11 new species to science (6 endemic) described from Montserrat

The part-Darwin-supported study in Montserrat in 2016-18 was led by UKOTCF in partnership with Montana State University (MSU), Montserrat National Trust (MNT), the Government of Montserrat (MoG) Ministry of Agriculture, Trade, Lands, Housing & Environment (MATLHE), and Treweek Environmental Consultants (TEC).

One element of the work concerned describing and analysing some of the insects of Montserrat, key elements for many aspects of ecology and natural ecosystem services, including pollination, pest-control, nutrient-recycling, amongst others.

Dr Justin Runyon, of MSU and US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, undertook the study of long-legged flies (Dolichopodidae). His 95-page study, The Dolichopodidae of Montserrat has just been published and is open access at:  https://zookeys.pensoft.net/article/55192/list/7/ . This is a key, i.e. a paper that allows identification of, in ths case, these tiny but important flies. Inevitably for this sort of essential scientific paper, it is not an easy read for non-biologists (or even some biologists), but it contains some important information for everyone.

Some key aspects include:

– 63 species of long-legged flies, in 27 genera, have been found in Montserrat;

– 11 new species (previously unknown to science) have been discovered;

– 6 species have been found only on Montserrat and are endemic;

– Dr Runyon has named 3 for the island:  Medetera montserratensis, Chrysotus montserratensis, and Sympycnus montserratensis;

– Montserrat has more species than predicted based on size (especially since less than half the island was sampled due to exclusion zone); this reflects work on other taxa showing Montserrat to be exceptionally biodiverse despite its small size and impacts of natural and semi-natural disasters;

– Three of the six species endemic to Montserrat are restricted to lower elevation/dry forests, indicating importance of conserving some of these habitats; these are under pressure, partly because they are the most comfortable for people to live. UKOTCF’s/MNT’s Adopt a Home for Wildife initiative is working with the local community to help safeguard these forests.

– Justin Runyon also discusses the potential negative effect that large numbers of introduced mangos might be having on aquatic insects in some locations, indicating the need for more study, taking account also the socio-economic importance of this plant and its benefits to some endemic plants.