Urmas Saarma, University of Tartu
Lars Krogmann, State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, Germany
Description and analysis of the diversity of wildlife is one of the oldest and most important tasks in natural sciences since any biological study or effective nature conservation can only rely on adequate knowledge of it. Weather one studies animal behavior or plant dispersal, the results have little meaning if there is no clear understanding which organism was actually studied: such mistakes are unfortunately not very rare.
Although cuckoo wasps are beautiful relatives of yellowjackets, they have received insufficient attention due to their small size. Moreover, study of their species composition has proven difficult due to their highly similar appearance. As former attempts to classify them have turned out only partially successful I used in my thesis characters, which haven't been used in systematic studies of these insects: differences in DNA sequences are used for determining relationships between individual specimens.
Although the studied insects are widespread, I focus in my thesis on Eurasian, especially northern European species, due to high interest in fauna of this region. In order to examine the cuckoo wasp fauna in Denmark, Fennoscandia and Baltic countries, all existing faunistic knowledge as well as the collections in museums had to be revised.
As a result of analysis the phylogeny and species composition, primarily in northern Europe, was determined for the cuckoo wasps group which species are most difficult to distinguish. It appeared that several species were earlier not treated as distinct species or had remained completely unrecognized. The used method was also suitable for identifying species, which are otherwise difficult to identify.
Revision of cuckoo wasp fauna of Denmark, Fennoscandia and Baltic countries also revealed several deficiencies. In some occasions known occurrence of a species in this region proved to be erroneous while occurrence of few species in the region had not been discovered jet.
My thesis resolved numerous problems in treatments of most complicated cuckoo wasp species with the help of method, which hadn't been used in systematic studies of these insects. Together with the revision and update of the knowledge about cuckoo wasp fauna of Denmark, Fennoscandia and Baltic countries, my thesis generates solid basis for future studies of cuckoo wasps.