The New Zealand Hemiptera
This research area focuses on insects of the order Hemiptera, suborders Cicadomorpha (cicadas, froghoppers, leafhoppers, treehoppers), Coleorrhyncha (moss bugs), Fulgoromorpha (planthoppers), and Heteroptera (true bugs) - all hemipteran suborders except Sternorrhyncha.
Compared with the biodiveristy of larger or warmer regions (60 000 - 80 000 world species, approx. 8 000 Australian species), the New Zealand fauna may appear relatively small (about 800 taxa, including families and genera), but what it lacks in size it makes up in uniqueness. Endemism is high (82-92% of species found in New Zealand only) and a number of taxa represent very ancient lineages that may have originated on Gondwanaland. From these point of view, New Zealand is a biodiversity hotspot for these insects. This fauna, however, did not evolve in total isolation; many species are shared with Australia, and some, with South Pacific Island countries.
The New Zealand and overseas literature is replete with data supporting the importance of Hemiptera for biodiversity, biosecurity, health, primary industries, and so on. No other major group of insects succesfully utilises such an enormous range of habitats and food sources as do Hemiptera of the above suborders. They live as parasites of birds and mammals, feed on all parts of seed plants (and some ferns) from roots to pollen, feed on the mycelia of fungi, prey on other arthropods, live in spider and Embioptera webs, and in the water and on its surface; some species even occupy the oceans.This smallest among the five 'major' insect orders (the big five as they are sometimes called) may appear to dwindle into insignificance when compared to larger endopterygote orders like beetles, but Hemiptera must be considered the most succesfull of the exopterygote groups (including several cosmopolitan pests and beneficial species), exhibiting the widest diversity of life habits which suggests a long evolutionary history.
Current research projects focus on describing and cataloguing New Zealand's indigenous and introduced taxa, documenting their biological roles in the environment, and understanding their phylogenetic and biogeographic relationships. Maintaining and developing the Hemiptera section of the New Zealand Arthropod Collection and its associated databases are also core activities, as well as the delivery of Hemiptera information through the Fauna of New Zealand series, other science publications, indentifications, on-line tools and other services.
As Taxonomist & Curator of Hemiptera for the New Zealand Arthropod Collection (NZAC) I interact with a network of New Zealand and overseas researchers who use NZAC to borrow specimens for scientific research and as a repository for voucher specimens of their studies, and for type specimens of new taxa. Databases associated with NZAC are also consulted to obtain additonal information on New Zealand and South Pacific species.
New Zealand: Other Landcare Research staff, and staff of educational and scientific institutions, particularly Crown Research Institutes (e.g., HortResearch, AgResearch, ESR, Scion, Crop & Food Research). Other linkages include: general public (through the identification and information service); government departments (MAF Biosecurity, Department of Conservation incl. TFBIS programme); private environmental consultancy firms; other entomological collections and museums.
International: Major entomological institutes (e.g., Australian National Insect Collection, Canberra; Canadian National Insect Collection, Ottawa; The Natural History Museum, London; U.S. National Museum, Washington D.C.; Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris) and university departments; South Pacific Organisations or Island Countries; BioNET; GBIF; etc.
Linkages are either through collection & database services, student co-supervisions, or, via joint-research initiatives that vary from year to year. Currently, 5 major joint-initiatives are:
Catalogue of New Zealand cicadas, leafhoppers, spittlebugs, treehoppers, and planthoppers (A. Larochelle, Research Associate, Landcare Research; M.J. Fletcher, Dept. of Primary Industries, Orange, NSW)
Keys and Checklists for the leafhoppers, planthoppers and their relatives occurring in Australia and New Zealand (M.J. Fletcher, Dept. of Primary Industries, Orange, NSW) www.agric.nsw.gov.au/Hort/ascu/start.htm
Keys to and revisions on New Zealand ground-beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae) (A. Larochelle, Research Associate, Landcare Research; see also New Zealand Carabidae website)
Online identification tools to New Zealand cicadas and ground-beetles (A. Larochelle, B.E. Rhode, Landcare Research; Dept. of Conservation- Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System Programme; J. Esson, Palmerston North).