Derek joined the Marek Lab of Systematic Entomology at Virginia Tech in the fall of 2015. He earned a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Spanish from Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, in 2012, and completed his M.S. at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2015.
Derek became interested in Entomology while at Marietta College and pursued a variety of research projects, including a biological survey of assassin bugs and an examination of millipede diversity in two separate microhabitats. After earning his B.S., Derek completed a year of service as an Americorps VISTA with a nonprofit focused on watershed health and environmental issues in southeast Ohio. His M.S. research focused on the endemic arthropods of western Arkansas, and he produced an updated listing of the state’s endemic arthropods, a synopsis of and taxonomic guide to Arkansas’s 68 millipede species, and a study of the diurnal periodicity of leaf litter arthropods in an oak-hickory forest in northwest Arkansas. He also received a grant from the Ohio Biological Survey to collect millipedes throughout Ohio and write a guide to the state’s species.
His research at Virginia Tech is focused on the systematics, biodiversity, and general ecology of the Myriapoda (Millipedes, centipedes, and others). He is also interested in the ecological effects of invasive species, gall-forming insects, cultural entomology, citizen science, and science communication.
Derek’s interest in science communication has motivated him to find opportunities to connect science to the public. He was the Outreach Coordinator for the Isely-Baerg Entomology Club at the University of Arkansas, and has been invited to give public talks to student groups, museums, and conferences. He has led natural history field trips at the Midwest Native Plants Conference and Mothapalooza, and co-taught a workshop for graduate students about how to use social media to advance their professional careers.
He is a member of the Entomological Society of America, in which he has served on the Entomological Collections Position Statement Committee. He is also a member of the Ohio Biological Survey, and the Entomological Collections Network, where he serves as a social media coordinator.
Derek has written a personal blog (Normal Biology: http://normalbiology.blogspot.com/) since 2010, and has written articles about his research for sites such as Entomology Today and The Conversation. He can be found on Twitter @derekhennen.
Derek grew up in southeast Ohio and was moved to study millipedes as he learned more about natural history in general, and discovered the fascinating biodiversity of the group. Despite their diversity, they are critically under-studied, even with a center of their diversity being the Appalachian Mountains. The unique habitats in the Appalachians and the environmental challenges faced by the region make it one of the best places in the world to study these organisms, particularly in light of the threat of climate change and invasive species. Both these threats pose existential challenges to the flora and fauna of the region, and millipedes provide a powerful lens through which to investigate the changes happening right now.
Derek’s goals for his time as an IGC fellow include working with other scientists to assess how invasive species and climate change are affecting the biota of the Appalachian Mountains, making millipedes more accessible to study by interested scientists and non-scientists alike, and finding more ways to engagingly communicate science to the public. He is also interested in working with the public through citizen science initiatives, such as updating distribution knowledge of various organisms throughout the state of Virginia.
Paul Marek’s lab at Virginia Tech uncovers new species of millipedes in Appalachia.