Evolution of an oddity: An exploration of the wēkiu bug's isolation and adaptations on Maunakea

May 30, 2019 7:00 PM

A Maunakea Speaker Series presentation by Heather Stever (U.California at Merced) and Dr. Jesse Eiben (U.Hawaiʻi at Hilo)

The next scheduled program in the Maunakea Speaker Series will be held Thursday, May 30th from 7 pm to 8 pm at UH Hilo Science and Technology Building (STB) room 108.

The genus Nysius contains over 100 globally distributed species of seed eating insects, with nearly a quarter of those species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. There are a few unusual species in this group with unique body form characteristics, such as flightlessness or extremely long piercing sucking mouthparts, but perhaps none of these insects is as remarkable as the wēkiu bug (Nysius wekiuicola)—a flightless predator scavenger that consumes insects that are deposited by wind on the summit of Maunakea. While other Nysius are herbivorous and rely on bacteria living in their bodies (endosymbiosis) for nutrients, growth and development, nothing is known about the role of endosymbionts in the wēkiu bug. Come join us to learn about the wēkiu bug and other Hawaiian Nysius, and what their endosymbiotic bacteria may teach us about this group of insects in the future.

Heather Stever—Heather began learning about the arthropod diversity on Maunakea when she joined Dr. Jesse Eiben’s lab as a graduate student in 2014. In 2016 she earned a Master's Degree in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science at the University of Hawai’i, Hilo, and she is currently working towards a doctoral degree in Quantitative and Systems Biology at the University of California, Merced. There she is working with Dr. Gordon Bennett to investigate the biological diversity and functional role of microbial endosymbionts associated with the wēkiu bug. She uses genomic and DNA sequencing methods to determine how microbes influence wēkiu bug ecology. She is also using microbial data to investigate the population connections of wēkiu bugs and their relatives on Hawai‘i Island.

Dr. Jesse Eiben—Jesse has been working on cataloging the arthropod diversity and assisting with data-driven habitat conservation planning on the summit of Maunakea since 2005. He has mentored graduate students and collaborated with a wide variety of conservation and land management specialists to better understand the unique natural resources in the subalpine region and alpine stone desert on Maunakea. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Applied Entomology at UH Hilo, College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management where he teaches entomology and animal science courses while conducting research with undergraduate and graduate students while also being one of the 'on-call' scientists advising natural resource management on Maunakea.

The Maunakea Speaker Series is free and open to the public. On-campus parking is open and available without charge after 4:00 pm.

About the Maunakea Speaker Series

The Maunakea Speaker Series is a monthly scholar-focused presentation offered as a partnership among the Office of Maunakea Management, 'Imiloa Astronomy Center, and the University of Hawai'i at Hilo Department of Physics & Astronomy. This collaborative venture gives the community unprecedented access to fascinating research taking place on Maunakea and other topics unique to the Island of Hawai'i. A venue for scholars to share their stories and learn from discussion, the series promotes understanding and collaboration across all sectors of the community, while addressing the goals of the University of Hawai'i at Hilo.

For more information, visit or call 808-933-0734.

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