$658K Federal Study Tests Hypotheses of Cicada Evolution

June 19, 2013 - 11:27 AM

Cicada Invasion

This photo provided by the University of Connecticut, shows a cicada in Pipestem State Park in West Virginia on May 27, 2003. (AP Photo/University of Connecticut, Chirs Simon)

(CNSNews.com) – As the so-called cicada invasion comes to an end, federal funding for the University of Connecticut’s $657,900 study of the large insects continues. The study is testing hypotheses of cicada evolution.

Cicadas made themselves known across the East Coast over the late spring with a loud chorus when they emerged from underground after 17 years to mate and then die leaving behind eggs for new cicadas, who do the same. The creatures are about two-inches long with red eyes and orange wings. They are spread from Connecticut through Georgia, according to The New York Times.

The National Science Foundation first issued a grant for the cicada study on July 15, 2010. The grant expires Aug. 31, 2014.

“The major goal of the current proposal is to reconstruct and interpret the evolution of the family Cicadidae worldwide as a model for the origin and transcontinental spread of insect biodiversity over the last 65 million years,” the NSF award abstract said.

“Most of the plants and animals populating the earth today arose during this era. Genetic data will be used to test five hypotheses concerning the timing and diversification of this remarkable group of more than 3000 insect species,” it said.

“Fossil and geological calibrations will be applied to groups that no one has previously attempted to date,” the abstract added. “Cicadas have natural advantages because they are distributed worldwide and their natural history creates strong genetic/geographic patterns.”

CNSNews.com attempted several times over the past week to reach Chris Simon, principle investigator and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UConn for comment on the study.

However, Simon did send an e-mail that linked to the website at UConn called “Cicada Central.”

“Cicadas are flying, plant-sucking insects of the Order Hemiptera; their closest relatives are leafhoppers, treehoppers, and fulgoroids,” Cicada Central said.

“In general, adult cicadas are large (most are 25-50mm), with prominent wide-set eyes, short antennae, and clear wings held roof-like over the abdomen, though they are surprisingly diverse in their appearance and habits. Cicadas are probably best known for their conspicuous acoustic signals or ‘songs,’ which the males make using specialized structures called tymbals, found on the abdomen,” the website said.

CNSNews.com asked the NSF if the study was worth the $657,900 price tag to taxpayers.

“The National Science Foundation is renowned for its gold-standard approach to merit review of each of the more than 40,000 proposals it receives each year,” NSF spokeswoman Lily Whiteman told CNSNews.com in a written statement.

“NSF conducts its merit review by convening a panel of leading experts from around the country who evaluate the science, the strength of the research team, the quality of the educational component, and other elements of the proposal according to the key criteria of intellectual merit and broader impacts,” she said.

“The discoveries and innovations that have resulted from NSF-funded research have advanced the frontiers of science and engineering, improved Americans’ lives, and provided the foundations for countless new industries and jobs,” Whiteman added.