Geoffrey Morse, PhD
Associate Professor, Biology
Geoffrey Morse, PhD, came to USD in 2008 and teaches general biological topics and more specialized courses in entomology and evolutionary biology. He conducts research in insect evolution and ecology, the goal of which is to understand how ecological interactions, environmental conditions, and geographic distributions have structured their impressive diversification. This research involves reconstructing evolutionary relationships among insect species, examining patterns and mechanisms of speciation, understanding processes that link or separate populations, and understanding the adaptations that cause ecological specialization of insect species. Morse works on these interactions at levels that span from local California landscapes to global patterns of diversification.
PhD, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA), Biology
BA, Carleton College (Northfield MN), Biology
Postdoctoral Researcher, University of California, Davis Department of Entomology, Darwin Fellow, University of Massachusetts Program in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Scholarly and Creative Work
The Morse laboratory is currently involved in multiple projects designed to understand the rapid diversification of insect species that resulted in their becoming the dominant animal in almost all of earth's terrestrial ecosystems. The laboratory currently is focusing on two main topics. We are involved in an NSF-funded collaborative project with Professor Ben Normark of the University of Massachusetts (“Extreme polyphagy, extreme diversity or both? Armored scale insects of tropical rainforests on four continents in canopies of tropical forests”) focusing on the role that diverse ecological interactions (with plants, fungi, bacteria, predators, parasites) have played in the diversification of the armored scale insects; and in how population biology interacts with ecology to generate variation in diet breadth. The second focus is an investigation of the coevolution between poisonous plants in the genus Astragalus (milkvetches, woollypods, and locoweeds) and the beetles that specialize on eating their seeds. In addition, the Morse lab is examining the 80-million year evolutionary history that has resulted in the ~2,000 species of seed beetles at a global level. To address these questions, Morse and his students do considerable field work to understand ecological interactions and establish geographic ranges, and examine molecular and morphological data in the laboratory to understand evolutionary relationships.
Professor Morse introduces students to the remarkably diverse world of insects in his upper division course on insect biology. This course focuses on both the unity and diversity of form and function that characterizes approximately 75% of all known terrestrial animal species. This course builds upon the student's knowledge of the diversity of life that they have developed in the introductory course taught by Dr. Morse, the Biology of Organisms. This course surveys the diversity of life and exposes the student to structure and function of organisms as distinct as bacteria and whales; while at the same time stressing the evolutionary relationships that unite all life from their common origins approximately 3.5 billion years ago. Both of these build upon the Introduction to Evolution course that Dr. Morse teaches as a preceptorial for first-year students as an introduction to the biology major.