Scientists with the Canadian Forest Service are thrilled after a research project into PEI’s beetle population has, so far, turned up 233 species of beetle never officially recorded in the province.
The newly discovered species means there are now 1,132 known species of beetle in the province.
Researchers from the forest service began the study in 2018, setting beetle traps in various places across the Island including two eastern PEI sites, the Valleyfield and New Harmony Demonstration Woodlots. Twelve traps were set up at each site.
Jon Sweeney, research scientist for the federal government agency based in Fredericton, New Brunswick, said the main inspiration for the project was to update information on PEI’s beetle population – the most recent published listing of beetle species was in 2013. He said another reason for the project was to compare different trapping methods on how effective they are at estimating beetle species diversity.
Reggie Webster, a retired entomologist (a scientist who studies insects) who worked on the project, said samples from 2018 were impressive.
“We found 218 species not previously recorded for PEI, a 25 per cent increase to what was published,” he said.
The 2019 samples are currently being reviewed, with another 15 additional beetle species added to the list. Mr Webster says it’s an impressive result when one considers the low number of traps used to collect the samples.
“It’s a pretty exciting result for such a small study like this,” Mr Webster said.
Mr Webster said there has been a knowledge gap in the past, as there aren’t many researchers on PEI dedicated to beetle populations, and the research that has been done has focused mainly on ground and aquatic species.
“There were studies in the PEI National Park in the 1970s and 1980s so there are lots of records of (that) research, but they never really targeted the forest species,” he said.
While most of the new-to-PEI discoveries are of species that already exist in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, there have been some even more interesting discoveries. While the researchers don’t want to be too specific yet, as samples are still being reviewed and confirmed, they suggest there could be a few major finds.
Mr Webster gave one such example of a member of the sap beetle family that doesn’t appear to be like native sap beetles currently recorded.
“It looks more like one in Europe,” he said. “The genus is not known from eastern Canada; it could be something new to Canada, possibly to North America.”
Another example is a type of fungus beetle (one that feeds on various fungi) from Europe that was just recently sighted in Quebec, he said.
A lot of work goes into determining the exact species of beetle found.
Mr Sweeney said Mr Webster’s research would include comparing features, such as antennae, as well as body shapes and other measurements from the samples with information from publications and other sources. This can involve looking through data from Canada, the United States and Europe.
“Some species are tricky to separate and for those Reggie will actually dissect the genitalia and mount them on slides for comparison with published images,” Mr Sweeney said.
He said this is important research.
“One of the best reasons for improving our knowledge of biodiversity is knowing what species are present at this point in time to allow us to monitor changes in our natural environment in the future, whether that is due to habitat loss, changing climate, or whatever.”
Mr Sweeney said a manuscript is in the works, with plans to submit to a scientific journal such as The Canadian Entomologist. That manuscript may be submitted either next year or the following year, depending on if researchers decide to do another year of field work in 2020.
Islanders who make their living in the forest say they are very intrigued at news of the research.
Gary Schneider, project coordinator with Macphail Woods, said he hadn’t heard about the project but says it’s “great” that researchers are out there looking for new species.
“We still have lots to learn about mostly everything,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything unusual, but I don’t actually know my beetles very well.”
Sid Watts, who operates Watts Tree Farm in Kilmuir, wasn’t aware of the project either but said he’s not shocked by the discovery of so many new species.
“I’m sure we have lots of things out here ... with international travellers in every direction,” he said, noting the movement of various invasive species such as the Emerald Ash Borer beetle, which devastates ash trees and has recently been spotted in the Bedford, Nova Scotia area.
Mr Watts added, however, that he hasn’t noticed anything of concern at his tree farm.