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Dikow, Torsten

Research Entomologist and Curator of Diptera & Aquatic Insects

Deciphering the diversity and evolutionary history of Asiloidea flies.

Phylogenetic relationships of asiloid flies (Apioceridae - apiocerid flies, Asilidae - assassin flies, robber flies, Mydidae - mydas flies) and Diptera in general using morphological and genomic evidence. Revisionary taxonomy applying cybertaxonomic tools for open-access distribution of primary biodiversity data. Application of specimen occurrence data to biodiversity studies.

Asiloid Flies research web-site - asiloidflies.si.edu .

Positions

Geographic Focus

Background And Education

Education And Training

  • Ph.D. in Entomology, Cornell University , Department of Entomology, Phylogeny, classification, & biodiversity of robber flies (Diptera: Brachycera: Asiloidea: Asilidae) with special reference to Leptogastrinae 2002 - 2007
  • M.S. in Zoology, Universitaet Rostock, Germany , Institut für Biowissenschaften, Revision and phylogenetic analysis of the genus Euscelidia Westwood, 1850 (Diptera: Asilidae) 1996 - 2002

Awards And Honors

Public Biography

  • Dr. Torsten Dikow is a research entomologist and curator of flies in the Department of Entomology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Torsten grew up in northern Germany near the coast. He was always interested in the natural world, and saw many species of insects in the forests around his hometown. In high school, he started to make collections of beetles and other insects. During a course at the University of Rostock, when he was tasked with making a field collection, he encountered some assassin flies and was intrigued. Earning his undergraduate degree in Biology, he was already on the path to study the group of flies--Asilidae--known for their predatory lifestyles.

    Torsten first got to know the Smithsonian through a Research Training Program, after which he completed a PhD at Cornell University, then came back to the Museum as a postdoctoral fellow. Today, as a staff scientist, Torsten remains fascinated by the biodiversity and classification of the assassin flies and closely related families. The third largest group of flies, Asilidae has more than 7,500 species, of which Torsten has described 52 new ones, and redescribed many others as he sorts out their classification. Broadly, he works with the collection of true flies - Diptera - at the Museum, including assassin flies and their relatives, to understand fly diversity, biology, distribution, and systematics.

Research And Grants

Research Overview

  • As a biologist I am fascinated by the diversity of organisms that live on planet earth.

    My research revolves around deciphering the diversity and evolutionary history of Diptera. Specifically, I have so far focused on a clade of asiloid flies (Apioceridae - apiocerid flies, Asilidae - assassin flies, and Mydidae - mydas flies) currently known from some 8,100 species that occur world-wide. I strive to combine morphological and molecular data in my phylogenetic analyses and increasingly utilize genomic data. In my taxonomic revisionary and collections-based work, I am developing and employing new cybertaxonomic tools to share data freely to the largest extent and to make my species hypotheses testable by future taxonomists through re-use and re-purposing of data that I generate. I am a firm supporter of open access to science and share my published data, digital illustrations and images, identification keys, and presentations etc. through online data repositories.

    I am hosting the asiloidflies.si.edu web-site highlighting my research results and data published.

    Deciphering the Diversity and Evolutionary History of Asiloidea Flies
    My research interests are to postulate phylogenetic hypotheses by employing morphological characters and newly developed genomic loci from next-generation sequencing methods. I strive to use these hypotheses of evolutionary relationships to test evolutionary scenarios and biogeography and provide a predictive framework to examine the evolution of morphological traits, behavior, or ecology. I furthermore aim to advance the taxonomy by describing new species and reviewing previously described species and share and disseminate data with new, cybertaxonomic tools to make biodiversity data accessible to everyone in an Open Access model.

    Phylogeny: Based on my dissertation, I have published two phylogenetic hypotheses of the diverse Asilidae – one based on morphological data of 158 species (plus 17 outgroup species) and another one combining morphological and molecular data for 77 species (plus 11 outgroup species) for which ethanol-preserved specimens were available. More recently, together with co-authors I have published the first Asilidae genome and we combined data from transcriptomes and fossils to propose the first time-calibrated phylogeny of assassin flies.

