Research Field: Entomology
The classification of Australian horse flies ceased in the 1980s, despite being vectors of disease in Australia. By combining traditional taxonomy with contemporary DNA sequencing and high-resolution photography, Dr Lessard produced the first phylogeny for southern hemisphere horse flies, and described one new tribe, two new genera and 18 new species. Using fossil evidence, he then demonstrated that the current distribution of southern hemisphere horse flies is best explained by the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana.
This research resulted in seven publications and enabled others to accurately identify specimens from the southern hemisphere to species level. Australian soldier flies are pests of sugar cane and notoriously difficult to identify. Last year Dr Lessard brought Fulbright Specialist Dr Norman Woodley (Smithsonian Institute) to Australia, and together they discovered more than 150 new species after identifying thousands of specimens from every Australian state museum.
Dr Lessard produced the first molecular phylogeny for these agriculturally important flies using anchored hybrid enrichment, a cutting-edge technology generating 600 nuclear markers, which was a first in Australian entomology. Recently he was awarded a $297,000 research grant (ABRS) to describe new species of Australian mosquitoes that will help entomologists identify those that carry diseases like Ross River Fever.