1. Beetles of Peru: a systematic inventory of a megadiverse group in a megadiversity hotspot

The survey was initiated in 2010. After annual expeditions and a large volume of processed samples, we are now reporting the beetle fauna of Peru as comprising 98 families with >10000 species. Each family treatment involved experts of that family and assembled fundamental literature. Now, we can proceed with further analyses of cryptic species diversity, assessments of species status (absent, rare, common, extinct), documenting unknown or poorly known biology, testing new hypotheses from species concepts to community assembly.

Phase 1 publications – checklists of species with validated taxonomic names are listed under Publications. The research is conducted under permits from SENASA.

Collaborators: more than 25 researchers in 16 countries. In Peru, we collaborate with the San Marcos University Museum of Natural History, Lima, Peru and with the non-governmental organization, Amazon Conservation Association.

Please contact me for loans of specimens for your own research.

Funding: We are currently seeking NSF funding for Phase 2.


2. Leaf beetles of Peru: a systematic inventory

This project was initiated in 2008 in the Madre de Dios region, southern Peru. Kosnipata Valley biodiversity hotspot has some of the highest species diversities documented in the world. Simply, high plant diversity strongly suggests a high diversity of herbivorous insects. Thus, I began studying leaf beetles and their host plants. My main findings are 1) Chrysomelidae is the most diverse family in Peru with >1600 known species and many more to be described; 2) there is little overlap of species over the compressed thermal bands of the eastern Andean slopes (200 m – 4000 m); and 3) there is little overlap in leaf beetle faunas across different vegetation types— bamboo + bambusiform grasses, Zingiberales, palm, Polylepis, Alnus, and mixed tree forest.

Collaborators: Shawn Clark/Brigham Young University, R. Wills Flowers/FAMU, Geoff Morse/San Diego University; Alexander Konstantinov and David Furth/U.S. National Museum; Vilma Savini/University of Maracay, Venezuela

Please contact me for loans of specimens for your own research.

Funding: I am currently seeking NSF funding to continue this long-term transect study.


3. Maternal care in leaf beetles

The great insect societies of ants, bees, and termites are well-known. However, many other insects show interesting behaviors for the guarding and rearing of their young. At least 11 families of beetles exhibit subsocial species, where one or both parents care for broods of larvae. Dung beetles come easily to mind. Leaf beetles range greatly in the amount of care they provide to their young—no care, some effort for protection of eggs, or further investment in guarding the brood. Some leaf beetles are even viviparous, giving birth to live larvae. Two subfamilies, Cassidinae and Chrysomelinae, have subsocial species and I am interested in the evolution of this behavior.

Collaborators: Fernando Frieiro-Costa/Centro Universitário de Lavras–Unilavras-Brazil; Jesús Gómez-Zurita/CSIC-Spain; Ken Keefover-Ring/U. Wisconsin-Madison, Alexandra (“Alex”) Trillo/ Gettysburg College; Fred V. Vencl/Stony Brook U.; and Rob Westerduijn/Peru.

Funding: We have an NSF-EAGER award to push this research to the next level! Read our news:

Recommended general readings: Costa J. 2006. The other insect societies. Harvard: Belknap, 767 p.
4. Zingiberales and leaf beetles

Zingiberales includes economically-important food crops (e.g., bananas, plantains, arrowroot, ginger, galangal), cultivated ornamentals, and wild-harvested plants for basketry. World-wide, the order includes 8 families—Cannaceae, Costaceae, Heliconiaceae, Lowiaceae, Marantaceae, Musaceae, Strelitziaceae, and Zingiberaceae—with 92 genera and ca. 2100 species.

The large leaves of these plants open slowly like a long upright tube. Water and debris collect within the tubes and quickly attracts a community of micro-organisms and diverse arthropods (e.g., flies, beetles, ants, mites, spides), each with different ecological roles as herbivores, predators, parasites, and detritivores; thus, a small ecosystem forms within these leaf rolls. In the upright inflorescences, each rigid concave bract around flowers also collects rainwater and debris. Because the bract is more open, the watery pool and its ecosystem are highly dynamic (e.g., drying and flooding). The water-based terrestrial habitats are called phytotelmata.

Pitcher plants are the most commonly known and better studied systems but there are numerous other plants that offer such unusual cryptic habitats.

The Zingiberales phytotelmata system provides a relatively simplified terrestrial ecosystem to study species assembly, community interactions, and trophic diversity. However, little is known about the particular species composition and even less is known about their interactions. I work with student teams in surveys of these communities in Peru and Costa Rica.

Funding: UCR-KU Funds (PI: CS Chaboo; co-PIs Paul Hanson and Mauricio Fernandez).

Recommended readings:

Frank JH, LP Lounibos (Eds.). 1983. Phytotelmata: Terrestrial plants as hosts for aquatic insect communities. Medford (NJ): Plexus, 293 p.

Kitching RL. 2000. Food webs and container habitats: The natural history and ecology of phytotelmata. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 431 p.

Dr. Howard Frank maintains a website on Bromeliad Phytolemata:



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