Water beetle expert discovers 20 species in pristine rainforest of Suriname

♪ Music ♪ My name is Andrew Short. I’m an Assistant Professor in the Department
of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and an Assistant Curator in the Division of
Entomology and the Biodiversity Institute. This trip was called a RAP which is a Rapid Assessment Program
which is run by Conservation International which is a program that they do
several trips a year to basically go into a very poorly known area where we know very little information
about its biology and try to do a rapid
assessment of what is living there, what plants and animals are found in this area and what does that tell us. One of the best things about Suriname and one of the reasons why there has been a lot of work done in Suriname is they have
almost an entirely intact forest. Almost the entire country is still forested
except for a little bit along the coast where most the people live
and a little bit of mining. And so this really exists a huge opportunity
for this country to really preserve and wholesale its entire biodiversity. We’re really at no loss yet which is very rare for most developing countries. We were moving largely by ten dug out canoes
with 15 horsepower motors. Logistical aspects of this are pretty challenging. I mean there’s 45 people traveling by canoe 200 miles from the nearest anything. When you’re out in the field and you’re standing in the middle of the stream and you collect a little tiny brown beetle that’s like maybe, you know, a little bit bigger than a pinhead, it really is difficult to know
exactly the significance. I work a lot in this region
in northern South America and so I have a very good understanding
of the fauna already. I’m able to identify things to genus and
sometimes species on the spot. I found about 20 new species of
aquatic beetles on this trip. The first ones will probably be
published in about a year. Some of those it may be a long time before they’re published just because we have so much new work to do. Personally I’ve described 103 new species
so far in my career. The most interesting find for me on the trip, there is this particular kind of habitat
called ‘inselberg’ which are these granite outcrops that are just these bare rock that rise up out of the forest and there is a particular kind of
aquatic beetle community in an insect community in general
that only lives on these rock outcrops. And because they’re so spotty and
kind of restricted, most of the stuff that lives on
these things is very isolated and usually endemic and only occurs on
those particular kind of habitats in those areas. And we were fortunate just to find one of these places and it had a little bit of water, just enough to find a few new species. Some goes into a frozen tissue collection
for use for DNA specimens, if we’re going to do that. The rest gets prepared, it gets mounted and, you know, put on pins or glued to
little small pieces of cardboard for the collection, which we have several undergraduates
that are trained to do that. And then they get labelled and put into a database so that anyone online can go and search Suriname, you know hydrophilidae or whatever, and find out what we collected. The entomology collection here
at KU has a very long history, its more than 100 years old. We have almost 5 million specimens
in the collection here ranking it as one of the
largest university insect collections in North America and just one of the
largest collections in general. Cataloging biodiversity is really
a critical thing for a couple reasons. One, we really have no idea
what’s on our planet yet. Even the most conservative guess is that
we’re maybe a third done. On a second level, when things do
happen to change the environment, whether it be climate change
or the gulf oil spill, these kind of collections, because we have collections here
going back in some cases, you know, 200 years and it provides a historical record
for what occurred where, when. ♪ Music ♪

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