A team of BYU biologists made up of students and professors has been studying dragonflies around the world, from Vietnam to the islands of Vanuatu. Their goal is to piece together the first-ever phylogenic (genealogical) tree of all 6,300 known dragonfly species and their ancestors.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the tree will enable scientists to study how different dragonfly species evolved over time through changes in characteristics like vision and flight, which may in turn illuminate how other animals speciate.
Besides traveling to collect specimens of known dragonfly species—and discovering a few new ones along the way—the team received contributions from more than 80 international collaborators, ranging from fellow scientists to amateur dragonfly enthusiasts.
“We get all sorts of strange packages from all over the world with really funky dragonflies that I’ve never personally seen alive,” said BYU biology professor Seth Bybee, a dragonfly expert. “For a scientist, that’s Christmas: opening up a box of specimens you’ve never seen before.”
Like Bybee, many BYU professors can mentor students and include them in research projects because of funds donated by alumni and friends of the university.