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Discover Montserrat’s Endemic Beetles

You may not be a fan of creepy crawlies but it still it is quite interesting to discover that Montserrat has dozens of species of beetles that have not been found anywhere else on earth.
The UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum has released an update on the ongoing project called Saving Our Special Nature of Montserrat. (Read it here… The project, a collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Montserrat National Trust, and the Darwin Initiative, is being conducted by Montana State University (MSU).

A slide from the June 2017 presentation at the national trust. (Pamela Holley Photo)
A slide from the June 2017 presentation at the national trust. (Pamela Holley Photo)

Michael A. Ivie is Associate Professor and Curator in the Department of Entomology at MSU. In 2005, his team collected over 13,000 invertebrate specimens as part of the Centre Hills project. It is estimated that Montserrat has more than 1,200 insect species. Many of the insects collected are so small that they require specialist equipment to view them. As such only a handful of specialist scientists in the world are able to identify them down to species level.

With the expertise of Dr Ivie and his team at MSU, the project focuses on building a collection of ground beetle species for Montserrat. Many of these beetle species are important to Montserrat as they circulate soil nutrients and are prey for larger animals. Some can only be found on Montserrat or nearby islands.

According toe UKOTC, some of the specimens originate from scientists who first explored Montserrat over a hundred years ago. Between 2000-2005, Dr Ivie was part of a team that conducted a biological survey of the Centre Hills. Working closely with many Montserratians, they collected an estimated 1.5 million insect specimens. 13,044 of these were mounted back at the laboratory in Montana.

In June, Dr Ivie together with Dr Justin Runyon, who is looking at Montserrat’s flies, gave a lecture on the island’s unique invertebrate fauna at the Montserrat National Trust.

According to their research, 728 species of beetles are found on the island. Of these, 81 are single-island endemics: that is, they are found nowhere else on earth; 53 are exotics (i.e. introduced by people); and 273 have an unknown status.

“Beetles and other invertebrates are crucial for livelihoods and the economy. They provide many services to Montserrat, which go largely unnoticed. These include: pollination, pest-control, food sources to other, larger animals, and a role in nutrient cycling.”

The beetle project is part of a larger one called Maximising long-term survival prospects of Montserrat’s endemic species and ecosystem-services, which is part-funded by UK Government’s Darwin Plus initiative. The data collected is being inputted and managed at MSU and will allow for officials, researchers and tourists to learn more about our endemic species.

In top photo: some of the endemic (occurring nowhere else) beetle species of Montserrat (from left): one of 2 endemic net-winged beetles from Montserrat; Chrysobothris marksae; new species of click beetle 3cm long; ant-loving bombardier beetle thought to be extinct for 30 million years (being known only from specimens preserved in amber); (above) ant-loving weevil, which has South American relatives; (below) new Montserrat darkling beetle 3mm long. Photos: Dr Ivie, Montana State University