Pollinators play a crucial role in our ecosystems by pollinating flowering plants and crops, contributing to the planetary and human well-being. During the past decade, the decline in insect pollinators has become a more and more disturbing issue that countless scientific and public communities are trying to tackle every day.
Published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, a new study aims to contribute to updating the knowledge on wild bee diversity in Serbia, necessary for determining conservation priorities and future endeavours at the national level, but also for improving the understanding of the status of European pollinators. The study is also making an attempt to upgrade the exciting data provided by the recently published checklist of European bees, European bees country records, and, focusing on Serbia, a preliminary list of 706 bee species.
To do that, researchers used data from the implementation of the national project SPAS, and within the EU-funded project Safeguard. With the aim of monitoring the diversity and abundance of insect pollinators in Serbia, 54 sites were surveyed three times throughout the 2022 season.
The transect walks and pan traps used for the assessment led to the discovery of 312 bee species. Results show that 25 of these have not been previously recorded for Serbia. Furthermore, the study confirms the presence of 26 species, without any available records from the 21st century.
The authors also share that 79 of the examined species were known only from literature-based data and six of the recorded species are considered threatened with 67 (10 newly recorded) assessed as Data Deficient in the European Red List of Bees. In addition, the study manages to achieve the goal of updating the current knowledge of bee species occurring in Serbia. By recording 25 new species, the Safeguard study successfully extends the national list with new recordings – from 706 to 731 species.
This new study not only presents new records of bee species in Serbia and confirms some old ones, but also provides additional information about European distribution, required for new assessment at the European level.
Mudri-Stojnić S, Andrić A, Józan Z, Likov L, Tot T, Grković A, Vujić A (2023) New records for the wild bee fauna (Hymenoptera, Anthophila) of Serbia. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 96: 761-781. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.96.107595
The Allpahuayo-Mishana National Reserve in Peru has often been described as the most biodiverse rainforest in the world. For example, in recent decades, scientist have discovered several new bird species from the region. The researchers of the University of Turku in Finland have studied the insect biodiversity in Allpahuayo-Mishana for over twenty years. In their latest study, the scientist described a new wasp genus, Capitojoppa, to science.
In their newly published study, the researchers describe a new wasp genus Capitojoppa to science, categorising it to the subfamily Ichneumoninae.
“Wasps belonging to this subfamily are usually large and colourful, especially in the tropics, and as larvae feed internally on moth and butterfly caterpillars and pupae. We have studied the biodiversity of ichneumonines in the Allpahuyao-Mishana National Reserve with the samples collected by the researchers of the University of Turku in Finland. In our studies, we have discovered several species unknown to science which we will describe in the future. The current study kicks off this research,” says Doctoral Candidate Brandon Claridge from the Utah State University in the United States.
The Allpahuyao-Mishana National Reserve first gained prominence in the scientific community in the late 1980s when an American botanist Alwyn Gentry documented the highest number of tree species at a single locality known to date.
“Gentry wanted to discover how many tree species can grow in one hectare (2.5 acres) of the Amazon rainforest. In his study, he discovered nearly 300 tree species in that one-hectare research patch. We have studied the insect biodiversity in the same research areas since 1998 and report some of the highest numbers of insect species in the world from this region. We also found Capitojoppa near the same research hectare used by Gentry,” says Professor of Biodiversity Research Ilari E. Sääksjärvi from the University of Turku, who collected the specimens during his field studies.
Species unknown to science are described in research journals. Their names often describe the species’ characteristics or range.
“The name Capitojoppa tells scientists a great deal about the characteristics of the newly discovered wasp genus. The wasps of the genus have a large head, which is reflected in the capito part of the name. It also refers to the barbet bird genus Capito found in South America, which have a large and strong beak. The joppa part of the name refers to the wasp genus Joppa that the Capitojoppa resembles. The specific species name amazonica refers to the Amazon,” Claridge explains.
Finnish researchers helped in the conservation efforts of the Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve in the 1990s.
