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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.

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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 main focus currently 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.  This research focuses on this system in western North America.  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.  Morse and students are also involved in a collaborative project with Professor Ben Normark of the University of Massachusetts in understanding the role that diverse ecological interactions (with plants, fungi, bacteria, predators, parasites) have played in the diversification of the armored scale insects.  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.

Teaching Interests

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 million years. Both of these build upon the Introduction to Genetics, Ecology, and Evolution--a course that Dr. Morse teaches as a preceptorial for first-year students as an introduction to the biology major.