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O’Keefe and students research biodiversity

One member of Morehead State’s biology faculty is helping students get hands-on research experience through his work studying the region’s insects.  

Dr. Sean O’Keefe, associate professor of biology, is conducting research on local biodiversity in beetles, ants, moths, spiders and soil mites found in decomposing leaf litter in the region’s forests. O’Keefe began studying biodiversity in 2011 and currently has six research students working on three separate projects, several of whom have been working with him for more than a year. Students have included Undergraduate Research Fellows, honors students, Craft Academy students and volunteers. He said that he and his students are finding many varieties of insects in the local area. 

“I love exploring the diversity of the woods. There's one critter, an earwig fly, that is pretty rare,” he said. “A few have been found in Ohio, Tennessee or elsewhere, and papers were written. In 2011-12 we collected over 500 specimens. So far, we have a pretty diverse assemblage of beetles, moths and spiders in our area. Most of what I look at is poorly known, there’s quite a bit of room for new discoveries.” 

O'Keefe said that the fact that most of the insects he is researching have not been studied extensively presents challenges in his research since there are few references, particularly for soil mites.  

For more information on programs in MSU’s Department of Biology and Chemistry, visit, email or call 606-783-2945.

Top photo: Dr. Sean O'Keefe and his students are studying insects that live in leaf litter in the forest such as beetles and soil mites.

Bottom photo: O'Keefe and a research student sift through leaf litter, searching for insect specimens, in his lab in Lappin Hall.