Click here to see a list of Jim Smith's publications on Google Scholar.

Insect Molecular Evolutionary Genetics


My entomology research program provides important connectivity across the various aspects of my professional activities. Currently, my graduate student, Dan Hulbert, is working on important and interesting systematics problems in Rhagoletis spp. that are not being looked at by anyone else. I am connected to the broader Rhagoletis community and continue to collaborate with a number of colleagues on research pertaining to various aspects of Rhagoletis biology. This has allowed me to be involved in high profile research on sequential speciation and the evolution of biodiversity at the community level in insects. We train undergraduate researchers in our lab and our latest graduate, Megan Frayer, entered a Ph. D. program in Genetics at the Univ. of Wis. in fall 2014. The two undergraduates currently in the lab, Morgan Potter and Sydney Barosko, came to us via a Lyman Briggs Summer Research Scholarship and the Honors College Professorial Assistantship program, respectively. In 2014, I oversaw the research of a colleague from Iraq, Dr. Shamal Al-Muffti, who came to my lab for training in molecular techniques and presented his results at the ESA conference in Portland in Nov. 2014. I am co-PI on a discipline-based education research project that was funded by NSF in 2014 (Rob Pennock, PI; $2.3M for 5 yrs.) to carry out testing and dissemination of the Avida-ED artificial life platform for evolution education. This project promises to keep me involved and connected to broader communities at the national level for the next few years.

Current assignment: Teaching 75% (Lyman Briggs) | Research 25% (Entomology)

Program Description


In the Lyman Briggs College, where I have a 75% appointment, I teach primarily Introductory Biology. While I now focus almost exclusively on the Lyman Briggs Introductory Cell and Molecular Biology course (LB145; Bio II), for a number of years I taught the Lyman Briggs Introductory Organismal Biology course (LB144; Bio I), so I have taught on "both sides of the aisle". I also teach senior seminars in Lyman Briggs, having led seminars on Nature-Nurture and most recently on Evolutionary Medicine. For two semesters, I also taught an undergraduate research course, funded by ConAgra Foods, in which Lyman Briggs students carried out research projects on Orville Redenbacher's Microwave Popcorn. I have also been involved in Study Abroad, having co-led experiences in both Panama (Tropical Biodiversity in May 2006) and England (Darwin's Anniversary in July 2009, Age of Wonder in July 2013). In the fall of odd numbered years, I teach a 3 credit graduate course entitled, "Molecular Evolution: Principles and Techniques" (ZOL855), a computer workshop-based course in which students gain hands-on experience with computer programs used to infer phylogenetic relationships, primarily using DNA sequence data. Related to my classroom teaching is work that I do in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) and Discipline-based Education Research (DBER). I have three major areas of interest (Tree-thinking, Integrative Cases for Teaching Evolution, and using Avida-ED to Teach Evolution and the Nature of Science), which have allowed me to gain national recognition as an educator.


The research in my entomology lab is broadly centered on insect evolution with a special emphasis on flies in the genus Rhagoletis (Diptera: Tephritidae). We are interested in all aspects of the evolution of Rhagoletis spp. (Diptera:Tephritidae), especially the biogeographic pattern and host relationships of natural species and populations worldwide. Toward this end, Dan Hulbert, a Ph. D. student in the lab, and two undergraduate student research assistants, are generating mtDNA, CAD, 28S rRNA and period gene sequences to update the phylogenetic relationships of the North American Rhagoletis taxa. Our lab is also involved in a collaborative project with Dr. Andrew Forbes (Univ. Iowa) to examine co-evolutionary relationships between Rhagoletis species and pupal parasitoids in the genus Coptera (Hymenoptera: Diapriidae). I am also involved in a number of biology education projects with colleagues at MSU and elsewhere. A major project at present, being carried out in collaboration with Drs. Rob Pennock, Louise Mead and other colleagues in the BEACON Center at MSU, involves the implementation, testing and dissemination of the artificial life platform, Avida-ED, in biology courses. In another initiative, with Dr. Peter J. T. White and Dr. Merle K. Heidemann, we developed and tested a set of integrative case-based materials for evolution education (see to help students understand the molecular genetic basis of evolutionary processes.


  • Insect Evolution
  • Phenology
  • Host-Associated Differentiation
  • Rhagoletis spp.
  • Biology Education

Professional Experience

  • 2012-Present - Professor, Dept. of Entomology and Lyman Briggs College , Michigan State University
  • 2006-2012 - Associate Professor, Dept. of Entomology, Michigan State University
  • 2002-2012 - Associate Professor, Lyman Briggs School and Zoology, Michigan State University
  • 1996-2002 - Assistant Professor, Lyman Briggs School and Zoology, Michigan State University
  • 1991-1996 - Research Assistant Proffessor, Department of Zoology, Michigan State University
  • 1989-1991 - Research Associate, Department of Zoology, Michigan State University

Selected Publications

  • Frayer MF, Hulbert D, Satar S, Smith JJ. 2015. Phenological attributes and phylogenetic relationships of Rhagoletis juniperina Marcovitch (Diptera: Tephritidae) in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Entomologist, 48: 67-78.
  • Heidemann MK, White PJT, Smith JJ. 2014. “The evolution of color vision in monkeys: from nucleotides to ecology.” Published Case Study and Teaching Notes, National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York.
  • Smith JJ, Powell THQ, Teixeira L, Armstrong WO, McClowry RJ, Isaacs R, Hood GR, Feder JL, Gut L. 2014. Genetic structure of Cherry Fruit Fly (Rhagoletis cingulata) populations across managed, unmanaged, and natural habitats. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, DOI: 10.1111/eea.12148.
  • White PJT, Heidemann MK, Smith JJ. 2013. A new integrative approach to evolution education. BioScience, 63: 586-594.
  • Smith JJ, Cheruvelil KS, Auvenshine S. 2013. Assessment of Student Learning Associated with Treethinking in an Undergraduate Introductory Organismal Biology Course. CBE Life Sciences Education, 12: 542–552.
  • Luckie DL, Smith JJ, Cheruvelil KS, Fata-Hartley C, Murphy CA, Urquhart GR. 2013. The “Anti-Cookbook Laboratory”: Converting “Canned” Introductory Biology Laboratories to Multi-week Independent Investigations. Tested Studies for Laboratory Teaching: Proceedings of the Association for Biology Laboratory Education, 34: 196-213.
  • Forbes AA, Satar S, Hamerlinck G, Nelson AE, Smith JJ. 2012. DNA barcodes and targeted sampling methods identify a new species and cryptic patterns of host specialization among North American Coptera (Hymenoptera: Diapriidae). Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 105: 608-612.
  • Johnson NA, Smith JJ, Pobiner B, Schrein C. 2012. Why Are Chimps Still Chimps? American Biology Teacher 74: 74-80.
  • Bray AM, Bauer LS, Poland TM, Haack RA, Cognato AI, Smith JJ. 2011. Genetic analysis of emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire) populations in Asia and North America. Biological Invasions 13, 2869-2887.
Michigan State University Michigan State University Close Menu button Menu and Search button Open Close