Millions of species are still unknown to science (of which the largest part relates to insects). Since the impact of anthropogenic factors on biodiversity decline is severe, a comprehensive information about the biodiversity and species composition of specific locations is needed in order to understand how different species contribute to ecosystem services and in which way humans can sustainably conserve and manage biodiversity. It is simply impossible to understand ecosystems without the knowledge on species and evolution.
Taxonomy, systematics, evolution and ecology, as the generators of knowledge about biodiversity, are fundamental tools in defining criteria for determine the priorities in conservation planning, bio-control, food production, and other ecosystem services. Species must be recognized in order to be properly considered.
Researchers from BioSense Institute work on sampling, identification and description of new pollinator species followed by making of identification keys, monitoring of pollinator diversity, faunistic composition identification, detection of potential threats on agro-ecosystems (as pests or invasive species), dealing with phylogenetics and systematic position of the species, and all this with the help of integrative taxonomy (combination of available data from molecular markers, comparative morphology using binoculars/Stereo Microscope and SEM, surstyle and wing geometric morphometry etc).
SEM image of Merodon constans (antennae) reveals a key marker for species identification.
Utilization of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA as molecular markers has a high importance in terms of defining the taxonomic status of different species, their genetic uniqueness and endemism, determining the genetic variation and biodiversity with high levels of accuracy and reproducibility. Since the DNA sequence information might not always correspond with species recognized through application of traditional morphological and ecological criteria or vice versa, integrative approach in our work is highly recommendable.
The tree and the network based on the merged 5’ and 3’ sequences of mtDNA COI are used to define the taxonomic status of different species.
Based on the long scientific experience and a collection of about 50.000 specimens (the largest one in the South-East Europe), BioSense researchers have discovered and described several dozens of species previously unknown to science, not only from the territory of Serbia, but the Mediterranean region and South Africa as well.
Of particular importance are species with the potential to create damage or benefit in agriculture. For example, species of genera Merodon and Eumerus are of importance in the agroecosystems, particularly greenhouses, because their larvae feed on the bulbs of cultivated plants (e.g. Narcissus). On the other hand, the larvae of Chrysotoxum species feed on specific aphids and therefore can be used in biological control. This illustrates why it is highly important to be able to identify the species properly, particularly the specific predator-prey connection.
Good cop and the bad cop: Chrysotoxum festivum (L., 1758) (left) and Merodon cinereus (Fabricius, 1794) (right)