Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Introduction: the Virtual identification of New Zealand cicadas project

Biodiversity studies in regions neighbouring New Zealand have already demonstrated that cicadas can be key indicators of species richness hotspots and areas with unique animal and plant life (e.g. Boer & Duffels 1996, 1997). Consequently, among the Hemiptera, cicadas are a group of high interest to biodiversity and conservation workers as well as to the general public. 

Three out of the five cicada genera  (Amphipsalta, Maoricicada, and Rhodopsalta) and all 42 native species and subspecies currently recorded from New Zealand are found nowhere else in the world. In spite of this, the identity of over 30% of New Zealand species has never been studied in detail and, although cicadas have recently received renewed interest from molecular biologists, much of the information that is available for species recognition is either incomplete or has not been updated since the 1980s. The few existing identification keys (to 5 genera, 24 out of 42 species and subspecies) and most other diagnostic information remain locked in highly technical paper-based publications that rely heavily on the examination of internal body structures and on specialist knowledge, and they are not sufficiently illustrated to be of use to non-specialists.

The overall goals of this project are to contribute to the knowledge of cicada biodiversity and to improve the situation described above by making cicada information more accessible. More specifically, the project aims to unlock the full potential of the diagnostic information contained in existing publications and New Zealand entomological collections, through the preparation of a web-based identification guide for use mainly by non-specialists.

The development of this web-based identification guide takes a step-by-step approach so that additional species, information, images, and functionalities can be added to each subsequent version of the website. The first version, published in June 2006, provided an elementary identification guide to the 5 cicada genera occurring in New Zealand as well as to species of 3 genera (Amphipsalta Fleming, Notopsalta Dugdale, and Rhodopsalta Dugdale). The second version, published in June 2007, saw the addition of preliminary identification aids for species of Kikihia Dugdale, the expansion of the image gallery from 15 to 68 images, and the provision of schematic views indicating the main morphological characters ( characteristic body parts) used to identify cicadas. This third and, unless additional funding can be obtained, most likely final version adds an interactive identification key for species of Maoricicada Dugdale, expands the image gallery (over 100 photos) and location guide to cover all species described for New Zealand, and provides new links to additional diagnostic and bibliographic resources.

The catalogue of New Zealand Auchenorrhyncha published by Larivière, Fletcher & Larochelle (2010: Fauna of New Zealand 63) provides a detailed inventory of the fauna, including nomenclature (common names, scientific names and associated bibliographic information), primary type repositories, and information on geographic distribution (including maps), biology and dispersal. The 2010 catalogue includes photographs of primary types (and associated labels) deposited in New Zealand collections. These photographs can be accessed online from the Virtual collection of primary types of Hemiptera.

Comments, suggestions or criticisms of this guide, may be sent to the first author:

Marie-Claude Larivière
Landcare Research
Private Bag 92170, Auckland