“Allpahuayo-Mishana is a part of the Amazon that has an unprecedented abundance of species. Due to the region’s complex geological history, there are several different types of rainforest growing in the Reserve. The species biodiversity of many organisms is highest on the whole planet at Allpahuayo-Mishana. We actively continue our studies in the region. Unfortunately, the area is currently changing rapidly due to human activities. With our insect studies, we are trying to find out how the impact of human activities, such as climate change, alter the nature in the rainforest,” says Professor Sääksjärvi.
The group’s research article was published in the journal ZooKeys.
Nine years ago, University of Wyoming entomologist Scott Shaw and colleague Eduardo Shimbori gained a moment of fame by naming several newly discovered South American insect species for celebrities — including a wasp for singer and musician Shakira (Aleiodes shakirae).
Today, the Shakira wasp is one of only 18 animal species featured in a museum exhibition in Denmark. “From Rock Fossils to Pop Insects” at the Naturama Museum in Svendborg, Denmark, highlights species named after famous rock musicians and pop stars, including an ancient mammal for Mick Jagger (Jaggermeryx) and a deep-sea crab named for Metallica (Macrostylis metallicola).
The exhibition was planned and created by Thomas Berg, a senior scientist and curator at the museum.
“Discover the fascinating old fossils, listen to the music and find out why scientists use rock music when naming fossils,” says a Naturama website promoting the exhibition, which is open to the public for viewing through November.
The Shakira wasp is a parasite of caterpillars, feeding and developing inside them — and causing them to bend and twist their abdomens in a distinctive way, which reminded Shaw and Shimbori of belly dancing, for which the Colombia-born singer also is famous. The Shakira wasp and other insect species were described in a 2014 volume of the international research journal ZooKeys, which is dedicated to advancing studies of the taxonomy, phylogeny, biogeography and evolution of animals.
“It’s gratifying to see our discovery included in this exhibition in such a creative and artistic way,” Shaw says. “I hope this public attention will help to draw new students to studies of tropical insects and the urgent field of tropical forest conservation.”
Berg says he chose the Shakira wasp for the exhibition because Shakira is a world-class singer and musician — and because of the researchers’ story behind the naming of the insect.
“Shaw and Shimbori’s personal story was captivating, with clear references to the parasitic wasp’s effect on its victim,” Berg says. “I’ll also admit that I’m a huge fan of Shakira, and it was such a gift to have the world’s best argument to include Aleiodes shakirae in the exhibition.”
National Science Foundation-funded fieldwork conducted in the cloud forests of eastern Ecuador by Shaw and colleagues led to the discovery of 24 new species of Aleiodes wasps that mummify caterpillars. Some of these were named for other celebrities, including Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Ellen DeGeneres. One of these, Aleiodes colberti — named after Colbert — was featured on the Jan. 22, 2022, segment of Colbert’s “Late Show” on CBS.
A UW faculty member since 1989, Shaw is the curator of UW’s Insect Museum in the College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources. He received that college’s Vanvig Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. He has published more than 200 scientific publications about insects as well as a book, “Planet of the Bugs: Evolution and the Rise of Insects,” which tells of dominant insect species and how they shaped life on Earth.
News piece originally by the University of Wyoming. Republished with permission.
An international research team including the University of Göttingen has described seven previously unknown species of leaf insects, also known as walking leaves. The insects belong to the stick and leaf insect order, which are known for their unusual appearance: they look confusingly similar to parts of plants such as twigs, bark or – in the case of leaf insects – leaves.
This sophisticated camouflage provides excellent protection from predators as well as presenting a challenge to researchers. Genetic analysis enabled the researchers to discover “cryptic species”, which cannot be distinguished by their external appearance alone. The findings are not only important for the systematic study of leaf insects, but also for the protection of their diversity. The results were published in the scientific journal ZooKeys.
Taxonomy – meaning the naming, description and classification of species – is difficult in the case of leaf insects: individuals of different species can be difficult to tell apart, yet there can be huge variations within a species. “Individuals of different species are often counted as belonging to the same species based on their appearance. We were only able to identify some of the new species by their genetic characteristics,” explains the Project Lead, Dr Sarah Bank-Aubin, Göttingen University’s Animal Evolution and Biodiversity Department.
