Michelle Trautwein, Ph.D.
Assistant Director, Biodiversity Laboratory
B.S. in Biology, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D. in Entomology, North Carolina State University
Postdoc, North Carolina State University
Dr. Trautwein is an entomologist whose research interests lie in the continued discovery and understanding of the evolution and diversification of flies and more broadly, insects, through the use of modern phylogenetic and systematic methods. Even today, basic questions about the evolution of life remain unanswered, and this is particularly the case in regard to insects, the most diverse group of multicellular life on Earth. Within insects, flies are a superradiation of life that accounts for nearly 15% of named species. The impact of flies on both humans and wild ecosystems is great. Fly vectored diseases kill over a million people a year and fly pests cost millions in agricultural damage. To our benefit, flies are also essential pollinators and decomposers, and as model organisms they have played a key role in some of the most important scientific discoveries of the past century. More than any other group of animal’s flies offer a measure of just how much life can vary. There are flies that live in petroleum, in the gills of land crabs, on the dung of millipedes and within bee hives. There are wingless flies that live on sheep and others that develop exclusively within the bodies of frogs, spiders or even humans. Flies, in short, are consequential, but also emblematic of the diversity of life.
Trautwein’s research includes collecting and sampling organisms (sometimes in remote locales, sometimes in urban backyards), understanding their classification, evolutionary relationships and histories, determining how fast they diversified, and finally using this information to test hypotheses about general features of evolution and its poorly understood rules. While doing so, Dr. Trautwein seeks to draw the public into the process of research and discovery. Her current research focuses are: 1) Higher-level studies of the ancient history of insect and fly evolution 2) Taxonomic and evolutionary studies of bee flies (Diptera: Bombyliidae), a charismatic group of bee and wasp-mimicking parasites and pollinators 3) Citizen science projects that include understanding the diversity of arthropods that live and evolve with us (Wild Life of our Homes- Dunn lab, NCSU) and exploring the species limits of the cicadas of North Carolina.
Though she began her studies as an art major, Trautwein received a BS in Biology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1999. Before returning to graduate school, she assisted with research on frogs in Costa Rica, pigeon guillemots in Alaska, prairie dogs in Utah, and bottlenose dolphins in Florida. An internship at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History reintroduced her to flies, and as a GAAN Biotechnology fellow she received her Ph.D. in Entomology from North Carolina State University in 2009.