Invertebrate Zoology

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Biotic Surveys, Inventory & Monitoring: Caribbean: Hispaniola 

PROJECT: Understanding Vanishing Endemism: Survey of the Invertebrates and Plants of Threatened Montane Habitats in Hispaniola

NSF GRANT DEB-0206520
Understanding Vanishing Endemism: Survey of the Invertebrates and Plants of Threatened Montane Habitats in Hispaniola

The largely unknown and undocumented terrestrial biota of several habitats on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola is among the most imminently imperiled natural systems on earth.

Of greatest immediate concern are remnant montane forests characterized by a flora of high endemism and a very poorly collected fauna consisting primarily of invertebrates, especially insects. Extirpation of these insular systems is impending, and jeopardy for biodiversity is rendered even more serious by the high frequency of endemic taxa on Hispaniola that are phylogenetically informative and biogeographically significant for the lineages they represent. A high percentage (>80%) of animal taxa in these montane systems is undescribed. The flora of Hispaniola is the least known of any island in the Antilles with 36% of the known species endemic. High levels of endemism, large numbers of undescribed species, and the inadequacy of existing specimens for many taxa are factors justifying biotic inventory in both Hispaniolan countries, Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti.

This proposal seeks support
1. to further an understanding of biological diversity in threatened regions of high endemism,
2. to improve existing infrastructure for storage, study, and communication of specimen-based information on biodiversity; and
3. to rapidly connect biodiversity discoveries with conservation efforts; and
4. to foster creative and original research on diverse and ecologically significant lineages.

Participants include Pis at Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH), National Museum of Natural History (USNM), and Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University (MCZ), and staff at Jardín Botánico Nacional (JBN), Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (MNHN), and State University of Haiti (SUH). Conservation collaborators are the Dirección General de Vida Silvestre y Biodiversidad in DR, and Ministère de L'Environnement, Haiti. More than 160 cooperating specialists worldwide have agreed to identify and publish on diverse lineages of plants and animals. Logistical arrangements for fieldwork and conservation will be aided by key foundations in DR, Fundación Moscoso Puello and Grupo Jaragua.

The project will
1. collect, prepare, and circulate specimens for research,
2. discover and publish new taxa,
3. document spatial and temporal occurrence of species and their associates,
4. communicate survey products for research, identification, and public education over the World Wide Web, and
5. apply survey findings rapidly to urgent problems in resource management and conservation.

The habitats targeted in this proposal are characterized by some of the highest levels of undescribed endemism and greatest likelihood of impending destruction of any in the New World. A comprehensive, multi-seasonal biotic inventory of great urgency is proposed, not duplicated elsewhere, and critical to documentation of taxa threatened with extinction. Primary sites will be sampled at three different seasons, encompassing all six fault-delimited montane systems in Hispaniola. Maximum taxonomic breadth will be attempted for terrestrial and freshwater systems, emphasizing megadiverse insect orders (especially Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, Diptera, Hemiptera) and flowering plants. This inventory will provide the most complete biotic documentation of threatened undescribed Hispaniolan endemism available, with new information on phenology and associations.

A detailed plan for initiation and scheduling of survey activities is presented. A starting date of 1 Sep 2002 is requested. Collecting will take place during 9 day forays and will include standard botanical methods and trap-based entomological techniques with photographic documentation of many groups. Protocols for specimen sorting, preparation, identification, distribution, and curation are presented in detail. 6,720 sets of vascular plants will be documented and over 1 million invertebrates, mostly insects, will be collected and 219,600 prepared, of which at least half will be circulated and identified by specialists during the project period. 1,260 DNA samples are anticipated, including at least 1,500 species of plants and animals. Specimens will be databased and deposited at collaborating institutions (JBN, MNHN, SUH, CMNH, USNM), contributing directly to their floristic and faunistic programs.

The findings of this project have intellectual merit and far-reaching significance for scientific research, primarily in the fields of systematics, evolutionary biology, ecology, and conservation biology. Results have special relevance to revisionary and phylogenetic systematics, Caribbean biogeography, interpretation of insect and plant fossils, insect/plant interactions, and management of natural habitats. Benefits of the project are specimen-related (unique Web-based access to information on plant/insect associations, temporal and spatial patterns between taxa, and images), program-related (facilities improvements and intensive staff training at collaborating institutions for curation and databasing of specimens, including storage equipment, microscopes, and computerization), and conservation-related (presence and status of species, native and invasive; determination of factors threatening habitats and management recommendations).

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