Inspiring writing

 

Text Extracted from G.E. Ball & R.E. Roughly 1982 The Hypherpes-like taxa of southern Mexico: classification, and evolutionary considerations (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Pterostichus). Transactions of the American Entomological Society. 108(3) 315-399.

 

Introduction

The wealth of nations is generally assessed in terms of precious metals and stones, in terms of materials that can be converted into energy, and in terms of food that can be produced for consumption by man. Such materials can be weighed, measured, bought and sold, and the resulting numbers used as a basis of comparison and ranking. If this little-known planet on which we live consisted only of these things, its environment would be rather monotonous, for all of them can be reduced to money and more members of the species to which we belong. Fortunately, our environment is much more varied than that, and another system of wealth, expressed in diversity of plants and animals, does not lend itself to assessment in material terms, nor does it lend itself to exploitation for profit.

Mexico is a nation that is moderately rich in those things that are used by economists to measure the wealth of nations, but she is astonishingly rich in biotic diversity. This is not so evident in the lowlands (most of which that is of interest biologically having been destroyed) but it is marked at higher altitudes on the plethora of mountain ranges that are the dominant topographical features of this appropriately cornucopeia-shaped land. This richness is the result of differentiation of plant and animal lineages on different mountains in the same system, and among different mountain systems.

To sample this biotic wealth, one must be prepared to endure the modest hardships associated with hard drives on rough, treacherous roads, with long walks on rough terrain through remote, wet forests, with climbs up steep slopes, with life in Indian villages, and with negotiations with tribal councils, on whose land one must necessarily trespass. The rewards are almost certain, though unpredictable, and include not only discovery of new, in­teresting taxa that allow exciting inferences to be made about evolutionary patterns, but also participating in events that tran­scend those of daily life under more normal circumstances.

For instance, the senior author remembers vividly standing hud­dled near the pinnacle of Cerro Zempoaltepetl on a Sunday after­noon in August, 1972, with colleague Bruce S. Heming, and a group of Indians from the nearby village of Tlahuitoltepec. The bottle of fine, locally brewed mescal that made the rounds from hand to hand and mouth to mouth, provided both physical warmth and an aura of good fellowship. On the altar a few meters higher, on the summit of this sacred mountain, amid sounds of gunshots, shouts, squawks, and gobbles, chickens and turkeys were being sacrificed by other residents of the village, in ceremonies that prob­ably pre-dated the arrival of Europeans in the New World. (Later that day, we asked the alcalde of the village about the local religion, and were astounded to learn that it was (<Catolico”\). The rain, driven on bone-chilling winds out of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, came horizontally from the east. In the protection of the west-facing slopes, fog hung in the pine forests. And on the ground there we found adults of two undescribed species of the pterostichine subgenus Allotriopus — the only carabid species that seemed to be living at that altitude. We knew we would get something of interest up there, but we had no idea what it would be.

This paper deals with the species of three endemic subgenera of the Holarctic genus Pterostichus Bonelli. One of the these groups, Allotriopus Bates, is confined to the Oaxacan highlands. The other two, Mayaferonia, new subgenus, and Percolaus Bates, are known only from the highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala. These groups can be thought of as unique attributes of Middle America, and there are many others like them.

How does one assess the value of such taxa to a nation? It is not possible to do so monetarily. Hopefully, nations will realize that these distinctive groups are a special part of national wealth and will accord them the protection that is accorded to items of rarity and national uniqueness. Endemic taxa are special, for they cannot be replaced by material of equal value from elsewhere. A nation can burn up all of its holdings of a given source of energy and buy more of the same or something as good, from elsewhere. But, once an endemic taxon is gone, the loss is permanent. Luckily, the pterostichines in question seem not to be endangered now, for the forests in which they live are moderately extensive. But, if the forests are destroyed, so are the resident beetles.

Prior to a few years ago, these subgenera were known almost ex­clusively from type material and original descriptions of the in­cluded species. A number of the latter were described by H.W. Bates in his contributions to the monumental Biologia Centrali Americana. The Baron Maximilien de Chaudoir described two species of Allotriopus, and established that taxon, of which Tichon S. Tschitscherine described one additional species. These men had not seen living material, and thus recorded hardly anything about habitats of these species. Bates published data about altitudes of the collecting sites for the species of Percolaus and Mayaferonia (as Hypherpes) that he described — thanks, no doubt, to the informa­tion provided by the collector of the material, the incomparable George C. Champion.

Material gathered during the past 20 years or so has provided the basis for limited progress. The species are still known only from adults, but at least some species are represented by material from more than one locality, and habitats can be characterized in, at least, general terms.

This additional material makes possible a more detailed understanding of the structural features of the species, and this plus distributional information make possible a first assessment of evolutionary aspects of these groups. Although the data for study­ing these aspects are limited, it is important that they be used as ful­ly as possible, for this is the way that knowledge of taxa is made part of the grand synthesis of biology.

This additional material makes possible a more detailed understanding of the structural features of the species, and this plus distributional information make possible a first assessment of evolutionary aspects of these groups. Although the data for study­ing these aspects are limited, it is important that they be used as ful­ly as possible, for this is the way that knowledge of taxa is made part of the grand synthesis of biology.

 

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About Kip Will

I'm an insect systematist with expertise in carabid beetles, who is always happiest in the bush.
This entry was posted in Carabids, Coleoptera, Entomology, Pterostichines. Bookmark the permalink.

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