GAINESVILLE, Fla. In the rain forests of the Congo, where mammals and birds are hunted to near-extinction, an impenetrable sound of buzzing insects blankets the atmosphere.
Because it is a fairly inaccessible region with political unrest, much of the Congo's insect biodiversity remains largely undiscovered. In a new monographic book published this week in Zootaxa, researchers at the University of Florida and the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium provide insect biodiversity information for this area in Central Africa that increasingly undergoes habitat destruction.
Focusing on a group of leaf-mining moths, researchers name 41 new species, nearly doubling the number previously known from the region. Leaf miners occur worldwide and the biodiversity research is important because some species are agricultural pests, while others help control unwanted invasive plant species. Some are also known to delay plant aging.
"When we began this project, we had no idea how many species would be out there," said co-author Akito Kawahara, assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. "In a two-week field trip, we discovered nearly 50 potentially new species, which is really surprising. There is still an enormous amount of life out there that we know very little of."
Lead author Jurate DePrins has been working on leaf miners in the Congo for nearly 10 years and was joined by Kawahara about five years ago. As the name suggests, the small moths burrow within leaves as larvae, making them particularly difficult to find. Adult moths measure only about 2 to 5 millimeters in length, but they can be extraordinarily beautiful with colorful markings and metallic scales, Kawahara said.
"The caterpillars are completely flat so they can live inside the thin leaf," Kawahara said. "If you think of a regular caterpillar and then you squished it and shrunk it, that's what they look like.
|Contact: Akito Kawahara|
University of Florida