Future Research

As is true in most areas of science, we understand far less about ceratopogonids than we actually do know about them. This webpage provides some of the basics of what we do know but, as indicated in a number of spots, there is much that we do not understand. Foremost, it is likely that the majority of biting midges in Costa Rica are undescribed. Clearly, the first step in organizing information about biodiversity is to have the players named and, at least for the Ceratopogonidae, they are being investigated by myself and two colleagues, Gustavo R. Spinelli from Argentina and William Grogan from the USA. Over the next few years, with the support of INBio, we will be studying and describing many of the new species we have in hand and which will be collected in the future. After being named, it is important to interpret the evolutionary relationships between these species; this is partially reflected in the classifications systematists develop. Such evolutionary trees (called phylogenies) provide a powerful predictive tool to understand and interpret the biological characterisitics of the species. From such a basis, we can predict, for example, where species may be living as immatures, the kind of food they eat as larvae and as adults, whether they might be transmitting diseases, and how they mate.

For the vast majority of biting midges in Costa Rica which have been named, we do not know what their immatures look like (and therefore where they are breeding), what the adults feed on, or what role they play in the ecosystem. Their abundance in arboreal aquatic habitats and in decaying vegetation strongly suggests that they are very important. Scientists have known for a long time that many of the small organisms on the planet play key roles in the ecological web of life and it is certain that the biting midges are no exception to this. From studies elsewhere, we know that biting midges play an important role as predators in aquatic systems and that the adults are important vectors of a wide array of diseases in many species of vertebrates (from amphibians to birds and mammals). Furthermore, it is interesting that in a number of cases that have been carefully studied, biting midges play an significant role in the pollination of tropical plants (as in cacao). Unfortunately, we know virtually nothing about these aspects of biting midges in Costa Rica.

In general, evolutionary biologists have discovered that the features of organisms are linked to their behaviour and life styles. In large measure, we know so little about the behaviour of Costa Rican biting midges, that it is certain that their many peculiar structures will be related, once known, to peculiar and fascinating adaptations to their environment. Lots of further research is needed!