Planetary Biodiversity Inventory: Plant Bugs

The Planetary Biodiversity Inventory program (PBI) offers an unparalleled opportunity to create a general reference system for a monophyletic group on a world basis. This NSF program presents the challenges of choosing that group, assembling a team of investigators, and showing how its study will have impacts beyond the immediate scope of the project. We believe we have identified the team and the taxon to satisfy these PBI/NSF requirements.

Insects comprise ~75% of species-level planetary diversity (Stork, 1997, 1998). Within the Insecta many species belonging to phytophagous lineages show obligate relationships with their host plants. Thus, phytophagous insects, such as those discussed in this proposal, are a model group for documenting a large portion of total biotic diversity in terrestrial ecosystems.

The research described in these pages focuses on the monophyletic plant-bug sister groups Orthotylinae and Phylinae. These taxa satisfy the PBI criteria of monophyly and global distribution. In addition, a majority of the species are host specific, many are ant-mimetic, and both groups show repetitious patterns of distribution on a global scale. Thus, outcomes of this study will have impacts beyond taxonomy. They will allow for tests of theories in evolutionary biology that incorporate knowledge of phylogeny and classification, including evolution of plant-animal relation-ships (e.g., co-speciation), ant-mimicry origins and maintenance, endemism and historical biogeography on a global scale and over a considerable span of geological time, and estimation of biodiversity hotspots with consequent impact on conservation strategies.

Our 5 senior team members have greatly extended knowledge of species diversity in the Orthotylinae and Phylinae through extensive fieldwork and monographic studies. They have also published generic and higher-level classifications of improved predictive power. With PBI funding these investigators and their 9 doctoral/postdoctoral trainees will describe and synthesize information at a global level, the results comprising more than 5300 species (including those known as fossils) placed in at least 575 genera, increasing total group diversity by nearly 25%, with an 800% increase for Australia, the region with the greatest taxonomic impediment. Resulting research products will meet the 21st Century standard of being accessible through the Internet. They will include a detailed taxonomic catalog, descriptions of taxa at all hierarchic levels, a phylogenetic analysis at the generic level and above based on morphology and DNA sequences, habitus and morphological illustrations, a geocoded database of ~650,000 specimens, a database of ~6000 host plants, and interactive web-based mapping and keys.

Broader impacts of the study will include the training of 3 postdoctoral investigators, 6 PhD candidates, and 3 minority undergraduate students in areas relevant to systematics, such as comparative morphology, monography, phylogenetic analysis, historical biogeography, and biodiversity assessment. International partnerships will be created through participation of museums, research institutes, and universities in 7 countries. Infrastructure enhancement will result from the collection of >100,000 specimens from previously poorly sampled areas and creation of a locality database for >0.65 million specimens. The rationale, methods, and results will be disseminated through a traveling exhibit shown at participating museums and preparation of web-based materials appropriate for the general public and for use in pre-college education.

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