Brazil Bug Study May Aid Farmland Preservation

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"Espírito Santo also contains about 400,000 hectares (988,422 acres) of Atlantic forest, which is one of the most biologically diverse types of environments in the world," said Culik, who added that the state is as equally endowed in national park and reserve areas as it is with productive agricultural lands.

Culik hopes that by learning more about the Collembola that inhabit tropical regions such as Espírito Santo, researchers will be able to use the wingless bugs to better manage, utilize, and preserve agricultural land "making it less necessary to destroy natural areas for food production in the future."

Collecting basic information about the abundance and diversity of Collembola in areas such as Espírito Santo is the first step to reach this goal, says Culik.

For example, he says that in order to efficiently and effectively use organic materials as fertilizer in sustainable agricultural systems, knowledge of organisms such as Collembola that influence decomposition of organic matter is important.

Likewise, he said, learning the effects of Collembola on microorganisms located in the soil that cause plant diseases may lead to better methods for avoiding and managing plant pathogens.

"Only by understanding fully the impact of agricultural practices upon the health of the living soil can we develop a truly sustainable agriculture," said Christiansen. "The study of Collembola is important in this."

Discovery

To date, Culik and his colleagues have collected 38 species of Collembola, of which 35 are newly documented in Espírito Santo and 17 in Brazil. At least one, and perhaps three, of the newly identified species is new to science.

The research builds on the scant knowledge of Collembola of the region. Previously, just 11 other species of the bugs were known from Espírito Santo and about 200 in all of Brazil. This compares to about 800 in North America and 7,500 known worldwide.

Scientists believe that upwards of 100,000 varieties of Collembola may exist throughout the world, making the study of Collembola an almost completely unknown and explored field.

Culik says the soil beneath his feet is "like another world, as interesting and amazing as the ocean depths and outer space, inhabited by Collembola and other creatures with shapes and structures as spectacular as those one might expect to be found on alien beings from other planets."

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