1.3.3. The location of insect species richness
The regions in which additional undescribed insect species might occur (i.e. up to an order of magnitude greater number of novel species than described) cannot be in the northern hemisphere, where such hidden diversity in the well-studied faunas is unlikely. For example, the British Isles inventory of about 22,500 species of insects is likely to be within 5% of being complete and the 30,000 or so described from Canada must represent over half of the total species. Any hidden diversity is not in the Arctic, with some 3000 species present in the American Arctic, nor in Antarctica, the southern polar mass, which supports a bare handful of insects. Evidently, just as species-richness patterns are uneven across groups, so too is their geographic distribution.
Despite the lack of necessary local species inventories to prove it, tropical species richness appears to be much higher than that of temperate areas. For example, a single tree surveyed in Peru produced 26 genera and 43 species of ants: a tally that equals the total ant diversity from all habitats in Britain. Our inability to be certain about finer details of geographical patterns stems in part from the inverse relationship between the distribution of entomologists interested in biodiversity issues (the temperate northern hemisphere) and the centers of richness of the insects themselves (the tropics and southern hemisphere).
Studies in tropical American rainforests suggest much undescribed novelty in insects comes from the beetles, which provided the basis for the original high richness estimate. Although beetle dominance may be true in places such as the Neotropics, this might be an artifact of the collection and research biases of entomologists. In some well-studied temperate regions such as Britain and Canada, species of true flies (Diptera) appear to outnumber beetles. Studies of canopy insects of the tropical island of Borneo have shown that both Hymenoptera and Diptera can be more species rich at particular sites than the Coleoptera. Comprehensive regional inventories or credible estimates of insect faunal diversity may eventually tell us which order of insects is globally most diverse.
Whether we estimate 30–80 million species or an order of magnitude less, insects constitute at least half of global species diversity (Fig. 1.1). If we consider only life on land, insects comprise an even greater proportion of extant species, since the radiation of insects is a predominantly terrestrial phenomenon. The relative contribution of insects to global diversity will be some- what lessened if marine diversity, to which insects make a negligible contribution, actually is higher than currently understood.
(After Wheeler 1990)