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Through intensive sampling and examination of all the available specimens from museum and private collections, this project will survey and inventory all of the Scarabaeoidea (Coleoptera) of southern South America. All data will be web-accessible along with an identification guide (with key, descriptions, illustrations, and maps) to all species in the region. The systematics, phylogeny, (based on morphological and molecular characters), and biogeography of southern South American scarabs will be investigated. This research will provide evidence for historical biogeography in the southern hemisphere, evolutionary trends in Scarabaeoidea, and conservation priorities for southern South America.

Southern South America has long been regarded as a hotspot of endemicity and a refuge for surviving lineages of ancient clades of organisms. Ecosystems in southern South America have been geographically and climatologically isolated from similar ecosystems since the breakup of Gondwana about 65 million years ago. As a result, the current biota of this region is highly endemic at the species and genus level and has strong affinities at higher taxonomic levels with other austral continents. Knowledge of the biodiversity of austral regions is still in its infancy, and southern South America is by far the least known. There is a strong urgency to documenting the biodiversity of this region because habitat destruction is widespread and occurring at an accelerating pace.

Scarab beetles are a diverse group, are ecologically significant, and ubiquitous in most terrestrial habitats. Although most scarab beetles are phytophagous, many other species feed on fungus, detritus, dung, carrion, or are predacious. Scarab beetles are some of the most significant foliage, flower, and root feeders in ecosystems. In spite of their diversity and importance, it is estimated that less than 65% of the living species have been described and documented worldwide.

A network of collaborators has been assembled to document and create an electronic guide to all scarab beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeoidea) from southern South America. There are approximately 300 known species in the region with an estimated 60 or more new species to be described. Specimens will be authoritatively identified, new species will be described, and all label data will be incorporated into an electronic database for dissemination. The database and an identification guide to all species will be available on-line. The collection of new material is critical to the discovery of new species and to address patterns of distribution. Endemic groups of scarab beetles will be analyzed phylogenetically and the biogeographic history will be reconstructed.

The importance of this project to addressing the broader questions of scarab phylogenetics and evolution stems from three things:
1) the high endemicity of taxa in the study area,
2) the high number of relict lineages of scarabs in the study area, and
3) the evolutionary affinities of southern hemispheric scarabs.

Results of this project will provide a means of addressing gaps in our knowledge of scarab phylogeny because many taxa in this area are key to understanding the evolution of the group on a worldwide scale. Placing these groups in the context of scarab diversity worldwide will answer questions about biogeography, dating of cladogenesis, and timing of adaptive radiations. The electronic guide to southern South American scarab beetles will allow this ‘megadiverse’ group of organisms to be used for large scale ecology and conservation research in this region. The biogeographical analysis within the area will provide strong justifications for conservation of critical areas and habitats. The worldwide biogeographic analysis will provide data to address questions of temporal and spatial scarab evolution in the context of continental drift and the diversification of angiosperm plants (most scarabs are phytophagous).

International partnership-building and collaboration with institutions and scientists in Chile and Argentina will lead to more independent research initiatives within these countries. In-country infrastructure development and network building within Argentina and Chile will long outlast this project and lead to multi-institutional collaborations on other research endeavors. This process will be fostered by workshops in both countries on scarab collecting, taxonomy, and identification and by involving in-country researchers in the field expeditions and scientific publications. This project will also be a tremendous benefit to the institutions in Chile and Argentina where collections will be augmented and curated to a degree not attained previously. Data from scarab specimens collected in Chile and Argentina, but housed outside these countries, will be electronically repatriated, and data from specimens in museums all over the world will be immediately accessible to scientists through the Internet. This project will be a cornerstone for future scientific endeavors on ecology, biodiversity, and conservation.

This website is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0342189.
Generated on: 15/MAR/2006

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