Research Highlights

New whitefly in Western Ghats

Subhra Priyadarshini

doi:10.1038/nindia.2007.9 Published online 26 June 2007

The Eastern and Western Ghats of India are one of the world's most biologically diverse zones. Hundreds of thousands of rare species of plants and animals thrive here secretly, hiding with them many unknown stories of evolution.

In the biodiversity hotspot of the Western Ghats, entomologists have discovered a new genus of whitefly. The significance of the find lies in that it has prompted a call for revision of its closest genus Aleurolobus characterized by hordes of different whiteflies thriving on plants.

While reporting the existence of this new whitefly, the authors say that the new genus may be a close relative of Aleurolobus and could trigger either dissection of the existing genus or widening of its generic definition. Anil Dubey and Chiun-Cheng Ko of the National Taiwan University, who have discovered the new whitefly – a plant sap-sucking bug - contend that the genus Aleurolobus has become way too complex1. It comprises many morphologically less diverse whiteflies or unnoticed forms of the polyphagous species.

They have named the new genus Rutaleyrodes Dubey and Ko after the host plant family Rutaceae. The whitefly was assigned a new genus since it had distinct features like absence of submarginal furrow, lateral projections at the base of the orifice and invaginated tracheal pores with tubercles.

"Whiteflies are often overlooked on the lower surface of leaves and are among the least studied group despite being notorious agricultural pests and potential transmitters of plant disease-causing viruses", Dubey, who has discovered 46 new whitefly species and three new genera in the Western ghats since 2001, says. The whitefly taxonomy is exclusively based on the 'pupal case' and pupal stages rather than adults are generally used for identification. The whitefly sub-family Aleyrodinae, to which Aleurolobus belongs, is represented in India by 57 genera, mostly from the Western Ghats.

Dubey says the primary need to carry out research on any organism was to establish its identity. "It is very difficult to find experts especially in case of insects. India, despite being a mega-diversity centre, remains unexplored with regard to its invertebrate fauna," he rues.

With the find, the entomologists also emphasise the need to groom specialists in this particular area of taxonomy. "The science of taxonomy proliferates from outstanding expertise in one particular area. India is lagging behind since taxonomy is taken up here as an interest area while it is profession in other countries," Dubey points out.


References

  1. Dubey, A K et al. Rutaleyrodes atalantiae, a new genus and species (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae) from India. Curr. Sci. 92, 1685-1688 (2007).