Belgian researchers name four new beetle species from Honduras after deceased environmentalists

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The four new longhorn beetles from the cloud forests of Honduras. A: Oreodera kawasae, B: Strangalia lunai, C: Phrynidius guifarroi and D: Heterachthes caceresae. Image: BINCO npo 2021
06/09/2021
Belgian researchers name four new beetle species from Honduras after deceased environmentalists
post by
Kelle Moreau

Biologists from the Belgian non-profit organisation Biodiversity Inventory for Conservation (BINCO) and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences have discovered four new species of longhorn beetle in a critically endangered Honduran cloud forest. The species were named after Honduran environmentalists who were killed for advocating nature conservation in their country.

The four species of longhorn beetles were found in a cloud forest in Honduras' Cusuco National Park, near the border with Guatemala. This national park is recognised as an area of crucial importance for the conservation of amphibians, birds and mammals, but much of the invertebrate biodiversity remains unstudied and therefore unknown. The cloud forests in particular are endangered biotopes that contain many specialised species. They get their name from the high altitude through which the clouds glide through the forest.

New Species Come to Light

To better map the biodiversity in the endangered Honduran cloud forests, biologists from the Belgian non-profit organisation Biodiversity Inventory for Conservation (BINCO) and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) have been working for years with Operation Wallacea (an English eco-volunteer organisation) and Brazilian longhorn beetle expert Antonio Santos-Silva from the Museum of São Paulo. Their annual searches for the longhorn beetles of the Cusuco National Park have already brought a new species to light, which can be taken literally, as this research uses light traps that attract the beetles. That longhorn beetle (Derobrachus cusucoensis) was described in 2018. Since then, a more thorough survey of the longhorn beetle fauna of Cusuco National Park was started. This yielded a lot of new information, and also led to the discovery of another four new longhorn beetle species.

Martijn Van Roie (BINCO & University of Antwerp): "It is a unique feeling to discover a new species that nobody else has ever seen. It makes you realise that the world is bigger and more complex than you think. At the same time, it is very confronting to see how centuries-old unique forests are being destroyed. Even deep in the forest you can see traces of deforestation."

Threats

Despite their great social value, cloud forests are under heavy pressure. The greatest threat is deforestation, usually to make way for coffee plantations. The annual area deforested is enormous, with disastrous consequences for the unique biodiversity it contains. Deforestation and habitat destruction are global problems, but Honduras has one of the highest relative rates of deforestation of any Central American country, and one of the worst reports in the world for deforestation in protected areas.

An additional difficulty in Honduras is that there is a very hostile climate for nature sympathisers. Many environmental activists who stood up for the protection of nature and the indigenous population have been killed. According to globalwitness.org, at least 210 activists have been killed in this country since 2010, which is one of the highest death rates worldwide.

Martijn van Roie: "We hope to use the knowledge about new species as an argument to the government to protect the forest. Hopefully we are not too late for that. Moreover, the new longhorn beetles are only the tip of the iceberg. We are finding new species in just about every animal group we look at there."

Tribute to Murdered Environmentalists

By naming the new longhorn beetle species after fallen environmentalists, the scientists involved want to pay tribute to some Honduran champions of nature and local communities, and draw extra attention to the fight for biodiversity conservation in Honduras. The descriptions were published in August 2021 in the journal 'European Journal of Taxonomy' and are available online.

Merlijn Jocque (BINCO & RBINS): "The hardest task when describing the species was choosing the person to commemorate, there are so many...".

The described longhorn beetles and the respective conservationists are:

Heterachthes caceresae was named after Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores who championed indigenous communities. She was an active opponent of illegal logging and mass plantations. She was murdered at home in March 2016.

Oreodera kawasae was named after Blanca Jeannette Kawas Fernández for her never waning enthusiasm to protect Honduran fauna and flora. She founded the Prolansate Foundation, an organisation dedicated to protecting the environment and supporting the quality of life of small local communities. She was murdered at home in February 1995.

Phrynidius guifarroi was named after Mario Guifarro of Olancho, a former hunter and gold digger who became a dedicated conservationist after witnessing the degradation of rainforests in eastern Honduras. He was killed in Moskitia in 2007 while setting up a protected forest perimeter.

Strangalia lunai was named after Carlos Antonio Luna Lùopez, a former director of la Unidad Ambientalista (UMA) and active protector of nature. He was murdered in Catacamas, May 1998.

The Belgian biologists are convinced that the Honduran cloud forests still hold many discoveries in store.

Categories: Scientific News
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