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Associate Professor of Biology
Starcher Hall Room 315
Office Tel: 701.777.3439
B.S. 1992, Bridgewater College
M.S. 1995, Wake Forest University
Ph.D. 2001, University of Minnesota
Postdoctoral Fellow, USDA/ARS/PSI/Systematic Entomology Laboratory
- Systematics of Lepidoptera, especially Tiger moths (Arctiidae) and Cutworms (Noctuidae)
- Evolution of Mimicry and Courtship Behaviors
- Identification of Pest Species
I am interested in the evolution of mimetic tiger moths, members of the arctiid tribes Euchromiini and Ctenuchini. These moths are intriguing because they closely resemble wasps, toxic beetles, poisonous butterflies and other noxious insects. These moths are not harmless, Batesian mimics of their models, but are toxic because of their larval hostplants. As larvae, these moths sequester toxins such as alkaloids and cardeonolides , and carry them into their adult stage. In addition to this precise mimicry of other insect groups, these moths have diverse courtship behaviors involving both scent and sound.
One of my long-range research objectives is to construct an evolutionary tree (phylogeny) for both of these tribes. With this phylogeny, collaborators and I will be able to track the evolution of mimetic type and other behaviors. This phylogeny will be constructed from multiple sources of data, such anatomical (morphological) data and from mitochondrial and nuclear DNA.
In addition to my research with mimetic tiger moths, I am interested in the cutworm family, particularly the most speciose lineage, the trifine noctuids. I have been working with the genus Copitarsia , an important economic pest in Central and South America. Thus far, I have been constructing useful identification tools using both traditional anatomical characters and DNA sequences. Further, I am involved in an effort to construct a morphological phylogeny of the pest noctuid subfamilies.
Prospective Graduate Students: For more information about research opportunities in Dr. Simmons's lab, contact her directly. Additional information can also be obtained from the Graduate School and the Department of Biology, including application information.
2010-2016 NSF, Division of Undergraduate Education. Alena Kubatova as senior PI (Dept. of Chemistry, University of North Dakota), Brett Goodwin, Rebecca Simmons, Gregory Vandenberg, and Ryan Zerr as Co-PI's. Title: Undergraduate studies with environmentally oriented research. ($592,110)
2011-2012 USDA/APHIS/WS. Blake McCann as Co-PI. Title: Spread of wild-living pigs and associated diseases across the U.S. ($50,000)
2008-2009 North Central Integrated Pest Management Center. Title: DNA-based identification of midwestern pest moths captured in pheromone traps (Noctuidae). ($10,000)
2005-2009 USDA/NRI/CSREES. Robert Venette as senior PI (National Forest Service), Rebecca Simmons as Co-PI. Title: Integrating molecular diagnostics and pest risk assessments for improved detection and identification of Copitarsia decolora (Noctuidae). (Contract to Simmons: $509,729)
2001-2004 USDA-APHIS. Title: Systematics as a tool for assessing interception and control strategies of Copitarsia spp . (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae ), advised by Dr. Michael Pogue and Dr. Sonja Scheffer (USDA/ARS/PSI/SEL). ($287,052)
1997 NSF-DIG. Susan Weller as senior PI. Title: Dissertation Improvement Grant: Evolution of wasp mimicry in tiger moths. ($9,601)
1996 Theodore Roosevelt Natural History Award. American Museum of Natural History. Title: A Costa Rican trip to collect Arctiid wasp-mimics (Lepidoptera). ($1,000)
1993 Grant in Aid of Research. Sigma Xi. ($250)
2010-2012 Doctoral Dissertation Assistantship (DDA). North Dakota EPSCoR. Title: Global origins of feral pigs in the United States. Submitted with Blake McCann, doctoral candidate. ($37,400 graduate student salary & fringe, $2,000 supplies and travel).
2010 Advanced Undergraduate Research Award (AURA). North Dakota EPSCoR. Title: Genetic origins and relatedness of feral pig populations in California, USA. Student Researcher: Mathew Malek. ($6,500 student salary; $1,000 supplies).
2009 EPSCoR Graduate Research Award. North Dakota EPSCoR. Title: Preliminary phylogeny of the tiger moth genus Phoenicoprocta (Noctuidae: Arctiinae: Euchromiina) for use in examining the evolution of courtship signals. ($1,300).
2008-2009 Faculty Research Seed Money, University of North Dakota. Hypothesis of Pest Moths Based on DNA Evidence (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae: Noctuinae). ($27,500).
