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New Study Sheds Light on Diversity of Arthropods in Panama Rainforest

Dec 14, 2012 04:53 AM EST
Namib Desert beetle
Namib Desert beetle
(Photo : Wikimedia Common/Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

A new study shows that Panama's San Lorenzo forest is home to 25,000 species of arthropods, shedding light on the diversity and distribution of these species.

Arthropods are invertebrate animals that include insects and spiders. It is known that the world's forests house a wide range of arthropod species. Until now, scientists have carried out their research using few thousands of arthropod samples collected from various regions.

For the first time, a team of 102 researchers from 21 countries worked together on IBISCA-Panama, a project led by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. As part of a survey, the researchers collected samples of arthropods from various parts of the San Lorenzo rainforest during 2003 to 2004.

They used 14 different techniques to collect the arthropod samples including climbing trees, crawling along the forest floor, picking beetles on dead wood, using helium balloons to approach the forest canopy and taking insects off branches, reports Science website.

They collected a total of 129,494 arthropods and spent the next eight years identifying and sorting out different species of arthropods. They found that an estimate of 25,000 species of arthropods exist in the 6,000-hectare forest. Of the 25,000 species, 60-70 percent of them are likely to be previously unknown species, the Science report said.

"What surprised us the most was that more than half of all species could be found in a single hectare of the forest," Yves Basset, scientific coordinator of the CTFS Arthropod Initiative at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, said in a statement.

"This is good news, as it means that to determine the species diversity of a tropical rainforest, we need not sample gigantic areas: a total of one hectare may suffice to get an idea of regional arthropod richness - provided that this total includes widely spaced plots representative of variation within the forest," added Tomas Roslin, one of the study authors from the University of Helsinki, Finland.

Based on the diversity of plants in the rainforest, researchers could predict the diversity of both the herbivorous and non-herbivorous arthropods. This suggests that the estimates of number of plant species could help in detecting the global richness of arthropod species.

The study concludes that the findings could help boost conservation efforts on diverse sites to save the arthropod species.

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