Some individual insects from India were previously thought to belong to a species that is widespread in Southeast Asia. But now the researchers have found out that they are a completely new species of leaf insects. Bank-Aubin emphasises: “The finding is important for species conservation: if all the individuals die out in India, it is not just a group within a species that is reduced, as was previously thought. In fact, a whole distinct species is being wiped out. This means that the Indian species is particularly important to protect.” Other newly discovered species come from Vietnam, Borneo, Java and the Philippines.
The researchers from Göttingen University worked with leaf insect expert Royce Cumming, City University New York. This research collaboration has led to the identification of over twenty new species. Dr Sven Bradler, who has been researching the evolution of stick and leaf insects at the University of Göttingen for more than 20 years, explains: “There are around 3,500 known species of stick and leaf insects and there are currently just over 100 described species of leaf insect. Although they only make up a small fraction of this diverse family of insects, their spectacular and unexpected appearance makes them unique.”
Cumming RT, Le Tirant S, Linde JB, Solan ME, Foley EM, Eulin NEC, Lavado R, Whiting MF, Bradler S, Bank S (2023) On seven undescribed leaf insect species revealed within the recent “Tree of Leaves” (Phasmatodea, Phylliidae). ZooKeys 1173: 145-229. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1173.104413
“Stomp, squash, smash” has been the accompanying soundtrack to the expansion of an odd-looking bug through the Eastern US. The spotted lanternfly, a large planthopper native to Asia, has been popularized in media outlets as the most recent enemy one ought to kill on sight.
This charismatic insect was first discovered in the US in Berks county, Pennsylvania, in 2014, likely the result of an accidental introduction alongside shipments of landscaping materials. Since then, the invasive pest has spread throughout the country, fueled by its ability to hitch rides undetected on cargo and passenger vehicles, and aided by the widespread presence of one of its favorite food sources, the tree of heaven, another invasive in North America. As of 2023, it has been found in 14 US states.
Unfortunately, this species is not picky when it comes to the plants it consumes, favoring both crops and ornamentals, and showing a particular preference for cultivated grape. This dietary choice has impacted several wine-making areas throughout Pennsylvania and New York state, and is threatening important wine hubs on the Western coast of the US.
When it comes to controlling the spread of this pest, two of the main challenges for researchers and field managers alike are to 1) know where this species is today so that eradication campaigns can be targeted and 2) predict where it will be tomorrow, to invest in prevention practices. Both efforts rely on accurate and extensive knowledge of its past and present distribution.
Many state and federal agencies, as well as individual research institutions, have been involved in conducting surveys to detect this bug in the field. In addition, a campaign to raise public awareness has fostered the development of self-reporting tools citizens can use to track sightings of this insect. Unfortunately, given the different practices adopted by these parties, the data on the presence of spotted lanternfly are scattered and hard to access, which makes it harder to assess and manage its spread.
The need to put together a current, comprehensive, consistent and openly available dataset pushed researchers at Temple University to take action. A research group led by Dr. Matthew Helmus has been closely monitoring the spread of this invasive pest since its inception, contacting institutions and collecting data. In a recent work published in the journal NeoBiota, Dr. Helmus and Dr. Sebastiano De Bona, together with collaborators across several agencies, put together an anonymized and comprehensive dataset that collected all records of spotted lanternfly in the US to date. These records come from a plethora of sources, from control actions, citizen-science projects, and research efforts. The resulting dataset contains highly detailed data (at 1 km2 resolution) with yearly information on the presence or absence of spotted lanternflies, the establishment status of this pest, and estimated population density, across over 650,000 observations.
“The lydemapr package will aid researchers, managers and the public in their understanding, modelling and managing of the spread of this invasive pest,” says Dr. De Bona, the lead author of the study.
The scientists hope that this package will make forecasting the spread of the spotted lanternfly easier and foster more effective collaboration between agencies and researchers.
