While carrying out a biodiversity study, a Mexican-Italian research team discovered three new dung beetle species in montane forests disturbed by livestock grazing. Mexico has been a mecca for naturalists, and its dung beetle species are among the best known in the world. This is why the discovery of new species there is noteworthy. The present study, published in the open-access journal ZooKeys, describes two of them and highlights the need to further explore the biodiversity of disturbed ecosystems.
Mexico is a country that holds a vast number of creatures and ecosystems. There is in fact a fascinating phenomenon: tropical forests that have close affinities with South America co-occurring with temperate and arid areas shared with North America. Thus, Mexico has been particularly attractive to explorers ever since the 19th century.
A group of animals that has woken up a special interest for studies in Mexico is the so-called 'dung beetles'. As their name suggests, dung beetles are insects that feed mainly on mammal faeces.
For decades, an international research team, led by Dr Gonzalo Halffter, has studied dung beetles across the world, especially in Mexico. As a consequence, the Mexican species are some of the best-known. However, Dr Halffter and his team are not interested exclusively in dung beetles, but also in evolutive phenomena, the effects of land-use change, ecosystems modification by human activities, and conservation biology. Such concerns seem to be of particular importance now that the terrestrial ecosystems in Mexico have been severely destroyed and disturbed by people.
Livestock is one of the major drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide, which makes the present discovery particularly impressive. With at least 58% of the area of Mexico occupied with livestock farming, dung beetles are essential in cleaning up. While studying their diversity at conserved forests and cattle grazing sites across the mountains of Mexico, the researchers found some new species of dung beetles.
The first to discover these new dung beetles was Victor Moctezuma, a student of Dr Gonzalo's at the Instituto de Ecología of Mexico.
"I was carrying out sampling for my Masters Degree studies, but I had no idea that new dung beetles could be found in a forest that is disturbed by human activities, such as livestock grazing and land-use change," recalls Moctezuma. "So I was really surprised when I discovered three dung beetle species." One of these species has already been published.
Apart from the two new dung beetles, formally called Onthophagus clavijeroi and Onthophagus martinpierai, the present paper also provides theories about the current distributions of these insects across the Mexican mountains and their putative evolutive relationships. As a whole, the study highlights the importance of disturbed forest for species discovery and conservation.
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