Beetle Genus named for STRI'S Don Windsor
STRI/DICYT Some people are honored with the name of a species. STRI’s Donald Windsor was recently placed one branch higher on the taxonomy tree with a genus named after him. In an exhaustive review of a tribe of cassidinae beetles, taxonomist Lukáš Sekerka reclassified three species in a new genus, Windsorispa.
“In total, four genera are dedicated to people who influenced my scientific career and without whom I would have been able to conduct my studies,” said Sekerka, of the National Museum of the Czech Republic. “Don could not be missing among those people.”
Sekerka first visited Panama in 2007 on a fellowship to work in Windsor’s lab. “I basically had zero knowledge of the biology of Neotropical cassidinae,” said Sekerka, who went on to accompany Windsor on field expeditions around the region. “If I did not have that opportunity to visit STRI and meet Don, it would have taken an eternity to learn about the biology of cassidinaes.”
Windsor downplays the honor and would rather focus on the value of Sekerka’s titanic labor of putting the Imatidiini tribe in taxonomic order. “The names of these things were just in total disarray,” said Windsor of the review published in Acta Entomologica Musei Nationalis Pragae. “Now, anyone working on Barro Colorado Island or Bolivia can take this key and probably identify the genus to which their beetles belong.”
Perhaps even more importantly, the review clears the way for Windsor’s mission to map the evolutionary history of this clade of beetles. “They’re a rich group and the likelihood that we can work out the evolutionary diversification pattern of all these guys is pretty high,” said Windsor. “But before you can do anything you really need a set of names.”
This work, in turn, may enrich understanding how in 60 million years leaf beetles and their host species — which include tropical trees, grasses and rare orchids — have evolved.
“Due to narrow feeding preferences, the diversification of leaf beetles may have occurred in tandem with the diversification of the plants, and vice versa.”
Windsorispa bicoloricornis (Pic, 1926) W. latifrons (Weise, 1910) and W. subamarginata (Pic, 1934) were first described in French Guyana, Colombia and Venezuela, respectively. Sekerka pertains to an “old school” of taxonomists who describe species based on their physical characteristics. His keen eyes spotted distinctive external features of their mouthparts, thoraxes and the internal shapes of their tracheas. When put to modern molecular tests, Sekerka’s classifications are typically proven accurate.
The beetles of the new genus have rust-colored, egg-shaped bodies and are less than a centimeter in length. Windsor admits he’d have a hard time identifying it to species. But he’ll certainly be looking a little closer for them the next time he explores their South American home ranges.