Contact Prof. Farrell

Brian D. Farrell

Museum of Comparative Zoology
Harvard University
26 Oxford Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
farrellb [at]
Phone: (617) 496-1057
Fax: (617) 495-5567

Prof. Farrell's CV

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Recent publications

Rykken, J. J., and Farrell, B. D. 2012. Discovering the wilderness in parks and protected areas Pp. 306-322. In The Management of Insects in Recreation and Tourism, Raynald Harvey Lemelin (ed.). Cambridge U. Press, Cambridge, UK.

Clark, A. T., Rykken, J. J., and Farrell, B. D. 2011. The effects of biogeography on ant diversity and activity on the Boston Harbor Islands, Massachusetts, U.S.A. PLoS ONE 6(11): e28045. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028045.

McKenna, D.D., and Farrell, B. D. 2010. 9-Genes Reinforce the Phylogeny of Holometabola and Yield Alternate Views on the Phylogenetic Placement of Strepsiptera. PLoS ONE 5(7): e11887.


Brian D. Farrell

Research Interests

We are generally interested in whether the diversity of species on earth is a cause or consequence of the diversity of roles different species play in ecosystems. Because beetles are famously diverse in both species and roles (as herbivores, predators, fungivores, decomposers and even parasites), they are good subjects for these kinds of questions, and lab members have worked on other insects and other topics as well. While we focus on what has happened in evolutionary radiations, it is equally important to notice what has not happened in evolution.

Most of our work is phylogenetic, based on variation in DNA sequences and morphological characters, and our studies vary in focus from principally ecological dimensions of resource use to emphasis on biogeographic or paleontological dimensions. The context of most of our studies is the interaction between insects and plants, ecological associates whose diversity and abundance make them the principal denizens of the terrestrial earth.

Research in our lab has focused on sampling insects in the field for studies of the phylogenetic history of speciation, and so projects have often centered on groups of closely-related species within a genus of herbivorous insects. We also trace the evolution of larger, older and more inclusive lineages of beetles and other plant-feeding insects around the world. We have documented evolutionary patterns that offer insights on many kinds of tiny consumers, including infectious diseases.

We extend our studies of the evolution of insect-plant interactions to other trophic levels through a broad collaboration in the beetle Tree of Life project. The aim is to provide a comprehensive phylogenetic study of this most diverse group of animals and achieve an understanding of their many shifts among trophic levels, and so the rules of assembly of the trophic pyramid.

A new research dimension in the lab, initiated by undergraduates, concerns a different kind of resource, one in which insects may overlap with birds, frogs and mammals: the acoustic signals produced by these animals for mating and territory defense. The ecology of acoustic communities integrates evolutionary and community ecology with conservation and human biology, including the evolution of music, our own acoustic signal.

Curatorial Interests

Caribbean Biodiversity and Bioinformatics