Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Entomology Today, a project of the American Entomological Society with the goal of reporting interesting discoveries in the world of entomology and news from various entomological communities. To find out more, visit www.entomologytoday.org.
There is a common belief among biologists that the majority of plant and animal species on Earth remain undiscovered. While many of these species live in narrow or hard-to-reach ranges, others may be hiding right under our noses.
Takes Ormiros Lapotos, a small parasitic wasp known to science since 1843. It has long been considered a general healer, laying its eggs in more than 65 different species of other insects. But a study published in Insect methodology and diversity Indicates that the hornets are currently called Ormiros Lapotos They are in fact at least 16 different species, identical in appearance but distinct genetically.
It’s not unusual, especially with advanced genetic techniques, to discover “hidden” species within a single known insect species, said Andrew Forbes, Ph. D., but the number of those within Ormyrus labotus underscores the importance of looking for “hidden diversity” in the world. PhD, associate professor of biology at the University of Iowa and senior author of the study.
He said, “We know so much in ecology about how important even the smallest species are to an ecosystem, that uncovering this hidden diversity – and perhaps more importantly, understanding the biology of each species – becomes a critical element in preserving and maintaining ecosystem health.”
Discord insects that emerge from oak beams
Parasitoid wasps lay their eggs on or on insects and other arthropods, and usually specialize in parasitizing a small number of host species, or even just one. Meanwhile, a variety of insects lay their eggs on plants where their larvae hatch and then stimulate the plant to build up a protective structure called a “gallery” around the caterpillars. Wasps of the genus Ormyrus parasitize these gall-forming insects.
For a separate research project between 2015 and 2019, Sophia Sheikh and Anna Ward, both graduate students in the Forbes lab, collected galls formed on oak trees and observed the insects that appeared. They noticed that wasps emerging from a large variety of gall species all matched the description of Ormyrus labotus, and that made the researchers wonder.
said Sheikh, a master’s student at the time in Forbes’ lab (now a PhD student at the University of Chicago) and lead author of the new study.
To test whether the wasps they collected were all really one species or a collection of similar ones, Sheikh, Ward and Forbes extracted DNA samples from each specimen of the wasp that emerged from oak beams and analyzed the degree of genetic variation between them with help from collaborators at Rice University and the US Department of Agriculture. They then combined that genetic analysis with data on the wasps’ physical traits and environmental factors—for example, what kind of oak beam they emerged from, what time of year, etc.—to put the wasps into groups of possible separate species.
The final result? Wasps collected and originally shown Ormiros Lapotos Instead, it includes at least 16 distinct species, and possibly as many as 18.
Find hidden species
In their review of other research, the team found several other studies that revealed coded species within purportedly generic species but none that found many at one time. And it is possible that there are more distinct types that can match it Oh Laputus Researchers say they still have to be found, because the original collection of oak specimens by Sheikh Ward was not designed to include all known oak specimens. Oh Laputus hosts.
right Now, Ormiros Lapotos It would still be a ‘species pool’, with these newly identified species known to exist but not yet formally described and named. Forbes said his lab is “just dabbling” on the official taxonomy, but all specimens from the study have been preserved and are available to other researchers who wish to do a taxonomic review of the genus Ormyrus. “If someone wants to make a decision to name these species Ormyrus,” he said, “we are willing to help in any way we can.”
Until then, the current findings emphasize the importance of basic research on biodiversity and its potential implications. For example, if Oh Laputus If ever they were recruited to control invasive pests that cause oaks, it would be critical to know which species within a complex targeted that specific pest species – and the same dynamic applies to using any type of parasitic wasp for biological control. Meanwhile, the researchers note, the failure to distinguish between specialists and operators impedes scientists’ ability to understand the real-world insects and what enables them to target a variety of hosts.
Sheikh said she sees parasitoid wasps as “symbols of an exotic—that is, interesting—biology” and is fascinated by their specialization strategies. “More than any given number of potential new species, I am excited about how this study and many others reveal a large number of hidden diversity,” she said. “This, to me, indicates that we still have a lot to learn about the processes that regulate species’ interactions with each other and their environments.”