New Insect Species Discovered by NUI Galway Researcher

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Welsh NUI Galway PhD student names new insect after Ireland NUI Galway's Dr Chris Williams has made a discovery of international significance by finding a new insect species. The Postdoctoral Fellow based at the Applied Ecology Unit and the Environmental Change Institute discovered a new species of parasitic wasp (genus Mesoleptus) while undertaking field investigations in Ardkill Turlough, Co. Mayo. This is the first time a parasitoid species new to science has been discovered in the genus Mesoleptus in this country and only three species of this genus are currently recorded for Ireland. A number of families of wasp lay their eggs inside fly larvae or pupae and are known as parasitoids. The wasp eggs then hatch out and feed on the maggot or pupa, eventually killing it. Subsequently, the wasp larvae pupate inside the maggot, or fly pupa, and emerge as adult wasps. Chris, originally from Wales, made the discovery while researching snails as part of his PhD research on snail-killing Marsh Flies under the supervision of Dr Mike Gormally, Director of NUI Galway's Applied Ecology Unit. Chris recalls, "I came across two little black Marsh Fly puparia [case of the pupa] and kept them in jam jars on my desk expecting that adult Marsh Flies might hatch but what emerged were two different species of parasitic wasp. Much scientific teamwork ensued with international experts including Dr Lloyd Knutson (Italy), Dr Gavin Broad (The Natural History Museum in London) and Drs Ilari Sääksjärvi and Reijo Jussila (Finland) becoming involved in the identification process. When we finally discovered that one of these insects had never been recorded before, the question then was what to call this creature. After resisting the temptation to name it after someone I know – who really wants to be named after a parasite? – we settled on naming it Mesoleptus hibernica in honour of the country where it was discovered." As a researcher, Chris is particularly interested in Marsh Fly pupae as the larval stages of the Marsh Fly feed on a range of aquatic snails. He explains, "Mud snails carry liverfluke and the larvae of Marsh Flies act as biological controls, having a positive impact on the instances of liverfluke by keeping the snail populations down. Any species impacting the Marsh Fly population will have a negative effect on the natural control that exists for the liverfluke carrying mud snails." NUI Galway has a team of people involved in ecological monitoring and biodiversity conservation in Ireland. Other biodiversity researchers are investigating topics such as seaweeds as invasive species and/or biomonitors, soil microbial communities, and factors affecting marine algae primary productivity.
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