Improving knowledge of the cyclorrhaphan larva (Diptera) - NMS Research Repository
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Journal article

Improving knowledge of the cyclorrhaphan larva (Diptera)

17 May 2016


A significant factor in the evolution of the Cyclorrhapha (Diptera), the most biodiverse of higher dipteran taxa, is the larva. The larva also has wide-ranging trophic and environmental relationships, including positive and negative impacts on human health and wealth. Despite its importance, the larva is neglected and a low proportion of species are known in this stage. In this paper, factors contributing to larval neglect are reviewed, including: poor attitudes leading to cycles of neglect and shallow treatment; taxonomy that uses adult not larval stages; lack of material in collections; rearing barriers, and presumptions of morphological similarity suggesting that characters will be problematic to acquire and analyse. Neglect is pervasive and affects many subjects; those considered here are: species inventories and rarity assessments for biodiversity and conservation, in which larvae are usually ignored although they can be more cost-effective to sample and a richer source of environmental data; determining larval feeding modes where controversies due to conflicting evidence persist unresolved; and reliance on a limited pool of increasingly old publications whose data are repeated rather than tested and updated with new research. In an attempt to reinvigorate interest, which is the main aim of this paper, poorly assessed larval features possibly significant to cyclorrhaphan diversification are also considered. These include: change facilitated by independently evolvable modules; rapid change enabled by labile trophic morphology; shifts between saprophagy and phytophagy due to opportunities provided by angiosperm evolution; and enhanced adaptive potential resulting in derived more than basal taxa developing adaptations that enable access to new and little used resources. Apart from the need to rear more larvae, a major conclusion from this review is that knowledge will improve when the movement capabilities of larvae are used to inform morphological and taxonomic analyses.


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