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Jebel Hafeet boost for local biodiversity

ABU DHABI // Seven insect species have been reported in the UAE for the first time by a university researcher.

Huw Roberts was studying a group of small insects in the Jebel Hafeet area of Al Ain, discovering lacewing insects which have only been sighted in Saudi Arabia.

The find adds to a surge of discoveries disproving notions of a lack of biodiversity.

In fact, scientists are beginning to recognise the undiscovered potential in the previously labelled “sparse” environment.

“In the last two decades, the insect biodiversity of the UAE has been intensively researched,” said Mr Roberts of UAE University, who along with scientists Roland Dobosz and Levente Abraham has published an article about the findings.

Despite intensification of fieldwork, the knowledge of Neuroptera in the UAE is incomplete.

The insects– known as lacewings in English – were collected by Mr Roberts during detailed fieldwork in the mountain area.

“The results of these studies in two relatively small areas provide further evidence that there is still much to learn about the UAE’s biodiversity,” Mr Roberts said.

Specimens of several other groups of insects are still being studied, he said.

Lacewings have only recently attracted academic attention in the UAE.

The specimens were collected by light trapping, when netting is placed over vegetation.

The importance of genetic diversity and the discovery of species is an integral component in conservation efforts, said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, executive director, terrestrial and marine biodiversity sector at the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi.

“There is more to discover, and that’s important to conservation efforts.

“With Huw’s discovery, it highlights the importance of protecting Jebel Hafeet, because the more we study that environment, the more we understand that there is a lot to be discovered.”

Dr Al Dhaheri said that the surge of discoveries is both a combination of the UAE’s untapped scientific potential and an measure of commitment to conservation and science.

“The community has put more efforts now than in previous years, and it’s a healthy indication of the environment. There are more people going out to study the UAE’s environment,” she said.

Last year, the EAD’s scientists were able to discover two species of insects in Al Wathba, the gasteruptiid wasp (gasteruption alwathbaense) and the dance fly (drapetis wathabiensis).

Earlier this year, Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said: “Conservation of the ecosystem is one of the most important responsibilities we have as a nation and as human beings. Unfortunately, we still see certain harmful practices.”

Other discoveries include the damses fly in Al Wathba, a spider species in Ras Al Khaimah and insect species found around Abu Dhabi.

Mr Roberts’ studies were partially funded by the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

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The National