Scientists discover freshwater diversity hotspot in arid region of South Africa

Scientists from Plymouth University have discovered a number of new species in a previously unrecognised hotspot for water beetles in South Africa.

Detailed tests have so far identified six new species which were sampled during a two day research trip to the Bokkeveld plateau, an area of Namaqualand with reliable winter rains in what is generally an otherwise arid region.

Further investigations are now being undertaken in an attempt to build a comprehensive picture of the area’s biodiversity, and the reasons so many species are able to survive and thrive in this particular region of southern Africa.

The research is being led by reader in Aquatic Biology Dr David Bilton, who first began sampling water beetles in the area as a result of annual field trips with undergraduates on the BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology course.

Dr Bilton’s research is revealing that the water beetle fauna of the South African Cape is more diverse than previously thought, with one past highlight – Capelatus prykei – so different from any of the world’s other diving beetles that it was placed in a new genus all of its own, with its nearest relations to be found around the Mediterranean and in New Guinea.

Of this year’s finds Dr Bilton said:

“This part of Namaqualand has reliable winter rains, and so differs climatically from much of the drier surrounding region. Given its ecological isolation, it seemed likely that it would support a number of aquatic species unknown elsewhere, and this indeed seems to be the case. The area has long been renowned for the diversity of its plant life, but it also supports a rich aquatic fauna, despite the fact that almost all waterbodies are temporary and dry out in summer.

“Six new species in two days is an astonishing number of water beetles from a small semi-arid area, and this suggests that additional unknown species live in the region. It seems the reliable winter rains of the Bokkeveld not only support a unique flora, but have also allowed the survival of lots of freshwater life.”

As part of his ongoing research, Dr Bilton is collaborating with conservationists and scientists in the region and elsewhere in South Africa, to better understand the fauna and how it may best be conserved in the future. His work in the region has been partly supported by the Systematics Association.

New species of diving beetle found living in isolation in South Africa

Capelatus prykei, discovered by Dr David Bilton and colleagues, was considered so different from any of the world’s other diving beetles that it was placed in a new genus all of its own

Read our news release from May 2015

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