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Kiss, Kill and Tell: Diversification of assassin bugs and the evolution of blood-feeding
Wei Song Hwang
University of California, USA
Assassin bugs (Reduviidae, Heteroptera, Hemiptera) are one of the most successful clades of predatory animals based on their species numbers (~6,800 spp.) and wide distribution in terrestrial ecosystems. Various novel prey capture strategies and remarkable prey specializations contribute to their appeal as a model to study evolutionary pathways involved in predation. I will showcase some examples of the diversity and natural history documented within this predominantly predatory family. I will also present part of my PhD dissertation work on the systematics of assassin bugs including the reconstruction of the most comprehensive reduviid phylogeny (178 taxa, 18 subfamilies)to date based on molecular data (5 markers). This phylogeny tests current hypotheses on reduviid relationships and allows for the first reconstruction of ancestral states of prey associations and microhabitats. Using a fossil-calibrated molecular tree, estimated divergence times for key events in the evolutionary history of Reduviidae are also discussed. One reduviid subfamily, the kissing bugs (Triatominae), have evolved to feed on vertebrate blood and are the insect vectors of Trypanosoma cruzi, the etiologic agent of Chagas disease. Chagas disease, originally endemic to Latin America, has garnered increased worldwide concern due to rise in human immigration and has been highlighted as a neglected tropical disease. I will present on the infection rates of native kissing bugs in Southern California and the evolutionary transition from predators to blood-feeders for Triatominae.