xylotrupes), which appear in many different forms by region. “By using both molecular and morphological data, I show that current taxonomic species and subspecies designation can be very inconsistent. For example, species and subspecies can be statistically equivalent based on results analyzed by newly developed mathematical modeling.” In an upcoming paper in Systematic Biology (Huang and Knowles 2016*), Huang addressed the conundrum of subspecies versus species designations. The use of such designations varies systematically among taxa from different regions, suggesting the difference between species versus subspecies reflects different taxonomic practices, as opposed to actual biological differences.
“With these results, and specimens from museum collections, I also completed a taxonomic revision of the Dynastes beetles. Together, these projects demonstrate how the findings from modern statistical species designation can be applied in practice such that they have direct and lasting impacts on biodiversity studies.
“As a complement to this work, I have also tested the effects of ecological and geographic difference on species diversification. This research shows that in the Dynastes beetles, the importance of habitat reformation in Amazonia outweighs the importance of the famous geological event – the rise of the Isthmus of Panama – in promoting species diversification in the Americas. Moreover, this increase in diversification rates would have gone undetected with the conventional taxonomic treatment (i.e., regional differences in taxonomic practices obscured the actual macroevolutionary dynamics in the beetles).”
In other research, Huang has focused on the theme of macroevolutionary dynamics, with a study of the Asian Xylotrupes beetle, to test if population subdivision and species diversification are results of different geographic isolation mechanisms. “This research shows that oceanic barriers in the Malaysian Archipelago can promote population subdivision, but the speciation rate is correlated with the predicted level of habitat fragmentation, suggesting that population genetic structure and species diversification pattern are the results of different isolation mechanisms,” Huang explained. “With the combination of JP’s scholarship (he has an impressive publication and funding record, including a NSF DIG), outreach, and work in the museum, he embodies the multiple dimensions that the Tinkle Scholarship honors,” said Professor Lacey Knowles, Huang’s advisor.
“What makes JP a standout is the combination of his talent with the generation and analysis of data using a quantitative framework, but perhaps most importantly, his unending enthusiasm and love of insects – and in particular beetles. Specifically, it is only because of his tremendous knowledge of the beetles that he studies that he is able to address questions in which the insight extends far beyond the taxonomic group. His work makes significant contributions to the broader field of evolution and systematics. Moreover, with the success of his field collections, JP will be accessioning over 700 specimens he has curated to the Insect Division at the University of Michigan.”
The scholarship was endowed by the family and friends of Dr. Tinkle, who joined U-M in 1965 as professor and curator of reptiles and amphibians. Tinkle became director of the Museum of Zoology in 1975 and served until his death in 1980. He was a systematist, an evolutionary biologist, an evolutionary ecologist and an exceptional teacher whose most important legacy is the group of students he inspired. In the field, especially, he was known for his enthusiasm, endurance and sense of humor. It is entirely appropriate that a scholarship awarded to an outstanding student in the Museum of Zoology each year is in his name. The award is for $5,000.
* Huang J-P, Knowles LL (2016) The species versus subspecies conundrum: quantitative delimitation from integrating multiple data types within a single Bayesian approach in Hercules beetles. Syst. Biol., in press.