Staff Profile: Andrei Sourakov
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Andrei Sourakov studied Medicine in Moscow for two years and then transferred to the Biology Department of Moscow State University, majoring in Entomology and pursuing professionally his avocation as a lepidopterist. After moving to the United States in 1991, he volunteered at the American Museum of Natural History, where he received additional training in Lepidoptera taxonomy and worked on his first taxonomic revision of a genus of hairstreak butterflies. He received his M.S. (1994) and Ph. D. (1997) in Entomology from the University of Florida, where he also worked as a teaching and research assistant, participating in many projects related to Lepidoptera ecology, systematics, and conservation.
In 1998, Sourakov spent a year as a postdoc at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco. He was later employed by the USDA’s Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology, where his primary focus was on biological control, using wasp parasitoids to control pests. Simultaneously, he contributed his time to the planning of the McGuire Center’s construction and exhibits. From to 2002 until the present, he has been a member of the McGuire Center Exhibits Committee and participated in the production of McGuire Center exhibits as a scientific consultant, writer, photographer, and preparator. When the McGuire Center opened, Sourakov had more time for teaching and for working with the collections. In 2009, he was accepted as a member of the graduate faculty in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of Florida.
Sourakov’s field work has consisted mostly of collecting expeditions that assume either collecting specific groups of butterflies and studying their ecology, or conducting broad surveys of all Lepidoptera in a specific areas. His field work outside the United States has taken him to Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Altai Mountains), Caucasus (Dagestan and Armenia), Russian Far East and Crimea, a number of Latin American countries from Costa Rica to Argentina, and other exotic places.
Sourakov’s interest in Lepidoptera ranges from ecology (specifically autecology and community ecology) to systematics, including traditional, morphology-based taxonomy and phylogenetics as well as DNA-based methods, such as the DNA-barcoding. He believes that Lepidoptera is an excellent model group for answering broad biological questions in many fields such as evolution, genetics, ecology, and systematics, largely thanks to the tremendous pool of knowledge and collections created by amateur lepidopterists. He is also interested in insect photography and in popularizing nature to general audiences. Sourakov tries to promote appreciation of insects through photography, filming and popular writing in hope that this will lead to their conservation.
A collaborative project on DNA Barcoding of Palearctic butterflies that, except for Sourakov, involved Russian and Canadian scientists, explored geographic variation in the ‘barcode’ section of mitochondrial DNA and its influence on the effectiveness of that region for species identification. The first phase was published in 2009 in Molecular Ecology Resources and Sourakov is continuing his work on the project. He also has been examining in great detail the morphology, genetics, ecology and biogeography of a West Indian butterfly genus Calisto, which he views as a model group for studying the process of speciation. With the late George Austin, a former McGuire Center collections manager, he worked on phenology and species richness of moths in North-Central Florida. He continues this project on his own, and is particularly interested in ecological niche partitioning by the moth fauna represented in Gainesville area by at least 1,500 species.
McGuire Center: Andrei Sourakov curates collections and writes grant proposals, which enable the McGuire Center to purchase supplies for collections and to pay technical personnel. Also, when time allows, he conducts research and publishes in peer-reviewed journals. Additionally, he supervises students in pursuit of graduate degrees (usually, students are enrolled through the Department of Entomology and Nematology). He helps them choose projects appropriate for their thesis work, assists with logistics and search for funding, and reads and critiques their works. On a regular basis, Sourakov helps the Museum’s exhibits department with producing displays for public exhibits. He also instructs volunteers and interns who wish to work in the collections (the Florida Museum of Natural History has an extensive volunteer program, and the Museum’s volunteer coordinator recruits volunteers to work in the collections every semester). As a public service to the community, he gives lectures about butterfly biology at the Museum and in local schools.
At the University of Florida, Sourakov also has taught several classes: Techniques in Lepidoptera Research, Scientific Illustration of Lepidoptera, and recently he co-taught, with Keith Willmott, Biology of Lepidoptera (a seminar course that explores Lepidoptera as objects of research in a broad range of disciplines). Occasionally, he also gives lectures in classes offered by other instructors, such as Honors study in Lepidoptera Biology, or Insect Conservation.