    Taxonomy: To date, I have discovered and scientifically described 70 fly species (53 Asilidae, 2 Ephydridae, and 15 Mydidae) including three fossil Asilidae and re-described an additional 84 previously known species in my taxonomic revisions. I strive to promote taxonomy as a cornerstone of biodiversity science by employing novel cybertaxonomic tools for automating data gathering and machine-readable dissemination. Cybertaxonomic tools enable us to utilize web-based data repositories to store and retrieve information on taxon names, publications, digitized literature, morphological descriptions, molecular sequences, occurrence data, or images. The availability of these kinds of data in an open-access, online framework allows scientists to test and support taxonomic and phylogenetic hypotheses readily as well as link data in support of biodiversity research across taxon boundaries. I utilize both proactive tools to disseminate information of new species as well as retroactive tools based on digitized literature to achieve the widest possible dissemination into structured data repositories and to encourage re-use and re-purposing of the data by future dipterists, biologists, and the public at large.

    Field work and growing collections: My field work has taken me around the world and the only place where I haven't looked for flies is Antarctica. The focus of my field work has been in southern Africa (so far in Namibia and South Africa), which has an especially diverse fauna for both Asilidae and Mydidae.

    Current projects: I am aiming to address the phylogeny of Orthorrhapha especially Asiloidea and Nemestrinoidea with morphological and molecular data. My goal is to change the landscape of how morphological phylogenetic studies within Diptera are undertaken and I am employing novel techniques to gather morphological evidence. Furthermore, I aim to add high-quality, reference genomes to the research field and use them to develop new loci for phylogenetic analyses. I am continuing my taxonomic revisionary work and have recently been revising several Asilidae genera based on specimens collected during my field work in Namibia and South Africa. Natural history collections—archives of biodiversity—harbor so many already collected specimens of undescribed species and I have discovered several such taxa, e.g., an unusual Mitrodetus (Mydidae) from western Argentina, the first Apioceridae from Argentina, an unusual Australian Mydidae from the center of the continent near Alice Springs (Northern Territory), the third species in the enigmatic Australian Mydidae genus Anomalomydas also from the Northern Territory,  two morphologically unusual Mydidae species from Namibia, that I am in the process of working up.

Co-principal Investigator On

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Investigator On

Publications

Selected Publications

Activities

Responsible Collections Areas

  • Research Entomologist for Diptera. Responsible for major parts of the Diptera collection such as Tipulomorpha and a few other "Nematocera" family taxa, Orthorrhapha (or Lower Brachycera, except Tabanidae), Phoroidea, Syrphoidea, Carnoidea, Ephydroidea, Sciomyzoidea, and Oestroidea representing 72 family taxa. I am also responsible for aquatic insects such as Odonata, Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera as well as Neuropterida and Mecoptera.

Outreach Overview

    1. started the Asiloid Flies (http://nmnh.typepad.com/asiloidflies/) blog to provide interesting news on flies and the USNM Diptera collection to a broader public
    2. through my personal Twitter account (@TDikow, https://twitter.com/tdikow), I aim to disseminate information on my research (#asiloidflies) and Diptera in general. I live tweet during the Department of Entomology seminars and support our departmental Twitter account (@NMNH_entomology, https://twitter.com/nmnh_entomology) by incorporating the handle in tweets about our Diptera collection (#USNMDiptera)
    3. Together with NMNH Exhibits team developed and designed a temporary 2-year display featuring information on Asiloidea and Nemestrinoidea flies, their behavior, life history, and diversity
    4. Together with NMNH Education & Outreach developed a permanent Fly Activity for Q?rius
    5. NMNH Q?rius Expert-is-In, participated in more than 30 2-hour sessions in talking to the public about asiloid flies and evolutionary biology
    6. NMNH Q?rius Science-at-the-Edge, presented a talk entitled “Evolution of assassin flies and the discovery of a Cretaceous fossil in Burmese amber” and engaged the public in a discussion about fossils, flies, and evolutionary biology
    7. NMNH Q?rius ScienceHow – featured scientist on 6 April 2017 “Assassin Flies – Predators of the Insect World” webcast/assassin-flies-predators-of-insect-world (https://qrius.si.edu/explore-science/webcast/assassin-flies-predators-of-insect-world)
    8. NMNH Q?rius and Education: participated in two Portal to the Public Science Communication workshops
    9. Participated in NMNH Staff Day by developing and manning a booth on true flies (Diptera) on EC 6th floor, 13 June 2017

Affiliation

Member Of

Contact

Location

Mailing Address

  • Department of Entomology
    National Museum of Natural History
    Smithsonian Institution
    PO Box 37012, MRC 169
    Washington, DC 20013-7012
    U.S.A.

Shipping Address

  • Department of Entomology
    National Museum of Natural History
    Smithsonian Institution
    10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW
    Washington, DC 20560-0169
    U.S.A.