Millipedes are of outstanding ecological importance and play a crucial role in the decomposition of leaf litter and in the nutrient cycling within the soil. With an estimated total of more than 80,000 extant species, the ancient class Diplopoda (millipedes) is the third most diverse class of terrestrial arthropods, following Insecta and Arachnida. Despite their ecological importance, millipedes remain one of the poorest studied animal groups on the planet. Only about 12,000 millipede species have been formally described, but we do not have a catalog to keep track of described species and their distribution. Millipede biology and the morphology of the described species are inadequately explored. Millipedes never attracted many researchers; presently the expertise for this group is at the brink of extinction. The lack of comprehensive identification tools, such as illustrated keys, compounds the problem. The research community consequently avoids millipedes as model organisms for inquiries into evolutionary, biogeographical, and behavioral research, while also largely overlooking them in conservation studies.
With NSF support, Drs. Petra Sierwald, Jason E. Bond and William A. Shear developed a program to (a) advance millipede systematics, (b) train new millipede taxonomists, (c) develop tools to make millipedes more easily accessible for future research and (d) advance electronic forms of data capture of specimen collections and the original scientific millipede literature.
Brought to you by the Field Museum of Natural History and PEET (Partnerships for Enhancing Expertise in Taxonomy), a program of the National Science Foundation, USA.