In 1992, I concluded a fifteen-year extensive study of the ground-beetle fauna of the Canary Islands. Obviously, my interest in beetles and island evolution was not exhausted, but spurred on. Thus, I looked for another group of insects where speciation and eventual evolution patterns could be studied in more depth and coherently. I designed the profile of the ideal candidate: preferably a species-rich genus, with all species being flightless, present in as many islands and habitats as possible, and the whole set be monophyletic. No doubt, oceanic islands would be the place to look for it.
A few candidates were available (Tarphius, Cardiophorus, Hegeter, etc.) but Laparocerus was clearly the best option. No other genus had so many species ascribed to it, and all of them being endemic to Macaronesia. Some 130 species-level taxa were known from the Azores, Madeira, Selvagens, and the Canaries, plus one species from the Macaronesian enclave in North Africa. Each island, inhabited by several species ─ mostly monoinsular endemics ─, represents a repeated evolutionary experiment of nature. Just perfect! The problem: Laparocerus were poorly known, not revised taxonomically, extremely variable, and difficult to find in the field; just a potential nightmare that my colleagues termed a masochist endeavour. Conversely, I found them a wonderful challenge!
My first gratification was to find that Laparocerus were rare in collections, but not in nature, at least, during the night. Being nocturnal, these weevils hide underground during the day and that is why by-catches were so uncommon. At night they come out to feed in hundreds! Needless to say that I became a compulsive nocturnal entomologist, discovering that insect life is much fun when it is dark.
I initiated a strategic field prospection throughout all Macaronesia, a complete taxonomic revision and a phylogenetic study based on mitochondrial DNA data. My professional duties did not allow me to dedicate myself full time to the Laparocerus study, but after thirteen years of spattered dedication and over 30.000 specimens studied, the overall picture is getting sharper. Laparocerus species have increased to nearly 200 taxa, an absolute record of biodiversity in Macaronesia. I established several synonyms and some important changes have been fixed or are still in the pipeline. Species from the Azores, for instance, belong to a different independent genus (Drouetius); others, like those included in the genus Lichenophagus, Anillobius or Cyphoscelis, are Laparocerus. The Madeira and Afro-Canarian clades are both monophyletic, and it is not yet clear to me if all the subclades (several subgenera) have formed within the archipelagos or split originally in Africa before their invasion took place. I hope to be able to tune up the molecular clock specifically for this group in this region, and solve that question. The divergence in forms is astonishing and the many cases involved will allow the use of statistics to reveal hidden patterns.
My aim with this study is to establish the basis for future spatial evolutionary researchs, and if I would be a politician, I would promise that Laparocerus will take Darwin finches out of the podium.