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Coleoptera Conservation

According to recent research carried out by Hunt et al. (2007), the origins of beetles are now believed to date back at least 285 million years to the Permian period. Since then the order Coleoptera has evolved and diversified dramatically, to become the most species-rich order in the animal kingdom. Estimates of the total number of beetle species inhabiting the world today vary dramatically, but a conservative estimate puts the figure at about 1,100,000 known species, of which just 360,000-400,000 have actually been scientifically described. However, it is thought that there are still several million more still waiting to be discovered.

Over the ages, beetles have proved themselves to be extremely successful survivors, evolving, adapting and diversifying to cope with new ecological environments and to exploit almost all possible food sources. At first sight, therefore, it may seem that beetles are unlikely candidates for conservation concern, particularly when certain species of beetles are considered serious pests by many people, damaging crops, foodstuffs, trees and buildings. However, it is all too often neglected that beetles are a key component of the biosphere, with many species in fact being beneficial, and fulfilling important ecosystem services such as decomposers, dung disposers, and pest controllers, not to mention being a vital source of nutrition for other wildlife.

One of the most spectacular as well as interesting families of beetles are the Longhorn Beetles (Cerambycidae). Forming a major part of the group of so-called saproxylic beetles, they are currently the focus of intense scientific research and conservation efforts. According to the European Red List of Saproxylic Beetles (2010): 'Saproxylic beetles are species which are involved in or dependent on wood decay and therefore play an important role in decomposition processes and thus for recycling nutrients in natural ecosystems.' Thus, not only are saproxylic beetles a key part of forest biodiversity, interacting with other groups of forest organisms, their presence is also a good indication of the maturity and quality of the forest itself.

As the European Red List of Saproxylic Beetles (2010) goes on to state: 'Much is left to learn about the saproxylic beetles of Europe. In comparison with other species groups, and despite all the efforts of generations of entomologists, the biology of many species is still poorly known. Any research on saproxylic beetles enhances our knowledge of the functioning of ecosystems in wooded landscapes.'

Another family of beetles that has generated a lot of attention, interest and appreciation in Europe are the Coccinellidae or Ladybirds. This is the largely the combined result of cultural and economic factors. Not only do ladybirds have aesthetic appeal with their attractively patterned elytra, they are also widely recognized as being beneficial insects preying on aphids, mites and other invertebrates regarded as harmful pests by Man. In several European countries, ladybirds have become the focus for important 'citizen science' research, with distribution records being gathered and submitted by numerous amateur naturalists and volunteers as part of national ladybird surveys. This research has recently taken on new conservation significance with a growing awareness of the threat being posed to native ladybird species by the introduction and spread of the Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), an invasive alien species of Coccinellidae from eastern Asia.

So far, only a limited amount of research has been undertaken into the Ladybirds (Coccinellidae) of the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains. However, even so, more than 50 species of ladybirds have been discovered in Bulgarian parts of the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains, which represents over 60% of the ladybird species known from Bulgaria. Some of these species of ladybirds are rare in Bulgaria, and are of conservation concern.