De Bona S, Barringer L, Kurtz P, Losiewicz J, Parra GR, Helmus MR. 2023. lydemapr: an R package to track the spread of the invasive Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula, White 1845)(Hemiptera, Fulgoridae) in the United States. NeoBiota 85: 151–168, DOI: 10.3897/neobiota.86.101471
The central region of Texas is a known hotspot of biological wonders. For the last five years, Dr. JoVonn Hill, an Assistant Professor and Director of the Mississippi Entomological Museum (MEM) at Mississippi State University, and his colleagues have made scientific expeditions to the area that have now revealed an extraordinary find.
The team uncovered seven previously unknown flightless grasshopper species, six of them endemic to the Edwards Plateau, which underscores the region’s extraordinary biodiversity.
With this discovery, Dr. Hill is paying tribute to two iconic musicians. In recognition of the “immense contributions” of Texas legends Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker, he has named two of these flightless grasshopper species after them.
“Melanoplus nelsoni and Melanoplus walkeri immortalize the enduring contributions of these legendary musicians and their connection to Texas,” he says.
“After these last few summers [of field studies], just like Mr. Nelson, we too have a little Texas in our souls,” he writes in his study, which was just published in the journal ZooKeys.
On Melanoplus walkeri, he writes: “Walker’s songs such as Hill Country Rain, Leavin’ Texas, and Sangria Wine brought me and my field team joy while traveling between field sites and added to the amazing ambiance of the Edwards Plateau.” In fact, the artist recorded his most influential album not far away from the spot where the new species was discovered.
Additionally, the team acknowledges the cultural heritage and deep connection to the region of the Comanche and Tonkawa tribes, naming two species after them, Melanoplus commanche and Melanoplus tonkawa respectively.
“These designations recognize the profound historical and cultural significance of the tribes in the region,” Dr. Hill explains.
“These seven newly described species, alongside two preexisting ones, form a cohesive species group, highlighting their shared characteristics and evolutionary relationships,” Dr. Hill says in conclusion. “The formation of this new species group presents a significant contribution to our understanding of the diverse ecosystems present in central Texas,” he adds.
The discovery of these seven flightless grasshopper species and the formation of a new species group underscore the ecological uniqueness of central Texas, Dr. Hill says. He and the staff of the Mississippi Entomological Museum remain committed to scientific exploration and understanding, promoting the conservation of biodiversity, and inspiring a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world.
Hill JG (2023) Diversification deep in the heart of Texas: seven new grasshopper species and establishment of the Melanoplus discolor species group (Orthoptera, Acrididae, Melanoplinae). ZooKeys 1165: 101-136. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1165.104047
While invasive alien species (IAS) represent a growing threat to global biodiversity and ecosystems, public awareness of them hasn’t seen a significant increase. Many researchers believe informing people about IAS is an essential long-term investment to counter biological invasions; in particular, “learning by doing” is an extremely effective method for involving new audiences, such as students.
About 500 Italian students aged 11-18 took part in a citizen science project that led to new geographical records of two alien species of ambrosia beetles considered to be quarantine pests by the European Union. Dr. Fernanda Colombari and Prof. Andrea Battisti of the University of Padova have described the results in a paper in the open-access journal NeoBiota.
The project involved schools located in urban areas in north-eastern Italy and aimed to connect environmental education and experiential outdoor learning through lectures, videos, reports, and large-scale surveillance of ambrosia beetles. The students used plastic bottles and hand sanitizer to trap ambrosia beetles in their school grounds. They then assessed their abundance, looking at the different species. Before and after the educational activities, their knowledge and awareness of IAS were tested using simple anonymous questionnaires.
“Our study aimed to both educate students and collect scientific data at sites such as schools where surveillance for potentially invasive ambrosia beetles is not usually conducted, or where it is sometimes misunderstood,” Dr. Colombari and Prof. Battisti write in their paper.
Identifying the specimens collected by the students, the authors found that IAS amounted to 35% of total catches. Remarkably, two out of the four alien species caught, Cnestus mutilatus and Anisandrus maiche, were recorded for the first time in Europe thanks to this study.
