The Roach Brain Lab
for studying biodiversity through molecular systematics
The Roach Brain Lab investigates the origins of biodiversity. We do this through describing biodiversity, comparing biodiversity, inferring evolutionary histories, and optimizing experimental methods. This includes research into ecology and regional faunas.
Approaching biology from an organismal perspective is important for learning about those organisms quickly as global changes, and mass extinction, rage. As of 2023, Dr. Evangelista focuses primarily on cockroaches but lab members can research other arthropods of their interest. As part of an entomology department, organismal questions should generally have some relevance to insects or other terrestrial arthropods but some lab members may be affiliated with other departments and have coadvisors with other organismal foci.
Some lab research may have a biological, or analytical, process as the focus. Dr. Evangelista typically does this as it relates to phylogenetic experimental design. High-impact journals often exclude organismal research if the findings do not have a general appeal. Lab members are encouraged to be more “process-focused” whenever possible. That being said, Dr. Evangelista’s philosophy is that this should be used to elevate studies of the organism. The organism is important.
Evolution of research focus
From 2010-2016 Dr. Evangelista’s research focus was more aligned with faunistic studies that investigated different aspects of tropical biodiversity of cockroaches.
In 2016, Dr. Evangelista started a series of post-doc positions that focused more on the deep evolutionary history of cockroaches using genome-scale data. From this, he started experimenting with innovative approaches to phylogenetic experimental design. As of 2023, these are still major focuses of the lab with interests shifting to projects like: evolution of cockroach wings (in collaboration with Jessica Ware), how limitations of the fossil record shape divergence dating studies, and biodiversity of the western Amazon (e.g., cockroaches of Peru).
Here are some potential directions that the lab would like to go into: (1) identifying patterns of endemism, estimating “missing” biodiversity, and assessing conservation threat in eDNA and other methods, (2) metabarcoding gut contents to characterize insect diet-niches, (3) phylogenetics of Blaberoidea (Pseudophyllodromiinae, Neoblattellini, and Blaberidae), (4) rapid radiations and “hard polytomies” (in collaboration with Frederic Legendre).