Diversity and distribution of beetles from central and southern Mexico to assess biogeographic affinities and conservation priorities
The establishment of biological inventories is the first and most important activity in diversity, restoration and conservation studies; in Mexico they have been proposed as a national priority research model.
Among insects, beetles stand out as a bioindicator model group since they show sensitivity to disturbance and reflect patterns of diversity of other taxa, facilitating the estimation of diversity and the effect of environmental change, in addition to obtaining information to implement conservation strategies.
The purpose of this project is to form a broad frame of reference on ecological, historical and anthropogenic aspects that affect the assemblages of the scarab beetle communitiesn and that allow us togenerate a comprehensive vision of the biological diversity of the region, vulnerability of areas or priority species and potential negative impact, which facilitate the design of conservation strategies.
Some of the main activities being carried out are:
Systematic fieldwork in different states.
Dissection, mounting and determination.
Formation of a scientific entomological collection.
Inventories of species of local faunas.
Preparation of a database with collection records.
Collection of tissue samples for DNA studies.
Concrete works on the description of new taxa.
Comprehensive works on taxonomy reviews, phylogenies and evolutionary analysis.
Ecological studies on diversity and communities with implications for conservation.
Multifocal morphology photography databases for geometric morphometry studies.
Inter-institutional links with academics, curators and students.
Taxonomy, phylogeny and patterns of evolution in the Anomalini tribe (Coleoptera: Melolonthidae)
Anomalini is a remarkably diverse phytophagous group of beetles with severe taxonomic problems at the specific and supraspecific levels. It is made up of about 2000 species and more than 60 genera distributed nearly worldwide. Despite having great ecological and economic importance, taxonomic knowledge and means for specific determination, generic limits, criteria to recognize them and agreement on their taxonomic positions is scarce. Assessment of morphological structures at generic and specific levels is also scant.
One of the most notable situations is that Anomala Samouelle, a genus made up of more than 1000 species, lacks a minimum criterion for its diagnosis; it is an artificial taxon, in addition to being a “dumping ground” group, that is linked to many other genera in paraphyletic or polyphyletic situations. For this reason, it is very complicated to separate the genera in a manner consistent with the usual procedures and, therefore, taxonomic practice becomes largely arbitrary to the extent of tacitly expressing this procedure in taxonomic decisions.
Thus, many of the negative problems associated with traditional taxonomy and with widely discussed morphological characters are present in Anomalini: complex and difficult to interpret morphological characters, untested morphological hypotheses, erroneous homology considerations, and morphological characters not yet discovered. In situations like these, disciplines like taxonomy, systematics (morphological and molecular), geometric morphometry and biogeography are very relevant in that they can shed light on the evolution of complex characters and on their spatial distribution, allowing us to recognize key aspects for the interpretation and explanation of the possible causes of the resulting patterns.
Regarding New World entomofauna in particular, progress has been made with the description of new species and genera, nomenclatural changes, phylogenetic hypotheses, a scientific reference collection, revision of type specimens. Currently work is also being carried out on the taxonomic revision of different taxa, databases of distribution and habits, phylogenetic hypotheses and geometric morphometry analysis in order to establish objective criteria for the delimitation of taxa, and achieve a more stable classification scheme.
Factors of morphological diversification of the head in Anomalini
In general terms, the head is usually the primary structure to be examined due to its functional importance and extraordinary structural complexity, since it contains the largest sensory system in the body, a large number of structural modules and great morphological diversity adapted to very diverse eating habits. In addition, it can present development of hypertrophied structures such as horns and projections due to the effect of sexual selection, which gives it enormous morphological diversity in different lineages of different groups of animals. Therefore, it is an ideal tagma for evolutionary studies.
We are interested in studying the patterns of phenotypic expression of different groups of beetles, especially the quantification of morphological divergence vs. taxonomic diversity, morphological coordination, and the effect of eating habits and ecological resources.
The analysis of the shape of the head and of eating habits shows that the shape and size of some structural modules are strongly correlated with the type of diet. In addition, there are effects of morphological compensation at the level of contiguous modules with respect to size (increasing SIZE OF parts but with the reduction of others) and, at the level of separate structures, there is covariation that demonstrates coordinated functional interaction. The study of the interaction of the environment and different structural modules is of utmost importance to understand the mechanisms of morphological diversity.
Analysis of functional connectivity between La Malinche and Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Parks, and identification of priority areas for conservation
Habitat fragmentation is considered the greatest threat to biodiversity worldwide, leading to genetic isolation of populations until they become unviable; therefore, the identification and protection of elements of the landscape that allow connectivity between populations, communities and ecological processes are key elements for conservation.
Currently, the conservation status and the level of connectivity between the La Malinche and Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Parks are unknown. These mountains belonging to the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, of great importance since they host great biological diversity, including more than 20 endemic species, provide extremely important ecosystem services for the central part of the country (water capture, carbon capture and storage). However, the rapid growth of the Megalopolis of the Central Mexico Region (MRC), comprised by Mexico City and the metropolitan areas of Morelos, Mexico, Hidalgo, Puebla, Tlaxcala and Querétaro, puts the remnants of natural vegetation at risk.
This proposal addresses the generation of knowledge that helps the conservation of the ecosystems associated with the MRC and its biodiversity by developing strategies that allow the conservation of species and biological and ecological processes impacted by human activity. We will face this challenge in a comprehensive and innovative way, through the most recent advances in population genetics, conservation biology and ecology, as well as cutting-edge analytical tools (environmental genomics, remote sensors and power distribution models), which allow us to estimate the biological richness of vegetation remnants and identify those areas that allow connectivity between the two parks.
Insects associated with Mexican temperate forests
In Mexico, temperate forests are tree communities inhabiting mountainous areas with a cold temperate climate and possessing notable diversity: 50% of pine species and 33% of oak species in the world are endemic to Mexico. Furthermore, their ecosystemic importance is enormous: they retain rainwater, counteract erosion, reduce the risk of flooding, capture large amounts of carbon dioxide and return oxygen, provide habitat for many organisms, and provide many resources such as wood.
From a historical point of view, mountains are important because they present a phenomenon of overlapping biota, with affinities and colonization processes with different origins and ages, which generates high diversity and endemism; the summits of high mountains isolate and promote speciation. Likewise, the mountain ranges that cross the country can function as biological corridors that promote biotic exchange. Therefore, the studies of their biodiversity, as well as the biogeographic influences and ecological factors involved in species assemblages, have evolutionary and conservation relevance.
There are many problems regarding their protection, exploitation and current status, such as clandestine logging, forest fires, poaching and illegal trafficking of species, in addition to climate change. In Mexico temperate forests occupy only 16% of the territory and, despite their importance, knowledge is scarce for many invertebrate groups. Many supra-specific beetle taxa and species are endemic to or strongly associated with temperate forests. Some of the most distinctive are Parabyrsopolis Ohaus, Homoiosternus Ohaus, Rutelisca Bates, Ectinoplectron Ohaus, Pantodinus Burmeister, and most species of the genera Chrysina Kirby, Orizabus Fairmaire, Geotrupes Latreille, among others.
The first and most important activity in studies of diversity, conservation and ecological restoration is the formation of biological inventories, since they allow us to know what biological resources are present and how to conserve them. The use of bioindicator taxa such as beetles, represent an adequate analytic tool due to their sensitivity to change, ecological specificity and ease of capture.