Normark notes that these insects are economically important to citrus and avocado growers, but otherwise are very obscure. "Scale insects are everywhere," he says. "You can't bring fruit into the country because it very often has scale insects on it, but you'd hardly know it. Even under the microscope, there aren't a lot of characteristics to distinguish different species."
Because they have very simple body shapes, no legs and no eyes, for example, they were particularly useful for this study of cryptic diversity in pine-feeding species, which can have "huge genetic diversity with no visible differences," Normark adds.
The team analyzed over 400 samples using both new and old methods to identify species. At UMass, Gwiazdowski and Normark looked at genetic variation using genes throughout the genome, while at the AMNH Vea looked for morphological differences in specimens mounted on microscope slides.
She recalls, "I went over those hundreds of specimens several times looking for striking variations that could indicate a new species. Because this group has very few characters to look at, I focused on the features of the posterior called pygidium. Ultimately, I did find some characters, more or less obvious, that were constant and different enough to serve as diagnostic features of our new species. But it required hours of staring into the compound microscope."
The result was "a mix o
|Contact: Janet Lathrop|
University of Massachusetts at Amherst