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Only known to occur in four small populations, some of which occupy less than 200 metres of shoreline.
Unknown, but probably in the region of 2 Gbp
A small flatworm-like marine invertebrate living over 600 million years ago (probably).
I should be sequenced because...: This will help us to answer a range of questions which will be vital in assessing the conservation status of our scaly cricket populations.
Tell us more...:
One thing that unravelling the genetic code of an organism allows us to do is to look at similarities and differences between populations of the same species. This can give us an insight into the history of the populations and where they originally came from. In the case of the scaly cricket, research on the life cycle revealed that eggs are often laid in driftwood. This raises the intriguing possibility that the eggs, which take a year to hatch, might actually survive winter storms by “rafting” in chunks of driftwood and, importantly, might be able to colonise new areas by this method. If so, it is possible that our populations of scaly crickets (some of which were discovered as recently as 1999) might not have colonised the UK when we were still joined to the continent at the end of the last ice age (like most other British insects), but might instead have “rafted” over much more recently from populations on the French coast.
If our populations are genetically isolated from those in France, they will be much more vulnerable to extinction than if there is gene flow between the populations. Revealing the genetic code of the scaly cricket will provide the basis to test the “rafting” idea, and allow us determine if individuals from French populations are able to come over to Britain. This will also be an important step in examining whether population crashes, such as those caused by recent storms, have had impacts on the genetic diversity of our scaly cricket populations.
Sequencing the genome of a species also allows us to examine genetic differences between closely related species. Until quite recently (only a decade or so ago), the scaly cricket populations in the UK and France were considered to belong to the same species as those found in the Mediterranean (Pseudomogoplistes squamiger). These populations, and those along the Atlantic coast of Europe, the Canary Islands and Morocco, are now considered to belong to a separate species (P. vicentae), based on very small anatomical differences. But how genetically different are the two “species”; should they really be considered as separate species? It has also been proposed that populations in France, the Channel Islands and the UK belong to a distinct sub-species (septentrionalis), but how valid is this claim? Again, having a reference genome for the scaly cricket will allow us to go on to answer such questions. In order to assess the conservation status of a species, it is vital to know whether you are dealing with a single species with a large range, or several different species with smaller ranges.
By comparing the genomes of different species, we can also learn how the genome itself evolves. So far only a few insects have had their entire genomes sequenced, and this list is also dominated by the so called “advanced” insects such as flies, bees and wasps, moths and beetles, which have a complete metamorphosis (including a grub or caterpillar-like larval stage and a resting pupal stage). Crickets, on the other hand, belong to a much more ancient branch of insects, which do not have a pupal stage, but instead hatch out of the egg looking like miniature adults. Looking at more “primitive” insects will help us understand the origin of the adaptations that make insects so successful.
One sentence about me...: I'm one of the rarest of the UK's crickets and grasshoppers and until recently, very little was known about me.
I am also known as the Atlantic beach cricket and I’m one of the rarest and least well-known of all of the grasshoppers and crickets (Orthoptera) in the UK. I’m also the only member of the family Mogoplistidae to be found in the UK. Members of this family are known as scaly crickets quite simply because their bodies are clothed in tiny scales (see electron micrograph of scales). I’m small (only about 1cm long as an adult) and I don’t have any wings. I’m very unusual for a cricket in that I live on pebbly and stony beaches, feeding on things washed up by the sea.
In the UK, I am known to occur in only four small populations: two in Pembrokeshire and one each in Devon and Dorset. I am also found in other parts of the world, such as the coast of France and Portugal. I’m considered to be “vulnerable” due to my small and widely scattered populations and the danger of marine pollution, rising sea levels and the increasing frequency of severe storms.
I have an unusually long life cycle: my eggs, which are laid over the summer, take a whole year to hatch. The hatchlings then take a further year to become adult (and pass the winter when only half grown) and adults sometimes live for up to a year. This means that I have to survive up to three winters, in which fierce winter storm waves frequently flood my shingle habitat.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
What's it like where you live?
Life is a beach.
What's your favourite food?
I'm an omnivore, so anything washed up by the sea (probably).
What's your family life like?
My eggs take a year to hatch, so I am unlikely to see my own offspring.
Are you endangered or threatened by anything?
Rising sea levels, an increase in severe storms and marine pollution events (such as oil spills) are a potential threat.
What's the best thing about you/interesting fact?
I lay my eggs in drift-wood, so it is possible that they could "raft" across the sea to colonise new areas.
The champion of this species is...
Prof. Karim Vahed, who teaches about the ecology and behaviour of insects and other invertebrates at The University of Derby, and conducts research on crickets and bushcrickets (on the evolution of mating behaviour and on cricket ecology and conservation).