Furthermore, questionnaire results showed that the students acquired greater knowledge and increased their awareness and interest in IAS by more than 50%. After the experiment, most of them were interested in learning more about the negative effects of the introduction of IAS and practices to limit their spread.
This study shows that citizen science can successfully involve school students, giving them an opportunity to contribute in an effective early detection of IAS, as most first records occur in cities or suburban areas. The results also point to the primary role of education, which is as a major driver of change in tackling sustainability challenges. Moreover, as students bring home the message and share it with their relatives, the process supports intergenerational learning and enlarges public collaboration.
“People are often unaware of the role they have in the entire invasive process,” the researchers write in their study. Citizen science projects like this one are more than a reliable tool for collecting scientific data; they also help engage the public and spread awareness of biological invasions, eventually contributing to the creation of more efficient management strategies.
The monitoring programme in this study was conducted in the context of the European project HOMED (Holistic management of emerging forest pests and diseases), which has developed a full panel of scientific knowledge and practical solutions for the management of emerging native and non-native pests and pathogens threatening European forests. The main results of HOMED’s research are publically available in a special issue in the open-access scholarly journal NeoBiota.
Colombari F, Battisti A (2023) Citizen science at school increases awareness of biological invasions and contributes to the detection of exotic ambrosia beetles. In: Jactel H, Orazio C, Robinet C, Douma JC, Santini A, Battisti A, Branco M, Seehausen L, Kenis M (Eds) Conceptual and technical innovations to better manage invasions of alien pests and pathogens in forests. NeoBiota 84: 211-229. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.84.95177
Tetrigidae, commonly known as pygmy grasshoppers, are an ancient and diverse family, currently numbering about 2000 species. As their name suggests, tetrigids are very small; their largest representatives are barely several centimeters long, so they might be difficult to spot on a casual stroll through tropical vegetation. However, when they are spotted, they are immediately recognizable by their elongated pronotum, a hard structure that starts behind the head and covers the entire body like a hood. They come in many shapes and colors and are often exciting to see, but this comes with a price—the taxonomy of Tetrigidae, the way they are organized into natural groups, is a mess. This is where we come in.
In our latest paper, we dealt with Choriphyllini, a small Caribbean tribe that belongs to the subfamily Cladonotinae. This subfamily had been filling up with unrelated but similar-looking tetrigids for more than a century. It had never been clearly defined so almost everything wingless and robust was assigned to Cladonotinae. We decided to put an end to this by slowly removing the superficially similar genera from the subfamily and describing tribes to group the genera that are clearly related to each other. We piloted this system just last year, when we described the tribe Valalyllini from Madagascar, with only two endemic (and endangered) genera and species.
Put the species of Choriphyllini and Valalyllini together, mix them up, and try to guess which belongs where—this is no simple task; they are all doing their impressions of dead leaves that our primate brains struggle to differentiate. And there’s more: such leaf-like grasshoppers live in Africa and South East Asia as well, and then there are those that look like twigs and spiky tree bark.
Only now that we have an idea of what the true Cladonotinae are can we be properly amazed by the duality they represent to us. On the one hand, they are incredibly diverse with every species having its own variation on the basic shape. On the other, they are so alike that they either represent the best example of convergent evolution ever documented or they all stem from a common ancestor that is currently supposed to have lived during the Mesozoic. The evolutionary history of Cladonotinae will take many years to unravel, but the work can only begin after we define what to call by that name.
It only took 250 years
The first species of Choriphyllini, Phyllotettix rhombeus, was described in 1765 as Cicada rhombea, that is, as a member of an entirely different order of insects. Continuing in this manner, many authors (including the great Linnaeus himself) made many taxonomic and nomenclatural mistakes that compounded over the centuries and made these grasshoppers difficult to identify and refer to. It didn’t help that new species and new records kept being reported without being contextualized by comprehensive literature reviews. Like detectives, we followed the scattered crumbs of data and arrived at a synthesis that will make future research in the region much more pleasant.
