Animals use myriad strategies to avoid predation -- camouflage, spines, and toxins are among a few. Animals that are toxic, inedible, or otherwise noxious often advertise this by a warning signal, for example the yellow and black stripes of a yellowjacket or the rattle of a snake. Bioluminescent millipedes, known only from California, are defended with cyanide and their green-blue glow is hypothesized to be a nocturnal warning signal. In this project, the evolutionary relationships of millipedes will be analyzed, using molecular phylogenetic methods, to pinpoint the origin of bioluminescence, and the ecological circumstances under which bioluminescence evolved will be investigated.
The phylogeny will also establish a framework for a stable classification system for millipede biodiversity. The collections component of this project will provide species information posted publicly on the Tree of Life Web Project. Educational websites will also be produced, including detailed information on decomposers as important members of the global ecosystem, as they provide functions that are essential to healthy ecosystems.