Evolutionary Biologist Joins UMass Entomology Faculty

AMHERST, Mass. - Evolutionary biologist Benjamin B. Normark has joined the entomology department of the University of Massachusetts as assistant professor of insect systematics and curator of the department''s insect collection. Normark comes to UMass from Harvard University, where he spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard''s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Anne Averill, acting chair of the entomology department, notes Normark''s enthusiasm for science and his intellectual curiosity. "Ben Normark really challenges students, and will undoubtedly serve as a role model for many. He has a strong appreciation for complex theory, as well as for the practical application of evolutionary biology and entomology. His combination of scientific ability and training should be invaluable in collaborative projects."

Normark''s research and teaching interests lie broadly in insect genetic systems, and specifically in the evolution of asexual reproduction in certain insects that impact on agricultural crops and forests. Always interested in history, Normark began his academic career focusing on historical linguistics, which strives to infer the history of languages. He sees a logical progression in his shift from the study of the evolution of language to the evolution of insects.

"All the ancient texts have been read, except those inside the cells of living things," Normark says. "And, the greatest diversity of ancient texts is found in the genomes of insects, because many insect lineages have evolved independently of each other for hundreds of millions of years, and today there are millions of different species."

As curator of the entomology department''s significant collection of insects, Normark will train graduate students in systematics, which is the classification and evolutionary history of species. He will emphasize insect morphology, or the physical identification of similarities and differences in structure and form among species. Normark sees morphology as a neglected scientific tool, at a time when the focus is on genetic, or even molecular, biology. "There''s still much we can learn about insects through rigorous inspection and identification," he says.

Born in Seattle, Wash., Normark holds a bachelor''s degree in linguistics from Yale University and a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from Cornell University. The recipient of two National Science Foundation fellowships and one from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Normark has studied evolutionary biology, ecology, and systematics at London''s Natural History Museum, at the University of Arizona and at Cornell and Princeton universities. He has taught at Cornell and Harvard.