During the last three months, Dr. Milan Janda (researcher CONACYT, UNAM, Mexico and Institute of Entomology, Czech Academy of Sciences, www.antlab.mx) together with Jacob Yombai and Ali Posman from the research and conservation NGO, New Guinea Binatang Research Center (www.baloun.entu.cas.cz/png) completed a National Geographic Society funded expedition to study insects living in the forests of Bougainville.
The islands of New Guinea and the South Pacific are renowned for their extraordinary biological diversity. However, plants, insects and animals in many of these areas are still largely unstudied or unknown. One of them is the Bougainville, situated at northern edge Solomon Islands archipelago. Most of the island has been scientifically unexplored due to its remoteness, complex terrain, and a decade-long civil war conflict.
The aim of Dr. Janda and his colleagues was to document the diversity of ants which are completely unknown from this island, along with most of the other invertebrates. The team also focused on detection of invasive insects and worked closely with the local communities to provide awareness, training and management recommendations for the conservation of the native flora and fauna. The close involvement of local landowners and communities in the research activities was essential for the success of the expedition.
During the survey, the researchers worked at five sites from the coast to the center of the island, often in remote pristine mountain forests accessible only through steep valleys and after days of walking. They encountered many unique species of ants and other insects, some of them new to science. For the first time, they documented their biology and collected samples for further genetic and systematic studies.
One of the major threats to the Bougainville biodiversity are invasive plants and animals. The little fire ant (Wasmannia auropunctata) which arrived from Americas, is causing a massive decline of native ant species in lowland areas of the island. Although the little fire ant has been present in Bougainville for over 20 years, little has been done for reducing its grave impacts on local biodiversity and agriculture. The researchers mapped its presence of and provided awareness to communities on how to reduce the spread of this dangerous pest.
During the following months, the project will continue with more detailed analyses of the recorded insects while making the findings accessible to the involved communities and to the public. The material will provide the first comprehensive data for ants in Bougainville and will be used for conservation management, for building of local biodiversity resources and to answer questions about evolution and ecology of arthropods on islands. The researchers hope that their interesting discoveries will bring more attention to the biodiversity research and conservation of this unique island.