Gómez-Zurita Lab
Herbivore Beetle Evolution
Animal Biodiversity and Evolution Programme
Institut de Biologia Evolutiva (CSIC-UPF)
Home | People | Research | Publications | Software
Conservation of tropical dry forest
Research sponsored by
the BBVA Foundation (Vth Call for Research on Ecology and Conservation Biology 2008).

Fast synchronising of Inventory and Interactions
in Biodiversity studies: Molecular tools towards the knowledge and conservation of Nicaraguan dry tropical forest

Research team: Anabela Cardoso (research assistant, IBE), Gissela de la Cadena (PhD student, IBE), Jesús Gómez-Zurita (IP, IBE), Jean-Michel Maes (co-investigator, Entomology Museum, León), Anna Papadopoulou (Juan de la Cierva postdoc, IBE), Ricardo Rueda (co-investigator, National University of Nicaragua, León).

Keywords: catalogue of life, molecular diagnosis, insect-plant interactions, food plants, ecology,  Coleoptera.

This project features its own website, with results

and more details about the research in Nicaragua


The 1986 National Forum on BioDiversity punctuated the increasing scientific and social awareness on Biodiversity and Conservation issues. It was plain obvious that forests were disappearing, and with them many species faced extinction, primarily in tropical areas. In 1988, Edward O. Wilson's book "Biodiversity" summarized the discussions in that Forum, and in one of its chapters, Daniel Janzen presented to the public the tropical dry forest as the most endangered major tropical ecosystem.

The situation, if anything, has worsened over the past two decades. Our project takes on this dramatic conservation problem and the urgent need to understand the diversity of life and of species interactions of this most highly threatened terrestrial ecosystem. In particular, we aim to show that in a relatively short amount of time, thanks to the use of molecular tools, we can significantly increase this knowledge in two fronts: (1) updating the species inventory, and (2) recognizing major ecological interactions.

Remnants of tropical dry forest in Nicaragua Sampling sites in tropical dry forest

We look at two megadiverse groups of organisms, a significant part of the tropical dry forest biota, which are two important links of the trophic network: the angiosperms and two species-rich families of herbivorous beetles, the Chrysomelidae and the Curculionidae. Each specimen available to us is characterized genetically using two chloroplastic markers in the case of plants (trnL and psbA), and one mitochondrial marker in the case of the animals (cox1). For plants, we aim at genotyping at least one specimen per species in the ecosystem (several hundreds), and for the animals the goal is to study as many as possible, expecting also several hundreds of species for each beetle family. These data will contribute to ongoing initiatives for species characterization and to identify species diversity, most relevant in the case of the beetles, for which we have a very poor knowledge of their alpha-diversity so far. This is our approach to the inventory.

Chrysomelidae (leaf beetles) and Curculionidae (weevils) on their host plants

But the most innovative aspect of this project is that we use the very same tools and approaches to investigate the trophic links between these species as well, and this is our strategy for the analysis of interactions. Following the procedure we recently developed (Jurado-Rivera et al., 2009), we diagnose the diet of beetle specimens by PCR-amplifying their food DNA remains with the same genetic markers used to characterize the flora of the Nicaraguan tropical dry forest. A straightforward comparison of diet sequences with the plant reference genetic database allows establishing the trophic link for every species investigated.

Read more about the motivations behind this and similar projects in the feature published in the 2013 October issue of International Innovation, devoted to Environment:

Gómez-Zurita, J. 2013. The beauty of beetles. International Innovation, October 2013: 86-88.