This is not where interesting facts about Phyllotettix rhombeus stop. While looking through the literature, we tried to extract the measurements of drawings. Most of the drawings had a scale bar printed next to them, but the archaic usage of “lines” as the standard measurement initially gave us some trouble. That is why at first we doubted one of our most fascinating discoveries: with the pronotal length measuring nearly 3 centimeters, Phyllotettix rhombeus is the largest tetrigid ever recorded! Many, many authors dealt with this species over the last 250 years, but this record was never made explicit.
It should not go unnoticed now that its proposed common name is “Jamaican Colossal Jumping Leaf”. Inspired by this, we took the measurements of the other species as well and made a figure where all the specimens are resized to a common scale, which shows the diversity of both shapes and sizes.
Besides P. rhombeus, there are three more species in the genus Phyllotettix: P. plagiatus,P. foliatus, and P. compressus. All four of them are known only from Jamaica. P. foliatus and P. compressus are known from the Blue Mountains, but for the other two no precise localities are known; we still don’t know where exactly the largest tetrigid lives. The other genus of the tribe is Choriphyllum, also with four species. Three of them, C. sagrai, C. saussurei, and C. wallaceum live in Cuba, while C. bahamense is all alone on Hummingbird Cay island in the Bahamas. The easiest way to differentiate these two genera is a little strange but practical, the tallest point of the leaf-like crest in Choriphyllum species is in the front, while in Phyllotettix species it is in the back.
Some Caribbean leaves dance and jump
For each species, we proposed a common name as a means to give these animals even more character. Names, such as “Jamaican Bitten Jumping Leaf” and “Old Cuban Dancing Leaf” may not be “official”, but they have certainly found their audience. The tweet in which we shared the collage of all the species was viewed over 17000 times; everyone was amazed by the pretty shapes and some even noted that they especially liked the crazy common names. We were very glad to see our scientific and artistic package that is Choriphyllini be so warmly received.
Another hit on Twitter, with over 20000 views, is the post showcasing the newly-described species from Cuba, Choriphyllum wallaceum. The holotype of this species has been awaiting description for a long time. We found it in Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain, with a note from Ignacio Bolívar, the father of the Tetrigidae classification system. He referred to it as “Choriphyllum Seoanei” but never managed to publish it.
This “new” species presented us with the perfect opportunity to honor the 200th anniversary of Alfred Russel Wallace’s birth. Wallace is often called the “father of biogeography” but is all too often neglected when discussing the origins of the theory of evolution, with which Charles Darwin is considered synonymous. Wallace, with his independent arrival at the key concepts of the evolutionary theory, his correspondence with Darwin, and his staunch defense of Darwin’s ideas, was (and is) at the very least equal to Darwin and deserves much more recognition than he currently gets.
This is just the start
Choriphyllini are a pretty package, but one that merely introduces the real problem. The history of this tribe is long, yet we have very few specimens to work with. Although we have an understanding of how morphology varies within species, P. compressus and P. foliatus are not only suspiciously similar to each other, but they also live in the same general area of the Blue Mountains. It remains to be seen if they are in fact a single species.
Much more pressing is that we have only a vague idea of where these animals live and how their populations are impacted by various factors such as human activity and climate change—we do not have a baseline against which to assess their conservation status. Then there is the fact that there are many more islands in the Caribbean, making the possibility of discovering new Choriphyllini species on them real and exciting. We can only guess what the future holds for these neglected animals.
The stage is set; everything we know about this group is laid out in the paper and now there is no path but forward. Research is expensive, dedication to this work takes a certain kind of soul, and everything takes time. It is our sincere hope that someone someday takes this further. The pygmy jumping leaves will wait for as long as they can, on their islands, hopping without a care in the world.
Deranja M, Kasalo N, Adžić K, Franjević D, Skejo J (2022) Lepocranus and Valalyllum gen. nov. (Orthoptera, Tetrigidae, Cladonotinae), endangered Malagasy dead-leaf-like grasshoppers. ZooKeys 1109: 1-15. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1109.85565
When University of California, Berkeley, entomologist Kipling Will first heard that former Gov. Jerry Brown was hosting field scientists on his Colusa County ranch, he jumped at the chance to hunt for beetles on the property.
