Chinese and German scientists have found a new butterfly species in the south of China. It is the first known species of the family of large blue butterflies found to live in mountain forests. The new species from northwestern Yunnan was discovered by Prof. Min Wang of the South China Agricultural University, Guangzhou, China and Dr. Josef Settele of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research -- UFZ, Halle, Germany.
The species was described in the open access journal ZooKeys and was named Phengaris xiushani.
The large blues belong to the most intensively studied group of butterflies in Eurasia, which is probably due to their "obscure" biology and ecology: They depend on specific plants for food, which in itself is not that surprising. But many of the known species also require a particular ant species to feed on during most of their lives as caterpillars. These specialized food requirements demand specific habitat requirements which have made them vulnerable to climate change and habitat alteration.
The discovery of the new species at this time is quite surprising. Unlike the European species (which are well-known under their scientific name Maculinea) the Chinese species, which include both the Maculinea and the Phengaris blues, are not so well studied and monitored due to lack of financial and personnel resources. Consequently, nothing is known on the ecology of this new species, with the exception that it lives in undisturbed forested mountains, where it was discovered -- which makes it different from the other large blues which over the entire range of distribution live in grasslands.
The discovery was made in the course of a Chinese-German workshop on butterfly conservation held in Guangzhou in December 2009, funded within the German-Chinese year of Science by BMBF (German Ministry for Science and Education; through the project LepiPub . This study was partly supported by the National Nature Science Foundation of China (30570211, 40971037) and the FP 6 BiodivERsA project CLIMIT (Climate change impacts on insects and their mitigation; . Reference specimens (the so-called types) are kept in the Insect Collection of the South China Agricultural University, Guangzhou, China, and the "Senckenberg Museum für Tierkunde" in Dresden, Germany.
The name given to the new species refers: (a) to the beautiful mountain on the slopes of which it was found (Xiu-Shan in Chinese means "beautiful mountain"), and (b) the species name was dedicated to Dr. Xiushan Li who worked at UFZ for some years.
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