Sergei Tarasov

Sergei Tarasov, UiO. Foto: Benjamin A. Ward

Sergei Tarasov, UiO. Foto: Benjamin A. Ward

Evolutionary history of dung beetles: unravelling the mystery

Department / Institution
University of Oslo, Natural History Museum

Background
I have been interested in Natural Sciences since my childhood. My scientific career started relatively early, in secondary school, when I got hooked on studying insects and began to publish my first scientific papers. Dung beetles (Møkkskarabider) caught my attention from the very beginning… This charismatic group of insects comprises over 6000 species feeding on dung around the globe. Ever since my school days, I started my journey in unravelling the evolutionary history of these creatures and factors shaping their diversity.

My PhD project
Being a scientist is almost like being a detective. You investigate and put pieces of evidence together in order to arrive at a logical solution of a puzzle. Today, that feeling of being a detective is stronger than ever, as my PhD project deals with the thirty year-old, unsolved mystery of the evolution of dung beetles.

Whenever I meet new people, after being surprised that I work on dung beetles, they usually ask me what makes these beetles special for humanity. Well, dung beetles promise to revolutionize biology by acting as a model group, used by scientists to discover new patterns in the ecology and development of organisms as well as to monitor our environment.

However, it is a rule of thumb that the majority of biological phenomena can be interpreted only if we know their evolutionary history. In the last thirty years, a dozen investigations attempted to uncover dung beetle evolution but did not make a breakthrough, leaving the mystery to be solved. In my PhD project, I put together an unprecedented volume of anatomical and molecular data to reconstruct the evolutionary tree of these fascinating beetles. This large dataset promises to solve this long-standing mystery, the solution of which is extremely important for using dung beetles as model organisms.

My career dream
Since dung beetles are a model group in biology, their investigation resides on the frontiers of biological systematics, evolutionary development, and ecology. There is almost an unlimited number of biological phenomena one could study using dung beetles. Therefore, my one and only career dream is to continue dung beetle research and eventually get a professorship that would enable me to build my own lab focused on the evolutionary studies of these creatures.