“I reached out and said, ‘Hey, I want to sample your beetles,’” Will said. “And [Brown] was quite game to let me come up there.”
Will, a professor of environmental science, policy and management, has travelled to all corners of California to study carabid beetles, ground beetles that are important predators of other insects. But Will’s repeated visits to Brown’s ranch proved especially fruitful.
While sampling for insects near Freshwater Creek, Will collected a rare species of beetle that had never been named or described — and which, according to records, had not been observed by scientists in over 55 years. The new species will be named Bembidion brownorum, in honor of Brown and his wife, Anne Brown.
“I’m very glad that [my ranch] is advancing science in some interesting and important ways,” said Brown, who has hosted a wild variety of field researchers, including geologists, anthropologists and botanists, on the property. “There are so many undiscovered species. I think it’s very important that we catalog and discover what we have and understand their impact on the environment — how it’s functioning and how it’s changing.”
Brown’s 2,500-acre ranch is about an hour’s drive north of Sacramento, in an agricultural region where most of the land is privately owned and insect biodiversity is historically understudied. For more than two years, Will has regularly sampled for insects on the ranch, sometimes even showing the beetles that he finds to the Browns.
Jerry Brown said his dedication to welcoming researchers onto his land is rooted in the ranch’s history as a stagecoach stop called Mountain House, and in his own interest in climate change and conservation.
“We don’t have stagecoach stop, but we have a place of gathering, of research and collaboration,” said Brown, who is currently chair of the California-China Climate Institute at UC Berkeley.
After collecting a beetle at the ranch that didn’t resemble any species he was familiar with, Will called up Bembidion expert David Maddison, a professor of integrative biology at Oregon State University, to help identify the specimen. Together, the scientists used morphological and DNA analysis to confirm that the beetle represented a completely new species.
Will then combed through entomology collections at museums throughout California in search of other specimens that may have been unlabeled or misidentified. He found only 21 other specimens of the species, the most recent of which was collected in 1966.
The lack of any more recent specimens indicated to him that the species likely collapsed during the second half of the 20th century, driven out of its natural habitat by rapid urbanization and agricultural development across the state.
“The sad truth is, [the species] has probably been in a huge decline. If you look at the places that it was found the ‘20s and ‘30s and ‘40s, almost none of that natural habitat is left,” Will said. “But we don’t know for sure. So, the thing to do is to get it out there, describe it and tell people, ‘Hey, look for this thing,’ because maybe we’ll find some place where it’s doing fine.
“Having access to Jerry’s ranch in Colusa County gives me the opportunity to really spend time sampling, to look for rare things like this.”
Will and Maddison describe Bembidion brownorum in a study published in the journal Zookeys.
Big for a Bembidion
To the naked eye, Bembidion brownorum isn’t particularly remarkable: The diminutive beetle is brown in color and measures around 5 millimeters in length, about the diameter of a standard pencil. But under magnification, it glows with a green and gold metallic shimmer.
It was the unusual shape of the beetle’s prothorax, the segment of the insect that sits right behind its head, that first caught Will’s eye.
“I was looking at this one beetle thinking, ‘It just doesn’t fit any of the ones that I can identify,’” Will said. “The shape of prothorax is just not like any of the others.”
According to Maddison, Bembidion brownorum is also relatively large compared to other Bembidion beetles, which are usually closer to 3 to 4 millimeters in length.
“It’s big for a Bembidion,” Maddison said. “At first glance, it was pretty obvious that it was probably something new.”
With so few examples to study, it’s difficult to describe the lifestyle and behavior of Bembidion brownorum with any certainty, Will said. However, given where the beetle was found on Brown’s ranch — in the vicinity of Freshwater Creek, which occasionally dries into a series of trellis-like pools in the summer months — it is likely that the beetle lives near the edges of bodies of water that periodically flood and then evaporate.
