Graduate students

Join the Marek Lab at Virginia Tech studying the biodiversity of myriapods in the Appalachian Mountains

Of the 4-6 million arthropod species estimated to live on the planet, taxonomists have described only about one million species—barely scratching the surface on the amazing biological diversity around us. Surprisingly, much of this biodiversity is in our own backyards in the United States. For example, we have described several new species of millipedes from the Appalachian Mountains. These colorful invertebrates exhibit different colors (yellow, red or orange) and ooze hydrogen cyanide from pores lining the sides of their body as a chemical defense.

A central mission of our research is the exploration and description of biodiversity, especially Appalachian millipede species. Taxonomic research is significant because it supports the description of Earth’s biological diversity. Although preserving species diversity is critical to the environment and society, we are losing species to extinction at a staggering rate.

The highest peaks of southern Appalachia are home to an endemic-rich fauna, including many litter- and soil-dwelling arthropod species that await discovery and description. This poorly-documented biodiversity, isolated in ancient spruce-fir forests and adapted to cooler montane habitats faces multiple threats, including global warming trends and ensuing competition from native and invasive species moving upward into these habitats. In collaboration with the Caterino Lab at Clemson University, we plan to conduct a comprehensive survey of litter-dwelling arthropods, those most threatened by changing environments due to generally low dispersal capabilities. The team from Clemson and Virginia Tech will collectively accomplish the following objectives: (1) assess diversity at the highest points in the southern Appalachian Mountains, (2) establish a high throughput DNA metabarcoding approach to efficiently document leaf litter arthropods, (3) assess the magnitude and geographic scale of endemism and cryptic species diversity, and (4) increase appreciation for the diversity and uniqueness of high elevation faunas, and highlight the urgency to protect them.

For the fall semester 2021, we seek graduate students (either PhD or masters) to collaborate in this National Science Foundation supported research investigating the diversity across 20 spruce-fir forest “sky islands”. Opportunities are also available in taxonomy/systematics of millipedes, centipedes, pauropods, and symphylans, including local Appalachian species. International applicants are welcome. Laboratory
facilities are available for molecular systematics and morphology-based taxonomy. A vast insect collection is also available (

Visit our website for more details, and Guidelines for applying to Virginia Tech’s Graduate School can be found at:

The Caterino Arthropod Biodiversity Lab is also recruiting a PhD student and a postdoc for this project. See how to apply for these positions:

Blacksburg, VA was named by Outside magazine as one of the top 10 places to live
in the country, and offers an abundance of outdoor activities including mountain
biking, caving, rafting, and hiking –