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New Beetles Discovered Among Those that Call Hawaii's Haleakala Volcano Home

Dec 14, 2015 02:28 PM EST

The Hawaiian Haleakala volcano is home to an extremely diverse range of species with abundant populations – particuarly beetles, report Cornell researchers. In fact, their recent study documented 116 species of round-waisted predatory beetles, 74 of which are new to science.

The Hawaiian Islands are known to support a great wealth of biodiversity. In fact, there are some 239 species of native round-waisted beetles (Mecyclothorax) scattered across this region alone, all of which descended from a single colonizing species, according to a news release.

In addition to being the center of biodiversity for this group of beetles, the 1.2-million-year lifespan of Haleakala volcano suggests these beetles have evolved faster than most organisms on Earth, researchers explained in their study. It was no surprise then that 74 new individuals were found.

"Haleakala volcano is a large pie with different sets of beetle species living in the different slices," Professor James Liebherr of Cornell University explained.

This simply means that the new beetles were found hidden within diverse microhabits that are isolated from each other by volcanic lava flows, steep valleys, or extensive mudflows.

"Actually the different pie slices are just like the original Hawaiian land divisions called ahu pua'a, showing that the Hawaiian people had a keen sense for how their island home was organized," he added.

It follows then the diverse terrain of the island has led to adaptations in the beetles that allow them to thrive across a wide range of altitudes, from an elevation of 450 meters in the island's rainforests up to the volcano's summit at 3000 meters.  However, those living below 1000 meters are at an increased risk of habitat loss.

"The substantial level of sympatry (overlapping), associated with occupation of diverse microhabitats by these beetles, provides ample information useful for monitoring biodiversity of the natural areas of Haleakala," Professor Liebherr concluded.

Their findings were recently published in the journal ZooKeys.

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