2006-2007 UND EPSCor SEED Grants Initiative. Title: The evolution of scent and sound in the courtship of mimetic tiger moths (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae: Arctiinae: Arctiini: Euchromiina). ($16,686)
2004 Senate of Scholarly Activities, Univ. of North Dakota . Title: Evolution of Warning Coloration in Two Lineages of Tiger Moths (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae : Arctiinae , Euchromiini & Ctenuchini ). ($1,760.32)
2000 Dayton and Wilkie Award. Bell Museum of Natural History , Univ. of Minnesota Title: A Molecular Phylogeny of Euchromiine Wasp Mimics (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae ). ($1,400)
1999 Dayton and Wilkie Award. Bell Museum of Natural History , Univ. of Minnesota Title: A Molecular Study of Wasp Mimicking Tiger Moths. ($900)
1997 Dayton and Wilkie Award. Bell Museum of Natural History , Univ. of Minnesota . Title: A Molecular Study of Mimetic Tiger Moths. ($1,200)
1996 Dayton and Wilkie Award. Bell Museum of Natural History , Univ. of Minnesota . Title: A Costa Rican trip to collect Arctiid wasp-mimics (Lepidoptera). ($1,350)
2012 McCann, B., M. Malek, R. Newman, B. Schmit, S. Swafford, R. Sweitzer, and R. Simmons. Mitochondrial DNA relationships of wild-living pigs in the United States, accepted pending revision, JWM.
2012 Simmons, R. B., S. J. Weller and S. J. Johnson. The evolution of androconia in mimetic tiger moths (Noctuoidea: Erebidae: Arctiinae: Ctenuchina and Euchromiina), accepted, in final review. Annals of the Ent. Soc. Amer.
2012 Gould, J., R. B. Simmons, and R. C. Venette. Biology and Invasive Risk of Copitarsia sp.: A South American lepidopteran agricultural pest. Potential Invasive Insect Species, edited by J. E. Peña.
2009 Simmons, R. B. Chapter 7: Adaptive Coloration and Mimicry. Tiger Moths and Wooly Bears: Behavior, Ecology, and Natural History of the Arctiidae, edited by W. E. Conner, Oxford University Press, pp. 115-126.
2009 Weller, S. J., M. A. DaCosta, R. B. Simmons, K. Dittmar, and M. Whiting. Chapter 3: Evolution and Taxonomic Confusion in Arctiidae: A Multitude of Moths. Behavior, Ecology, and Natural History of the Arctiidae, edited by W. E. Conner, Oxford University Press, pp. 11-30.
2008 Pogue, M. G. and R. B. Simmons. A new pest species of Copitarsia (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) from the Neotropical region feeding on Asparagus and cut flowers. Annals of the Ent. Soc. Amer. 101: 743-762.
2006 Simmons, R. B. A revision of Psoloptera Butler, including a re-description of its species (Arctiidae: Arctiinae: Euchromiini). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 60: 121-125.
2006 Simmons, R. B. and S. J. Weller. Review of the Sphecosoma genus group using adult morphology (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae). Thomas Say Monograph Series, 108 pp., 108 figs.
2005. Simmons, R. B. and S. J. Weller. In press. Review of the Sphecosoma genus group using adult morphology (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae). Thomas Say Monograph Series , 101 pp., 108 figs.
2004. Simmons, R. B. and M. G. Pogue. Accepted pending revisions. Redescription of two often confused noctuid pests, Copitarsia decolora (Guenée) and C. incommoda (Walker) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae : Cuculliinae). Annals of Ent . Soc. Amer.
2004. Simmons, R. B. and S. J. Scheffer . Evidence of cryptic species within the pest Copitarsia decolora (Guenée) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Annals of Ent . Soc. Amer. 97: 675-680.
2004. Simmons, R. B. Description of Sphecosoma pattiannae Simmons, a new euchromiine species, with comments on novel male androconia (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae : Arctiinae : Euchromiini). Zootaxa 519: 1-12.
2004. Weller, S.J., R. B. Simmons, and A. Carlson. Empyreuma species and species limits: Evidence from morphology and molecules (Arctiidae : Arctiinae : Ctenuchini). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 58: 21-32.
2002. Simmons, R. B. and S. J. Weller. What kind of signals do mimetic tiger moths send? A phylogenetic test in tiger moths (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae : Euchromiini). Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, series B 269: 983-990.
2001. Simmons, R.B. and S. J. Weller. Preliminary phylogeny of mimetic tiger moths (Lepidoptera) and evolution of cyt b in Insecta . Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 20: 196-210.
2000. Weller, S. J., R. B. Simmons, R. Boada , and W. E. Conner. Abdominal modifications occurring in wasp mimics of the ctenuchine-euchromiine clade . Annals of Ent . Soc. Amer. 93(4): 920-928.
1998. Simmons, R. B., W. E. Conner, and R. B. Davidson. Identification of major components of the female pheromone blend of Euchaetes egle Drury (Arctiidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 52(4): 356-363.
1996. Simmons, R. B. and W. E. Conner. Acoustic cues in the defense and courtship of Euchaetes egle Drury and E. bolteri Stretch (Lepidoptera, Arctiidae). Journal of Insect Behavior 9: 909-919.