University of Alberta

Jason Dombroskie, PhD Student

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I work on various aspects of tortricid moth evolution and my research consists of three main aspects: 1) A test of Dollo’s Law using the Archipini (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae): does evolution of novel sex-related structures facilitate loss of the costal fold?  2) The phylogeography of parallel tortricid community assemblages in disjunct montane habitats. 3) Matrix-based key to the lepidopteran subfamilies of Canada.

1) Dollo’s Law states that when a complex structure is lost it does not re-evolve. Many male Tortricidae have a costal fold that is filled with modified scales, likely used for a sexual function.  This complex character is lost at various taxonomic and is also highly variable.  In the Archipini all manifestations of the structure appear to be homologous and most likely plesiomorphic since it is present in at least some species in most genera and can be found in most tortricids that are considered basal to it.  It appears that the costal fold is often absent when other specialized sex-related structures are present.  This suggests the hypothesis that the evolution of new sex-related structures may facilitate the loss of the costal fold, perhaps due to redundancy of structures for a similar function.  Currently the Archipini are poorly known phylogenetically and a solid phylogeny will help map out where the costal fold has been lost and how well this loss corresponds to new sex-related structures.  The phylogeny will also be examined to see if the loss of a costal fold is preceded or followed by the appearance of new sex-related structures.  I will use a combined approach of morphological and molecular characters to build the phylogeny.


2) The montane biome in Alberta consists of dry, high-elevation mixed forest and grassland that is fire-dependant.  This biome is located in a few separated valleys in Alberta and is also one of the most imperilled ecozones in Alberta mainly because it is often the best place to build transportation corridors.  A preliminary look at the tortricid fauna shows that the montane community consists of a mixture of western open woodland, eastern grassland, and northern boreal species.  Also of note is that the montane habitats in Jasper National Park, Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve, and Waterton National Park have noticeably different tortricid communities.  Since they are disjunct, it is plausible that their tortricid communities have been assembled in parallel and are not influenced by each other. Relatively few community-level molecular phylogeographic analyses have been performed to examine the uniqueness of disjunct habitats.  This may prove to be a useful tool to identify areas of unique species assemblages and genetic lineages for conservation purposes.  To examine this I will sequence part of COI for tortricid species common to the three previously mentioned montane locations and compare their relatedness to adjacent British Columbia, and the boreal forest and prairies of Alberta. 


3) Keying Lepidoptera accurately to family and subfamily using traditional dichotomous keys is close to impossible for non-experts. Existing keys cover only select distinctive families or rely on characters that are difficult or impossible to see.  A matrix-based key shows great promise as a way for non-specialists to identify Lepidoptera to family because non-discrete characters can be used.  I am using characters that do not require destructive examination and that are visible with a dissecting microscope. These include characters such as colouration, pattern of markings, and various structural measurements and ratios that should enable the user to narrow down a specimen to one or a few subfamilies.  I will have photos of all character states and representative photos for each of the 220 subfamilies or tribes covered. 


Prior to my graduate studies I worked for ten years as a naturalist in Algonquin Provincial Park and have conducted many bio-inventories of insects and other organisms throughout Ontario. I received my undergraduate degree in Hon. BSc. in Biological Sciences at the University of Guelph in 2004 and have studied the Lepidoptera of Ontario since 1992.

My personal interests are in the systematics and ecology of microlepidoptera, as well as other insects. I have a great deal of field experience with insects (especially Lepidoptera, Odonata, and Diptera), amphibians, reptiles, birds, plants, fungi, and lichens, and I enjoy collecting and photographing them.


Dombroskie J. J. 2003. The Metalmark Moths (Lepidoptera: Choreutidae) of Ontario. Pp. 59-70 in C. D. Jones and J. P. Crolla, eds. Ontario Lepidoptera 2002. Toronto Entomologists’ Association, Toronto.

Catling P. M., M. J. Oldham, C. D. Jones, R. Oldham, J. J. Dombroskie, and B. Kostiuk. 2004. Broad-tailed Shadowdragon, Neurocordulia michaeli Brunelle, New to Ontario. Argia 16:13-16.

Simonsen T. J., J. J. Dombroskie, and D. D. Lawrie. 2008. Behavioral Observations on the Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus (Megaloptera: Corydalidae) with Photographic Evidence of the Use of the Elongate Mandibles in the Male. Am. Entomol. 54:167-169.

Simonsen T. J., J. J. Dombroskie, and G. R. Pohl. 2009. Melitara Walker (Pyralidae) in Western Canada: The Documentation of M. subumbrella (Dyar) in the Prairie Provinces Demonstrates the Value of Regional Collections and Species Lists. J. Lepid. Soc. 63:31-36.

Dombroskie, J. J. in prep. Field Guide to the Moths of Algonquin Provincial Park. The Friends of Algonquin Park, Whitney, ON.


Last Modified:2013-05-06