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One leg at a time: The morphology of millipedes

Millipedes are the main nutrient recycler in forest ecosystems; they chew down the leaf litter for further decomposition. Despite their ecological importance for soil health, their biodiversity, morphology and general biology are severely underexplored.  The millipede research program at the Field Museum of Natural History will produce a morphological atlas of various millipede groups to develop a comprehensive identification key to millipede families. Such tools promote further research into the group, such as local species richness,  biogeography, and phylogeny. The 2014 REU project will investigate the morphology of the millipede orders Polydesmida, Julida and Stemmiulida in detail, using the scanning electron microscope and various light microscopes. High quality images will be generated for the comparative analysis of complex structures in various millipede groups, such as sense organs, mouth parts, eyes and copulatory organs.

Research methods and techniques: The intern will be trained in millipede morphology, identification, and dissections. S/He will acquire skills to operate light and scanning electron microscopes, to produce and to manipulate images using sophisticated software. The newly generated morphological data will be added to the existing data pool, allowing comparative analyses and phylogenetic inference using these data.

Advisor: Dr. Petra Sierwald (Curator, Arachnida and Myriapoda)