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High-throughput biodiversity analysis: Rapid assessment of species richness and ecological interactions of Chrysomelidae (Coleoptera) in the tropics.

ABSTRACT

Biodiversity assessment has been the focus of intense debate and conceptual and methodological advances in recent years. The cultural, academic and aesthetic impulses to recognise and catalogue the diversity in our surroundings, in this case of living objects, is furthermore propelled by the urgency of understanding that we may be responsible for a dramatic reduction of biodiversity, comparable in magnitude to geological mass extinctions. One of the most important advances in this attempt to characterise biodiversity has been incorporating DNA-based characters and molecular taxonomy tools to achieve faster and more efficient species delimitation and identification, even in hyperdiverse tropical biomes. In this assay we advocate for a broad understanding of Biodiversity as the inventory of species in a given environment, but also the diversity of their interactions, with both aspects being attainable using molecular markers and phylogenetic approaches. We exemplify the suitability and utility of this framework for large-scale biodiversity assessment with the results of our ongoing projects trying to characterise the communities of leaf beetles and their host plants in several tropical setups. Moreover, we propose that approaches similar to ours, establishing the inventories of two ecologically inter-related and species-rich groups of organisms, such as insect herbivores and their angiosperm host-plants, can serve as the foundational stone to anchor a comprehensive assessment of diversity, also in tropical environments, by subsequent addition of trophic levels.