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Title: Hidden Neotropical Diversity: Greater than the Sum of Its Parts

item Scheffer, Sonja
item Lewis, Matthew

Submitted to: Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/16/2008
Publication Date: 5/16/2008
Citation: Condon, M., Scheffer, S.J., Lewis, M.L., Swensen, S. 2008. Hidden Neotropical Diversity: Greater than the Sum of Its Parts. Science. 320:928-931.

Interpretive Summary: Fruit flies cause millions of dollars of damage to fruit and vegetable crops in the U.S. and throughout the world. We used DNA sequence data to investigate species diversity of fruit flies attacking plants in the melon family in the Neotropics. We found evidence of 52 species feeding on the flowers and fruit of plants in the melon family with most fly species specializing on plant part (flower vs fruit), plant sex (male flowers vs female flowers), and plant species. Our results have implications for attempts to estimate tropical diversity. This information will be of interest to ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and fruit fly specialists.

Technical Abstract: Explanations for the diversity of tropical herbivorous insects often focus on patterns of host specificity. Patterns inferred from morphospecies collected on plant surfaces could underestimate both host specificity and diversity. We reared 2857 morphologically similar flies found as larvae inside tissues of 24 species of vines belonging to the family Cucurbitaceae. Phylogenetic analysis of mtDNA of specimens from 34 neotropical sites revealed > 52 species, including many cryptic species specializing on specific parts of single host species. Geographically widespread hosts can support >13 cryptic species, with > 6 frequently sympatric. We suggest that neotropical herbivorous insect diversity is not a simple function of plant diversity, but also reflects the morphological complexity and geographic distributions of hosts, and the great age and area of the Neotropics.