Member Spotlight: Stefan Pinkert

September 15, 2021

Background: Stefan studies the functional ecology and evolution of insects at large spatial scales. These topics have been the guiding theme of his research since working toward his Bachelor’s in Biology and his Master’s in Biodiversity and Conservation. During his PhD at the University of Marburg in Germany, he investigated physiological and historical determinants of insect diversity to identify the main processes that shape the phylogenetic and functional variation of insect assemblages as well as the distribution and abundance of insect species.  

Through conducting several studies, Stefan investigated the physiological and evolutionary processes that link color and size variation with the environmental conditions in which insect species live. He is convinced that these trait-environment relationships are key to understanding the population dynamics of insect species and biodiversity patterns of insects across all levels of biological organization. Stefan is one of the leading experts on the functions of color in insects. The main findings of his previous research show that across regions, scale, and several taxa, color darkness (melanization) of species and individuals consistently increases with decreasing temperature and increasing humidity. Together color and size largely determine the distribution, abundance, and phenology of ectothermic taxa, including Odonata, Lepidoptera and Coleoptera. His research furthermore demonstrated that both traits shape the distribution of evolutionary lineages and diversification patterns in insects. Check out his review on this topic here and sources therein for more details.

Research: Stefan’s research combines distributional, functional, and phylogenetic data to assess overall patterns and hotspots of different aspects of the biodiversity of insects as well as to identify knowledge gaps therein. The main aim of his research is to provide information about the general mechanisms that underpin the remarkable diversity of insects on our planet, guiding insect conservation and improving forecasts of biological responses to climatic changes.   Stefan is a team member of three global-scale projects (HalfEarth, ButterflyNet, and GEODE) that center on mobilizing, compiling, integrating, and extrapolating biodiversity information for data-poor taxa. His main responsibility is the mobilization of distributional and functional data from various sources, including global databases, field guides, atlases and species descriptions using image analysis techniques and artificial intelligence-based object recognition as well as automatized workflows of taxonomical and spatial harmonization, cleaning, and validation. With these data, he investigates global conservation priorities, biodiversity patterns, and processes that shape the distribution of insects.

Above: A global model of the physiology-informed habitat suitability of the butterflies of the world. The suitability of areas ranges from not suitable (violet) to highly suitable (red)

  At the BGC Center: As a Postdoctoral Associate at Yale and the BGC Center, Stefan’s current research focuses on global biodiversity patterns in Odonata and diurnal butterflies (Rhopalocera). He is part of the taxon expert group and as such develops global taxonomic databases as well as harmonizes and integrates different distributional information to capture the global biodiversity patterns of Odonata and butterflies. To achieve this for the 26k+ species that comprise both groups and for data-poor taxa and regions he develops integrative workflows that allow the leveraging of expert information on species’ country-level information and habitat affinities. In combination with species distribution models his work yields high resolution distribution information for an increasing proportion of the global diversity of insects that provide the baseline for conservation prioritization and rigorous ecological studies on hitherto largely neglected taxa.   Follow Stefan on Twitter or ResearchGate.