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Scientists describe over 100 new beetles from New Guinea

In a single paper, a team of researchers have succinctly described 101 new species of weevils from New Guinea, more than doubling the known species in the beetle genus, Trigonopterus. Since describing new species is hugely laborious and time-intensive, the researchers turned to a new method of species description known as ‘turbo-taxonomy,’ which employs a mix of DNA-sequencing and taxonomic expertise to describe species more rapidly.

“When faced with a large number of morphologically similar, undescribed species, it is not an option to carry on ‘business as usual’ and
prepare very detailed descriptions with an output of only few species per year,” the researchers write in a the paper describing the new species in ZooKeys. “Such a strategy will not achieve a sustained success within this century.”

As New Guinea’s rainforest habitats disappears to a sudden rash of monoculture plantations, logging, roads, mining, and big industrial projects, scientists are racing to describe and document species that could quickly vanish altogether.

Lead author, Alexander Riedel, notes that the new method of taxonomy made the process around five times faster than traditional species description.

New species: Trigonopterus moreaorum. Photo by: Alexander Riedel.
New species: Trigonopterus moreaorum. Photo by: Alexander Riedel.

“A portion of each weevil species’ DNA was sequenced, which helped to sort out and diagnose species efficiently. Besides, we have taken high-resolution photographs of each weevil that will be uploaded to Species ID, along with a short scientific description,” he explains in a press release.

While many of the new species’ morphology (physical appearance) is very similar, they are distinguished by their reproductive organs and DNA.

But how do you name so many new species?

“We propose a solution by naming ten species based on family names found in the phonebook of Papua New Guinea,” the scientists write. The new species were named after popular surnames in Papua New Guinea such as Trigonopterus moreaorum (after Morea) or Trigonopterus wariorum (after Wari).

In addition to Papua New Guinea, Trigonopterus weevils are also found on Sumatra, Samoa, the Philippines, and New Caledonia. This genus of beetles is also known for sporting the only biological screw joint found in animals: some of the species have hips with a nut-and-screw joint which experts say may help the beetles’ climb and steady themselves. Scientists believe many more of these beetles remain undiscovered.

Although Papua New Guinea is considered by many to be among the most wild places left on Earth, a 2008 study found that a quarter of the country’s forests were lost or degraded by logging between 1972-2002. The situation has only worsened as Papua New Guinea has handed vast tracts of community land to foreigners through Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs). The controversial practice was halted in 2011, but not before 5.1 million hectares—an area the size of Costa Rica—were handed over largely to foreign corporations.

the Muenster yellow-toothed cavy
New species: Trigonopterus echinus. Photo by: Alexander Riedel.

CITATION: Riedel A, Sagata K, Surbakti S, Tänzler R & Balke M (2013) One hundred and one new species of Trigonopterus weevils from New Guinea. Zookeys , 280: 1. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.280.3906

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