This study preserves and modernizes the taxonomic expertise of bark beetle biologists through apprenticeships and the systematic study of tropical bark beetle biodiversity. In general, bark beetles function ecologically as decomposers of wood. However, some species kill live trees, especially during periods of environmental stress. These pests cause severe economic and ecological losses, which often equate to millions of dollars. In addition, bark beetles comprise the majority of exotic insects intercepted at ports and those beetles that have escaped detection have greatly impacted forest economics and ecology. Many intercepted species are ambrosia beetles (Xyleborini), a poorly studied but diverse pantropical group with approximately 1,200 species. Their clone-like mating system and associated fungus increase their potential as exotic pests. However, efforts to study and/or control this group are hampered by a lack of taxonomic knowledge. This need to describe, classify and catalog ambrosia beetle biodiversity unfortunately coincides with a worldwide decline in bark beetle taxonomists. Thus this study provides a new generation of bark beetles taxonomists, generic revisions, keys, and monographs for Southeast Asian beetles. Direct training of two Ph.D. students will proceeds in a collaborative atmosphere using current expertise. Training includes field and museum methods, computer databasing, species-level taxonomy, including video-aided morphological analysis and contemporary phylogenetic analysis. Taxonomic studies include two economically important tropical Xyleborini genera. This monographic information along with other data obtained from worldwide museums and recent field collections is formatted as a web-assessable and searchable database. Keys to these species and exotic ambrosia beetle of North America are constructed. Completion of this project will result in a better understanding of and organization of tropical bark beetles and in the preservation and growth of much-needed taxonomic expertise. The modernized monographs and keys will allow for speedy identification of potential exotic pests. Early detection of pests will ultimately save US lumber producers millions of dollars and protect the ecological integrity of US forests. Also, increased understanding ambrosia beetle biodiversity will undoubtedly aid international conservation of tropical forests. The education of new bark beetle systematists ensures continued study of these economically important beetles and that waning taxonomic knowledge is preserved for future generations.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Environmental Biology (DEB)
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Juan Carlos Morales
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Texas A&M Research Foundation
College Station
United States
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