The 21 historical specimens of Bembidion brownorum are housed at either the Essig Museum Entomology Collection at UC Berkeley or at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which both have insect specimens going back more than 100 years. The discovery highlights the vital importance of maintaining these collections for current and future research, the scientists said.
“One of the things that I find interesting about is that, before Kip found that specimen, there were already specimens in collections — there was this hidden diversity that people didn’t recognize,” Maddison said. “At one point, [the beetle] probably was much more widespread and much more common, and Kip and I have some ideas as to where you would target to try to find more.”
Previous specimens were collected at locations throughout the Central Valley and in the Los Angeles Basin, regions that have been transformed over the last century. While the beetle may still survive in some areas, Will said that the patchwork of private landownership may make it difficult to find.
“There is a lot of desire to conserve the environment and combat climate change, but in many cases, we’re not keeping up with the rate of extinction — we’re not able to describe the species that need to be described as fast as things are going extinct,” Will said. “And this certainly is true in California, where there are an awful lot of undescribed insects out there and not a lot being done to get them described. I think that having more knowledge of what they are and where they where they live is really fundamental.”
John S. Sproul of the University of Nebraska Omaha is also a co-author of the study. This research was supported by the Harold E. and Leona M. Rice Endowment Fund at Oregon State University.
Guest blog post by Daniela N. López, Eduardo Fuentes-Contreras, Cecilia Ruiz, Sandra Ide, Sergio A. Estay
Understanding the history of non-native species arrivals to a country can shed light on the origins, pathways of introduction, and the current and future impacts of these species in a new territory. In this sense, collecting this information is important, and sometimes essential, for researchers and decision makers. However, in most cases, reconstructing this history takes a lot of work. Finding antique references is hard work. To add more complexities, changes in the taxonomy of species or groups could be frustrating as we try to track the moment when a species was referenced in the country for the first time, sometimes centuries ago. Of course, we only learned about these issues when, almost seven years ago, we thought that compiling a database for the exotic insects established in Chile would be interesting to people working on invasive species in the country.
First, we collected information from physical and electronic books and journals available in our institutional libraries, but soon we noticed that we needed a more significant effort. In Chile, the National Library and The National Congress library allowed us to review and collect information from texts, in many cases, over a hundred years old. We also had to request information from foreign specialized libraries and bookstores. Sometimes, we had to negotiate with private collectors to buy antique books or documents. When we figured the first version of the database was ready, we began a second step for detecting errors, correcting the taxonomy, and completing the information about the reported species.
The analysis began when we finally completed the database. What types of questions could we answer using this data? Was the database complete enough to detect historical, biogeographic, and ecological patterns? Two competing hypotheses were the starting point for the study at this stage. On the one hand, the species that dominated the non-native insect assemblage could have come from original environmental conditions that matched Chile’s. Or, the pool of non-native insects arrived using pathways associated with the country’s economic activities, regardless of their origin.
We found records of almost 600 non-native insect species established in continental Chile. Most species corresponded to Hemiptera (true bugs and scales, among others) from Palaearctic origin and were linked to agriculture and forestry, as we initially hypothesized. These characteristics point to the central role of intercontinental human-mediated transport in structuring non-native insect assemblages in Chile. Non-native insect introductions began immediately after the arrival of Europeans to the central valley of Chile and have shown an enormous acceleration since 1950. Using data on the economic history of Chile, we can preliminary link this acceleration with the strong development in agriculture and forestry in Chile after World War II and the increase in intercontinental air traffic.
The development and analysis of this database gave us some preliminary answers about the ecology of invasive insect species and opened the door to new questions. Also, this is a work in progress. We need the scientific community’s support to improve and correct the records, provide new reports and collect further references to support the database. Our data and analysis may be representative of other countries in South America. Similarities between our countries can facilitate using this information to manage recent introductions and prevent significant economic, social, or environmental damage.
López DN, Fuentes-Contreras E, Ruiz C, Ide S, Estay SA (2023) A bug’s tale: revealing the history, biogeography and ecological patterns of 500 years of insect invasions. NeoBiota 81: 183-197. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.81.87362