Professor Chris Simon, of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department of the University of Connecticut, employs molecular phylogenetic trees to answer questions related to the origin, spread, and conservation of biological diversity. She uses cicadas and their microbial and fungal symbionts as model organisms. She has a special interest in 13- and 17-year periodical cicadas, New Zealand cicadas, and cicada deep level relationships. She and her lab group use NZ cicadas to explore the effect of landscape and climate change on biodiversity, periodical cicadas to understand the effect of life history on speciation, and cicada-symbiont consortia to understand how biodiversity spreads globally. Her early work was notable for elucidating the importance of accommodating patterns of molecular evolution (especially among site rate variation) during the construction of evolutionary trees. Her review papers have acted as a bridge between theoreticians and practitioners of phylogenetic tree building. She has promoted New Zealand science extensively, especially through her role as Editor, and President, of the Society for Systematic Biologists and has recently been elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of NZ.
My research is focused on the evolution of biodiversity and symbiosis and their intersection. I am also interested in applying modern methods to gain a high-throughput understanding of the basic biology of organisms, particularly the incredibly diverse insects, which are facing ever-increasing risks of extinction. Before coming to the Simon lab, I studied the evolution and taxonomy of a group of specialist termite predators and revising the the taxonomy of this group and documenting many new termite prey associations using termite-specific PCR on gut contents of archival specimens. In addition, I studied the pattern of evolution of bacterial associates in a range of heteropteran taxa with different biology including Triatominae, Largidae and Miroidea. You can read more about my research in my CV (link).
In the Simon lab, I am investigating a radiation of New Zealand cicadas, some members of which appear to have lost one of their two obligate symbionts. We are interested to see if we will be able to find a correlation of this shift in symbiotic partners with particular aspects of the biology of these cicadas which may inform our understanding of the evolution of this symbiosis. I am also involved in ongoing phylogenomic analyses of the family Cicadidae, attempting to resolve the complete evolutionary history of this group.
My primary studies are based in conservation biology and biodiversity. I have a keen interest in learning about conservation strategies, monitoring invasive species, and wildlife mangement techniques to protect rare and endangered species. I completed my undergraduate coursework at Providence College (PC) studying for a degree in General Biology. My research at PC focused on the molecular systematics of a particular group of mysid shrimp native to the eastern coast of the U.S. A. Mysid shrimp, otherwise known as ‘opossum shrimp’ are distinct from other crustaceans for their ability to develop their young in a brood pouch. I utilized molecular data to help resolve the taxonomy of Americamysis mysids in order to pave the way for future conservation work and studies on how climate change may be affecting these species.
While pursuing a joint B.S./M.S. degree in conservation biology at UConn, I have continued my interest in phylogenetics. My research in the Simon lab is focusing on investigating the phylogeography of an endemic group of "red-tailed" New Zealand cicadas known as Rhodopsalta. Despite some pioneer systematic work, very little is known about this group. We are interesting in employing multilocus datasets to better understand the speciation of these cicadas.
I’m interested in using phylogenetic methods to understand the evolution of biological diversity, specifically how both mutualistic and antagonistic interactions among organisms facilitate speciation. I joined the Simon Lab as an undergraduate studying the evolution of peculiar 13- and 17-year life cycles in North American periodical cicadas (Genus Magicicada). I’m currently a master’s student surveying the microbiota of New Zealand cicadas to uncover the role that symbionts have had in the diversification of these ecologically widespread and speciose taxa.
I am a new PhD student, starting in the Simon Lab Fall 2018. I am interested in phylogenetics, systematics, and biogeography. Prior to joining the Simon Lab, I spent my undergraduate experience working on population genetics and biogeography of the tulip tree, looking specifically at ways to answer questions behind the East Asia-Eastern North America species disjunct anomaly. I am still developing the projects I will be working on, but I am excited to begin working in the Simon Lab and to apply my interests to cicadas.