29 March 2018
While out cataloging plants on the St. Andrews University campus in Laurinburg, ecology professor Dr. Tracy Feldman came across an intriguing group of leaf miners on an evergreen tree.
Curious about what species he had found, Dr. Feldman sent the specimen to the Plant Disease and Insect Clinic at North Carolina State University where they could not identify the leaf miners.
Dr. Feldman then sent the specimen to a freelance naturalist to whom he had been introduced, Charley Eiseman, who then informed Dr. Feldman that he had possibly found a new species.
Although the specimen first sent to Eiseman has yet to be confirmed as a new one—with the possibility of discovering new species on campus—Dr. Feldman was determined to look for all the leaf miners he could. Since then, six of the more than 180 leaf miner species he has found have been confirmed as new species by Eiseman and Dr. Owen Lonsdale (Curator at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids, and Nematodes).
“Leaf miners are considered parasites,” Dr. Feldman explains. They are insects that mine through plants for nutrients, leaving behind trails on the branches they eat that may differ depending on the species of insect and plant. Miners are not limited to one group of insects and include flies, beetles, moths and sawflies.
Scotland County is in the Southeastern Coastal Plain, which is a global biodiversity hotspot, one of 36 in the world. It “just really is not a place where people are looking for small insects,” according to Dr. Feldman. When cataloging various plants and animals, some of these leaf miners can go undetected because of their small size.
“Most ecologists go for the larger sized bugs,” he said, which are unequivocally easier to spot compared to smaller leaf miners. Dr. Feldman said he was fortunate to have observed such a small insect that led him to discover several new species of leaf miners in Laurinburg.
His next steps after the unexpected discoveries of six fly species including two Agromyza species, two Liriomyza species, one Calycomyza species and one Cerodontha species are to continue describing all the characteristics that distinguish them from other leaf miners with collaborators Eiseman and Lonsdale. They will then send a manuscript of the discovery to a publisher.
Publishing, which involves editing and rewriting, can take years before a final perfected manuscript is released describing these six new species of leaf miners found by Dr. Tracy Feldman at St. Andrews University.—30—
(written by Kiah Cheatham for COM 454)