Sunday, 31 August 2014

GSD focus: Phasmida Species File

Paul D. Brock, Author, Natural History Museum, London, and from home in Brockenhurst, Hampshire, UK.  My database is of Phasmida [= Phasmatodea et al.] and includes 3058 valid species and a further 680 species synonyms.  About 250 have common names, the rest do not have them.   

Paul Brock with Acanthoxyla geisovii (c) Paul Brock

The database followed from writing a paper catalogue on phasmids with Dan Otte [published 2005, the first catalogue since 1904] and it was a good time to have an electronic version of the file to facilitate updates, a full list of literature and type photographs.  Most of the work is done by me but Very occasionally a co-Editor (Ed Baker) might make minor updates. It is 100% complete in terms of species, but could do with a review of geographical areas, no keys yet included and so far 68% of type species are illustrated.  The database is continuously updated; I add references as soon as new descriptions are made. I have thousands of images of type specimens to upload though (but little time).

The taxonomy of the group is contentious and even the name of the order is subject to debate (Brock & J.A. Marshall, 2011)! The order is mainly worked on by a few amateurs. There is a reluctance by some to adopt modern techniques, including molecular work.

My favourite taxon is The Lord Howe Island Stick-insect Dryococelus australis – it is so amazing because of its story. It was thought to be extinct on Lord Howe Island (having been eaten by rats), but was rediscovered on a tiny volcanic island, Ball’s Pyramid by a team of entomologists and conservationists in 2001, since when it has attracted huge publicity.

As with many insect groups some names have a notable history. Some type material was collected by famous entomologists/naturalists and named after them, for example Alfred Russell Wallace collected Neopromachus wallacei (Westwood, 1859) from Aru Islands, New Guinea on one of his expeditions.  There is also the Hurricane Larry Stick-insect Sipyloidea larryi Hasenpusch & Brock, 2007.

Sipyloidea larryi mating pair (c) Paul Brock
Little was being done on the subject of stick insect taxonomy back in the 1970s and it was difficult to even identify species being reared in captivity. With increased expertise in the order and the Natural History Museum, London and Oxford University Museum collections to refer to, I decided to study taxonomy of Phasmida and have since visited all major (and many minor) collections in the world, describing numerous species.

Traditional taxonomy has a clear future in this group when used in conjunction with molecular work. I am involved with a DNA barcoding project on phasmids (, with a publication due shortly on the Australian fauna.

Exciting developments have included faunal studies e.g. Brock & Hasenpusch 2009 (field guide on Australian species) to major revisions of groups, most recently by Conle & Hennemann. Yet still there remains much to do, with numerous unreported synonyms.

If more funds were available I would prioritise work on phasmids, add more images and work on keys in order to make it more user friendly (or arrange for other(s) to do the basic editing and uploading). Funding might enable trips to be made to museums to obtain images. I have to take on some ecological consultancy work and write books to earn money, having taken very early retirement. However, that means I have little time to work on phasmids.

Brock & J.A. Marshall. 2011. Order Phasmida Leach. 1815. In Zhang, Z.-Q. [Ed.]. Animal biodiversity: An outline of higher-level classification and survey of taxonomic richness. 3148:198

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