Journal of Undergraduate Research


volcanic islands, Vanuatu, insects, damselflies


Life Sciences




Vanuatu is a string of active volcanic islands in Micronesia near Fiji and Australia. The islands undergo regular submersion and emersion from the ocean, and the most recent emergence was 2 million years ago (Hamilton et al. 2010). As a result, all organisms on the islands of Vanuatu have migrated there, likely from other islands, within the past 2 million years. Fiji is one likely candidate for contributing species, being geographically close to Vanuatu and exhibiting similar species. Fourteen of us went to Vanuatu for 6 weeks on a study abroad led by Dr. Seth Bybee to collect and observe several orders of insects, most notably Odonata (damselflies and dragonflies), Coleoptera (beetles), and Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). The insects of Vanuatu are still very understudied, making this a unique opportunity for student research. I was the leader of the Odonata group and our goal was to collect an endemic genus of damselfly called Vanuatubasis and record relevant information on where the genus was found, as well as ecological data, biogeographical distribution, and naiad association (matching juveniles with adults). We visited 6 islands in all, and we were successful in finding the target genus, as well as numerous new species. For my project within the Odonata group, the specimens were used to reconstruct a phylogenetic tree to help illustrate how Vanuatubasis and related genera, specifically the Fijian genus Nesobasis, have distributed and speciated across the islands of the South Pacific.

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