Jim Smith

Jim Smith

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Professor Emeritus
Department of Entomology



See a list of Jim Smith's publications on Google Scholar.

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My entomology research program focuses primarily on questions pertaining to evolutionary patterns and processes in the genus Rhagoletis (Diptera: Tephritidae).  My entomology research is central to my appointment at MSU, providing important connectivity across the various aspects of my professional activities. Current lab/field projects include work by Ph. D. student, Dan Hulbert, who is studying systematics problems in Rhagoletis spp., with an emphasis on species group relationships, and an exploration of juniper-infesting Rhagoletis, which promises to lead to new species discovery and the reconstruction of novel aspects of Rhagoletis evolutionary history.  I am connected to the broader Rhagoletis community and continue to be involved in high profile research on sequential speciation and the evolution of biodiversity at the community level in insects. I also currently serve as 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 test and disseminate nationally the Avida-ED digital evolution platform. This project, along with our Evo-ED Cases work, promises to keep me involved and connected to broader education 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 capstone seminars in Lyman Briggs, having led courses on Nature-Nurture and more recently Evolutionary Medicine and a new seminar on DNA Sequencing Technology. Most recently, I have worked in collaboration with Dr. Pat Edger in the MSU Department of Horticulture to develop an undergraduate research course in which students are introduced to and work with NextGen DNA sequences. I have been involved in MSU’s Study Abroad programs, having co-led experiences in both Panama (Tropical Biodiversity, 2006) and England (Darwin’s Anniversary, 2009; Age of Wonder, 2013; Victorian Time and Space, 2016). 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 work nationally with other educators and education researchers.


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, is generating mtDNA, CAD, 28S rRNA and period gene sequences to update the phylogenetic relationships of the North American Rhagoletis species groups. Our lab is also involved in a project to reconstruct the evolutionary history of Rhagoletis associations with host plants in the genus Juniperus. 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 digital evolution platform, Avida-ED, in biology courses. I am also involved in an NSF-funded project with Dr. Peter J. T. White and Dr. Louise Mead to modify and adapt our integrative case-based materials for evolution education (see www.evo-ed.org) into high school biology classrooms.


  • 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

  • Smith JJ, Johnson WR, Lark AM, Mead LS, Wiser MJ, Pennock RT. 2016. An Avida-ED digital evolution curriculum for undergraduate biology. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 9(1), 1-11; (DOI: 10.1186/s12052-016-0060-0)
  • Conley JE, Meisel AJ, Smith JJ. 2016. Using M&M’s to Model Sanger’s Dideoxy DNA Sequencing Method. American Biology Teacher, 78: 516–522. (DOI: 10.1525/abt.2016.78.6.516)
  • Hamerlinck G, Hulbert D, Hood GR, Smith JJ, Forbes AA. 2016. Histories of host shifts and cospeciation among free-living parasitoids of Rhagoletis Journal of Evolutionary Biology, doi: 10.1111/jeb.12909. [Epub ahead of print].
  • Heidemann MK, White PJT, Smith JJ. 2016. “Evolution in Action.” Published Case Study and Teaching Notes, National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York.
  • White PJT, Heidemann MK, Smith JJ. 2015. A cross-course investigation of integrative cases for evolution education. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education 16: 157-166.  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.876.
  • Hood GR, Forbes AA, Powell T, Egan SP, Hamerlinck G, Smith JJ, Feder JL. 2015. Sequential divergence and the multiplicative origin of community diversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 112: E5980-E5989. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1424717112.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.