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w 14 | Live from the Labs cnrs I international magazine Entomology Effort to make an inventory of insects from the Gondwana supercontinent and trace their evolution reaches its third stage, Australia. Gondwana Survivors: Episode 3 by Arby Gharibian From the humid soil to the breezy treetops, across open heathland and through dense forest, CNRS and French Natural History Museum (MNHN) researchers from ISYEB1 spent 24 days last November collecting samples of insects from five different Australian national parks. Spread across the southwest corner of the country between Perth and Albany, the parks are part of a biodiversity “hotspot” blessed with a high percentage of endemic species, in other words that are unique to the region. Preliminary analyses are very encouraging and confirm the presence of at least two new species of Dance flies (Diptera Empididae) and Springtails (Collembola), and one of Lace bug (Heteroptera Tingidae). “We took samples from the ground in the heathlands by digging topsoil, probing tree trunks, and sifting tree litter, but what was especially effective was the temporary canopy platform we used in the eucalyptus forest of D’Entrecasteaux National Park,” explains Eric Guilbert, who led the fieldwork. Consisting of multiple hexagons each a few meters wide, and made of lightweight but resilient synthetic fabric, the platform was set up 20 meters above ground as a base for researchers and their equipment. This logistical perch provided easier access to the canopies atop the giant eucalyptus trees, some as high as 80 meters. Researchers could also set traps and spend large amounts of time—hours or even days— taking large samples. The mission is in fact the third installment of a larger project, which included similar fieldwork in Patagonia in 2011 and South Africa in 2012. The connection among these far-flung locations? They were all part of Gondwana, the supercontinent that started breaking up some 152 million years ago, eventually separating into present-day South America, Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica. Known as the “Gondwana Survivors” project, it began in 2010 as a collaborative effort with volunteers from the organization CAFOTROP,2 to characterize and study the biodiversity in these areas. “This shared geological past provides a unique opportunity for research,” says Guilbert. “As the biodiversity in these areas was geographically dispersed with no possibility of interaction, it underwent parallel evolutions in different environments. The similarities and divergences in the evolutionary histories of related insects, such as the Tiger flies found in Patagonia, South Africa, and now in Australia, offer a rich vein for phylogenetic analysis. By studying them side by side, we can gain insights not only into how they each adapted to major paleoenvironmental changes, but also into the overarching history of the supercontinent’s fragmentation itself.” Samples are being analyzed at the MNHN in Paris, with all new species destined for the collections of the Western Australian Museum in Perth. Researchers are keen to take their exploration of former Gondwanan territories further. A second phase of the project is being planned, with future missions to Tasmania, as well as new locations at least in South Africa and South America. 01. Institut de systématique, évolution, biodiversité (CNRS / MNHN / UPMC / EPHE). 02. CAnopée des FOrêts TROPicales. Contact information: ISYEB, Paris. Eric Guilbert > guilbert@mnhn.fr © P. Psai la q A logistical perch gives researchers easier access to the canopies.


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