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Speciation: More new species discovered – really?

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Two of the new beetles/Svatopluk Bílý and Oto Nakládal

At Eurekalert ( 7-Jul-2011), we learn:

Jewel beetles, obtained from local people, turn out to be 4 species unknown to science

A team of researchers from the Czech University of Life Sciences discovered four new species of jewel beetles (Buprestidae) from South-eastern Asia. This family of beetles is named for their particularly beautiful body and fascinating, shiny colours.

“All new species belong to the genus Philanthaxia. Before the publication of this study, 61 species had been known from this genus. Currently, it comprises of 65 species, with a primarily Southeast-Asian distribution, except for two species extending to the Australasian region”, said Oto Nakládal, a co-author of the study.

Beetles do speciate very readily. From famous mid-twentieth century Darwinist J.B.S. Haldane:

The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other, for the simple reason that there are nearly 300,000 species of beetle known, and perhaps more, as compared with somewhat less than 9,000 species of birds and a little over 10,000 species of mammals. Beetles are actually more numerous than the species of any other insect order. That kind of thing is characteristic of nature.

So maybe not such a surprise. On the other hand,

five new species

we learn, “DNA decoded by FSU biologist reveals 7 new mice species: International team’s discovery in Philippines showcases biodiversity, evolutionary wonders” (7-Jul-2011): the DNA drawn from the reclusive “new” mammals told FSU Associate Professor Scott J. Steppan an unusual evolutionary story. As he analyzed and compared the genetic codes of mice found in separate but proximate parts of a small area on Luzon, the largest Philippine island, he determined that while each mouse was a distinct species, they all belonged to the forest-mouse genus Apomys. That meant all seven mice were both “new” and closely related to one another.

“It is extraordinary, really almost unprecedented, to have so many closely related mammal species from such a small area that forms just one-half of one island –– let alone to have discovered so many so quickly,” said Steppan, whose laboratory at Florida State coordinates the DNA sequencing portion of an ongoing biodiversity project led by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

The story doesn’t say, apart from DNA analysis, how we know that these are all separate species. That could become important because

“The Apomys genus is the product of millions of years of evolution in the Philippine archipelago,” Steppan said, “but it also shows how very fast the process of evolution has been operating there, in terms of creating new species. Such cases of rapid diversification are useful examples to help us understand the origin of biodiversity in general.”

What if “new species”simply means new breeding configurations among very closely related groups, best seen as “varieties” or “breeds” rather than species?

File with: How many species are there really?


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