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Phylogenetic Systematics and Evolution

New Publication with Natural History High Tech

In the June issue of the prestigious scientific journal Systematic Biology, Steffen Roth of the University Museum of Bergen and German research collaborators have jointly published a new study of insect systematics based on neurohormones.

Neuropeptides are a group of genetically encoded molecules that cover many functions as signal substances in the cells.   These molecules can be studied, characterised, and identified using mass spectrometric techniques.    Roth and his collaborators at various German research institutions have previously shown that neuropeptides may be suitable for biosystematic studies of insects using so-called mass spectrometry fingerprinting.  In their most recent work they have taken these methods a long step further with a very comprehensive study of the relatively recently discovered, and hitherto little known insect group Mantophasmatodea.  Mantophasmatodea was sensationally described as a completely new insect order only ten years ago. People have variously used “heelwalkers” or “gladiators” as English names for these insects. Later studies have concluded that the group is most closely related to another rare group, the Grylloblattodea, also called «ice crawlers». All of the presently known extant representatives of this group have been found in Africa, but well preserved fossils have also been found in up to 45-million-year-old Baltic amber.  «Heelwalkers» are wingless insects with long antennae and a mantis-like head shape.  Even though the forelegs are differently shaped, they nevertheless also possess many behavioural common features with the praying mantises and they are predators.

Roth and his colleagues have studied the occurrence of 25 neuropeptides in analyses of “heelwalkers” from 71 different populations of already known and undescribed species of Mantophasmodea from Namibia and South Africa. They have used phylogenetic methods to compute probable evolutionary relationships among the main lineages of species groups.  The genetic characteristics that these markers represent could prove difficult to expose using common DNA sequencing.  The authors therefore suggest that this technology could become an important supplement to DNA sequencing in studies of biological diversity. 

The article is available here for persons who have online access to the journal:

Peptidomics-Based Phylogeny and Biogeography of Mantophasmatodea (Hexapoda). Systematic Biology 61 (4):609-629