New Beetle Species From The Society Islands
October 11, 2012

Society Islands Are Home To 14 Newly Described Beetle Species

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

If exploring remote mountaintops and naming new beetle species has always been a dream of yours, you might want to jump on that now that there are two fewer such mountains left.

James Liebherr, curator of the Cornell University Insect Collection, has described 14 species of predatory carabid beetles, also called ground beetles, found on Mont Tohiea and Mont Mauru in the Society Islands. Liebherr was part of a U.S. National Science Foundation survey team examining the insects and spiders of French Polynesia.

Two papers published in the online journal Zookeys (see links below) describe the species. Leibherr took advantage of recent changes to the rules that allows for the electronic publication of names for newly described species.

The Society Islands are in the South Pacific Ocean, supposedly named by Captain James Cook, and include Tahiti and Bora Bora.

Part of the genus Mecyclothorax, the new beetles are part of a group that seem to have found a home in the remote Pacific Islands. There are about 100 species on the Society Islands, and another 200 in the Hawaiian Islands. On the Australian continent, where the evolution presumably started, there are only 25 species. Other differences exist as well; all of the Pacific Island beetles are flightless, whereas many of the Australian species can fly.

The discovery of seven new species on the island of Moorea expands the known territory of the genus from Tahiti to Moorea. This mirrors the distribution of related species in the Hawaiian Islands, where members of the genus stretch from Hawaii to Oahu. In the Society Islands, the beetles are rarely found below 1000 meters elevation, severely limiting the geographic distribution of the new species.

"When we travel to a new mountain we find only new species. It's like moving to a different continent as far as these beetles are concerned" says Liebherr.

Identifying these areas of endemism, or geographic areas of uniqueness, is essential for justifying conservation programs that can maintain biodiversity.

The 14 new species take their place next to the 67 species discovered by Dr. Georges Perrault in the Tahitian fauna. The late Dr. Perrault's collection is housed at the Natural History Museum in Paris.

"Georges Perrault made this study possible through his valuable work describing the Tahitian beetle fauna. If he hadn't completed his work, we would not have been able to gain the support needed to expand upon his studies of this remarkable fauna," states Liebherr.

Liebherr is sure these species are not the end of biodiversity discovery for these beetles and their relatives.

* Liebherr J (2012) The first precinctive Carabidae from Moorea, Society Islands: new Mecyclothorax spp. (Coleoptera) from the summit of Mont Tohiea. ZooKeys 224: 37-80. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.224.3675

* Liebherr J (2012) New Mecyclothorax spp. (Coleoptera, Carabidae, Moriomorphini) define Mont Mauru, eastern Tahiti Nui, as a distinct area of endemism. ZooKeys 227: 63-99. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.227.3797