Torsten Dikow PhD

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Torsten's expertise is the taxonomy, phylogeny, and biodiversity of Asiloidea flies (Insecta: Diptera) and his research has focused in particular on “assassin”- or “robber flies” (Asilidae)—one of the largest groups of true flies. He joined the Biodiversity Synthesis Center after completing his Ph.D. in entomology at Cornell University and the American Museum of Natural History followed by a short postdoc at the same museum. He is originally from Germany and has traveled the world to study and collect flies in habitats ranging from hot deserts to temperate forests and subtropical grasslands to tropical rain-forests.


I received my first degree as a biologist from the University of Rostock, Germany, in January 2002. There, I studied 5½ years for a Diploma in Biology (major subject being Zoology, 1st minor subject Entomology, 2nd minor Botany). My Diploma thesis dealt with the revision and phylogenetic analysis of the robber-fly genus Euscelidia Westwood, 1850 (Diptera: Asilidae: Leptogastrinae).

A pair of Damalis speciosa (Asilidae) mating.
Photographed in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

In 1999–2000 I took a course of study in entomology at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and in 2000 I participated in the ‘Research Training Program’ at the Smithsonian's Institution National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC, USA.

I started my Ph.D. dissertation in 2002 at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), New York City. In August 2007, I finished my dissertation, which was entitled “Phylogeny, classification, & biodiversity of robber flies (Diptera: Brachycera: Asiloidea: Asilidae) with special reference to Leptogastrinae.” After a short postdoc at the AMNH working with Ward Wheeler and David Grimaldi, I started my postdoc at the Biodiversity Synthesis Center in January 2008.



As a biologist I am fascinated by the diversity of organisms that live on planet earth. My special interest lies in the most diverse group of animals—the insects. My research focus is the Diptera—true flies—and here especially taxa of ‘orthorrhaphous’ Brachycera: Asilidae—“assassin”- or “robber flies” (more than 7000 described species), Mydidae—“mydas flies” (461 species), and Apioceridae—“flower-loving flies” (138 species). These three family taxa form a monophyletic group and I study their diversity, biology, biogeography, phylogeny, and systematics.
Theoretical problems in phylogenetic systematics & species concepts as well as biodiversity research are additional fields of interest to me.

Efferia sp. (Asilidae) with prey item.
Photographed in Arizona, USA.


– NSF funded REVSYS (Revisionary Syntheses in Systematics) project:
“Phylogeny, revisionary taxonomy & the fossil record of asiloid flies (Diptera: Apioceridae, Asilidae, Mydidae)” (NSF DEB 0919333; 1 August 2009–31 July 2012)
– higher-level phylogeny of Asilidae based on morphological characters of imagines & DNA-sequence data.
– phylogenetic relationships of the genera of Leptogastrinae (Asilidae) and relationship to other taxa within Asilidae using morphological and molecular data.
– biodiversity studies using specimen data from taxonomic revisions.
– revisionary projects on Leptogastrinae (Asilidae), Apioceridae, and Mydidae.
– updating & enhancing the taxa-catalog of Apioceridae, Asilidae, and Mydidae.
– phylogenetic relationships among Apioceridae, Asilidae, & Mydidae.
– biogeography of Apioceridae, Mydidae, & austral Asilidae clades.
– review of fossil Asiloidea and cladistic placement within phylogeny.


With help of our Biodiversity Informatics Specialist Kris, I am able to present some of the occurence data and species catalogues of the Asiloidea flies I am studying on my BioSynC Research Site.

I am hosting a LifeDesk on Leptogastrinae flies that presents information about 473 species of these slender and gracile robber flies.

Contributions to the Encyclopedia of Life

In my taxonomic revisions I review previously described species as well as scientifically describe new species. This species information is then included in EOL species pages and becomes available to the scientific community as well as a more general audience. In addition, my nomenclatorial work improving the species catalog of the three fly taxa will ultimately be imported into the EOL so that the latest classificatory and phylogenetic information is represented.

Scleropogon duncani (Asilidae) preying on a conspecific.
Photographed in Arizona, USA.

