Research Matters

Research Matters

Suriname Beetles

or almost four weeks, entomologist Andrew Short scoured the unspoiled tropical rainforest of Suriname, the small country located just above the equator along the north coast of South America. He was searching for undiscovered species of water beetle.

Episode #79

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A water beetle expert discovers 20 new species in the pristine rainforest of Suriname. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

KU entomologist Andrew Short recently scoured the unspoiled tropical rainforest of Suriname, the small country on the northern coast of South America. The young assistant professor of ecology & evolutionary biology was stalking undiscovered species of aquatic beetles.

"When you're standing in the middle of a stream and you collect a tiny brown beetle, no bigger than a pinhead, it's really difficult to know exactly the significance," said Short. "But I work a lot in this region of northern South America, so I have an idea of what to expect in the field. If I see something and I don't know what it is, then I have a good indication that it's something that no one has seen."

Short's venture into the Surinamese forests was a part of Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program, which the group runs to "improve biodiversity protection."

"Suriname has an almost entirely intact forest - except for a little bit along the coast where most of the people live, and a little bit of mining," he said. "There really exists a huge opportunity for this country to preserve in wholesale its entire biodiversity. There is no loss yet, which is really rare for most developing countries."

Of the 85 species of water beetles he collected in Suriname, the KU researcher said that 20 likely were new to science.

"The most interesting find for me on the trip was on this particular kind of rock called an 'inselberg' - these granite outcrops that rise up out of the forest," said Short. "There's a kind of aquatic beetle and insect community that only lives on these rock outcrops. We were fortunate enough to find one, and it had a little bit of water – just enough to find a few species that are new to science and may contribute to our understanding of evolution and biogeography."

For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

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