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Project Overview

Assembling the Tree of Life: Decapoda

Estimated to contain more than 15,000 species, the decapods are the most species rich and economically important group of Crustacea, including shrimp, crabs, crayfish, and lobsters. Furthermore, many extant families have well-documented fossil records. Accordingly, the decapods have been the subject of more published papers than have all other crustacean groups combined, due in part to their species richness, economic importance, and morphologic diversity. Given the prevalence of decapods in the public and scientific mind, understanding the evolutionary history of this significant crustacean group is crucial.

Five principal investigators, K. Crandall, D. Felder, J. Martin, C. Schweitzer and R. Feldmann, will lead an international group of decapod researchers in a collaborative effort to resolve higher-level decapod relationships by integrating developmental, morphological, molecular, and paleontological evidence. This international research team, including both lead investigators and collaborating team members, has collectively published on every major lineage of decapods, and includes expertise in comparative morphology, systematic paleontology, molecular, morphological (adult and larval), and combined data phylogenetic analysis, as well as systematic theory.

This group will collect molecular (~ 20 genes) and morphological (~ 200 characters) data from nearly all 153 extant families of decapods and morphological data from all 16 fossil families. Data will be rigorously analyzed to estimate evolutionary relationships. The resulting phylogeny will be used to test outstanding hypotheses concerning decapod evolution and dates of divergences. Taxonomic schemes will be accordingly revised.

In addition, principal investigator N. Hanegan, a science educator, will establish collaborative university and school projects to integrate effective professional development for teachers with classroom activities for students, centered on state biology content standards through inquiry-based learning. High school students will be engaged in research including question development, data collection, and analysis while interacting with university researchers and other schools in the Project Crawfish network. Undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral associates will be trained across the spectrum of techniques as applied to decapod systematics. Project Crawfish will train teachers from 15 schools across Utah and Louisiana, impacting 22,500 high school students (with high minority representation) concepts through experiential learning.

Both the educational and research components will utilize web-based dissemination of research results and both will strive to produce extensive peer-reviewed publications, including comprehensive monographic revisions.

Support and Acknowledgements

The research is supported by the following NSF awards:

DEB-EF-0531603 to Darryl Felder at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette,
DEB-EF-0531616 to Joel Martin at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History,
DEB-EF-0531670 to Rodney Feldmann and Carrie Schweitzer at Kent State University, and
DEB-EF-0531762 to Keith Crandall and Nikki Hanegan at Brigham Young University.

We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the Encyclopedia of Life project for sponsoring an international meeting of decapod workers on 24–27 June 2008 at National Taiwan Ocean University in Taiwan.

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