I have organized the Diptera synthesis meeting held in our center at the Field Museum of Natural History (October 7–9, 2008) and represented BioSynC at the Heteroptera (true bugs) synthesis meeting at the University of California at Riverside (February 6–9, 2009) and the Millipede (Diplopoda) synthesis meeting at the Zoologische Staatssammlung in Munich, Germany (March 21–25, 2009).

Part of my job is also spent on reviewing the synthesis meeting proposals submitted to BioSynC for funding. At scientific conferences, I try to solicit suggestions about the EOL and data sharing interests with the EOL from researchers and provide feedback to the appropriate EOL component through our internal task tracking system.


I have spent time testing the EOL software LifeDesk, which is an online management and sharing tool for biodiversity information to be included in the EOL. I am hosting a LifeDesk on Leptogastrinae flies that presents information about 473 species of these slender and gracile robber flies.

Two presentations introducing LifeDesk and its functionality given in December 2009 and May 2010 can be viewed here:
LifeDesk Intro Dec. 2009
LifeDesk Intro May. 2010.


I have given presentations about the Encyclopedia of Life and the Biodiversity Synthesis Center at several conferences or meetings:
– 23rd International Congress of Entomology, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (July 2008)
– 27th Willi Hennig Society Meeting, Tucumán, Tucumán, Argentina (October 2008)
– Zoologische Staatssammlung Munich, Germany (March 2009)
– North American Dipterist Society Field Meeting, Crescent City, California, USA (Jun 2009)
– Entomological Collections Network meeting, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (December 2009)
– 57th Entomological Society of America Annual Meeting, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (December 2009)
– 29th Willi Hennig Society Meeting, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA (May 2010)
– 7th International Congress of Dipterology, San Jose, Costa Rica (August 2010)

Biodiversity Heritage Library

I have actively involved several publishers of scientific journals, mostly smaller natural history museums or universities, in the Biodiversity Heritage Library project so that these institutions can get their journals digitized for free by BHL and provide world-wide access. These publishers are:
– Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (two journals)
– Bulgarian National Museum of Natural History, Sofia, Bulgaria (three journals)
– Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia”, Buenos Aires, Argentina (four journals)
– Fundação Zoobotânica do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil (one journal)
– Zoologische Staatssammlung, München, Germany (four journals)
– Münchner Entomologische Gesellschaft, München, Germany (two journals)
– Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Stuttgart, Germany (three journals)
– Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chile (two journals)
– Iziko South African Museum, Cape Town, South Africa (one journal)
– Museo civico di storia naturale Giacomo Doria, Genoa, Italy
Several other journals I contacted are currently reviewing the proposal. I have furthermore submitted lists of important old literature on Diptera to be digitized by the BHL.

Opomydas townsendi (Mydidae).
Photographed in Arizona, USA.


I have written a number of articles for newsletters to introduce the EOL, BioSynC, BHL, and LifeDesk to new audiences:
– “Encyclopedia of Life und das Biodiversity Synthesis Center” in Newsletter 20, Gesellschaft für Biologische Systematik (Germany) (2008)
– “Sharing your Diptera images with the Encyclopedia of Life” in FlyTimes 42, newsletter of the North American Dipterists Society (2009)
– “Using digitized Diptera literature from the Biodiversity Heritage Library“ in FlyTimes 42, newsletter of the North American Dipterists Society (2009)
– “LifeDesk: Präsentation von Biodiversitätsdaten im Internet” in Newsletter 23, Gesellschaft für Biologische Systematik (Germany) (2010)

Blog posts

Diptera Synthesis Meeting (23 Oct 2008)
Biodiversity of the week (28 Nov 2008)
Millipede (Diplopoda) Synthesis Meeting (8 Apr 2009)
BHL user of the month (10 May 2011)

See my EOL-related Year of Science 2009 blog posts here:
Biodiversity Hotspots, Encyclopedia of Life, and Flies (1 Sep 2009)
What‘s in a Name? (10 Sep 2009)
Taxonomist Identify Diversity (16 Sep 2009)
Saving Species (23 Sep 2009)