Large-scale patterns of insect herbivore diversity in New Guinea

This long-term project mapped communities of caterpillars (Lepidoptera), bark beetles (Coleoptera) and fruit flies (Diptera) across vast lowland rainforests in the Sepik-Ramu river basin in northern PNG. We studied herbivore communities on selected host tree species and found low beta diversity in these communities at distances from tens to hundreds km within uniform lowland rainforest. This had been a core research project of our Centre for five years from 2001 to 2005 and virtually all our staff made significant contribution. It was challenging but fun, as we staged eight 3-months expeditions to remote sites within a 500 x 150 km area of continuous tropical forest. We chartered small Cessna planes to land on precarious bush air strips, traveled by dugout canoes and on foot, using lines of carriers. We spent over 100 person-months in remote field. One of our paraecologist staff was nearly shot by an arrow during a local dispute, and we had to cope with numerous falciparum malaria cases. The project was made possible by our friendly acceptance by forest dwelling village communities and more than 200 local villagers assisted in our research. Further on the positive side, two our staff members found their wives in the course of the field work.

Key paper: Novotny, V., Miller, S. E., Hulcr, J., Drew, R. A. I., Basset, Y., Janda, M., Setliff, G. P., Darrow, K., Stewart, A. J. A., Auga, J., Isua, B., Molem, K., Manumbor, M., Tamtiai, E., Mogia, M. & Weiblen, G. D. (2007) Low beta diversity of herbivorous insects in tropical forests. Nature, 448, 692-695. [ pdf file 449 kB ]

Pictures: [ Insect beta diversity ]

Are you interested to join us? We are looking for researchers interested in revisiting our eight study lowland sites (with our logistical help) and studying beta diversity of additional plant and animal taxa. In addition to caterpillars, bark beetles, fruit flies and selected plant genera (Ficus, Macaranga, Syzygium and Psychotria), we have ongoing studies of ants, dung beetles and frogs and are looking for more. Please contact us if you are interested.