It is important to know how fast biodiversity is being lost, but this is hard to gauge without a solid baseline, Weiblen said. Scientists advising governments on policies to curtail species losses must have credible estimates of species numbers if they are to shape appropriate policies. The stakes are high because losses of too many species or certain kinds of species can cripple tropical forest ecosystems, which normally stabilize soil and climate, purify and recycle water, and produce food, medicine, building materials or other useful products, he said.
The current study took a cross-disciplinary approach; besides Weiblen, the principal scientists were insect expert and project coordinator Scott Miller of the Smithsonian Institution and insect community ecologists Yves Basset of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Voytech Novotny of the Czech Academy of Sciences.
The team compared insect communities feeding on 51 tropical plant species, most belonging to either the fig family, the mulberry family or the coffee family. While previous work had also based estimates of total species on numbers of insects--the most species-rich
Contact: Deane Morrison
University of Minnesota