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New record site of Nannophya pygmaea - in the heart of Tai Lam Country Park
The China Water Beetle Survey (CWBS) - a biodiversity project of the superlative celebrates its 10th anniversary
Fried water beetles

The China Water Beetle Survey (CWBS) a biodiversity project of the superlative celebrates its 10th anniversary

by Manfred A. Jäch
Naturhistorisches Museum, Burgring 7, A-1014 Wien, Austria

In 1869, the French missionary Armand David led a scientific expedition into Sichuan, central China, where he obtained the skin of a peculiar animal, which was completely unknown in the western world at that time. Subsequently, the Giant Panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, has become one of the most popular mammals on earth and serves as an international symbol for nature conservation today. Other paramount zoological discoveries of the jesuit priest, and convinced Darwinist, David include the Giant Salamander (Andrias davidianus) and Père David's Deer (Elaphurus davidianus). Europe's enormous (colonial) interest in exotic countries at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, and the news about the spectacular wildlife wealth of the mysterious Middle Kingdom eventually lured hords of naturalists into China launching the "period of the European explorers". The adventurous journeys of Sven Hedin or Nikolai M. Przhevalsky are still remembered very well. But the Japanese wars, World War II and finally the Cultural Revolution almost completely halted the exploration of the enormously manifold fauna and flora of China. Today, foreign researchers are not allowed to carry out their studies without official permission, if they intend to penetrate into remote areas.

The most comprehensive biodiversity project so far carried out in China was started in 1993, initiated by the Natural History Museum in Vienna. The "China Water Beetle Survey" (this is the official name of the project) (CWBS) is based on a co-operation between the International Research Institute of Entomology (Natural History Museum in Vienna) and the Institute of Applied Ecology, Shenyang (Chinese Academy of Sciences). Although initial negotiations and short joint excursions were carried out in 1992, the research contract between the Vienna Natural History Museum and the Chinese Academy of Sciences was actually signed in 1993.

Considering the large geographical target area, the number of species involved, the duration, number of participating scientists, and the amount of publications, the CWBS may even be regarded as one of the major biodiversity projects currently run world-wide.

One of the long-term targets of the CWBS is to accurately monitor the environmental situation of China's inland waters by using coleoptera as bio-indicators. However, the first step to accomplish this nearly utopic goal must be a thorough faunistic water beetle inventory covering the entire Chinese territory of 9.6 mio km2.

In the course of the CWBS a total of 496 sampling stations has been investigated thoroughly in the last decade (Figs. 1 & 3). Nineteen of the 33 administrative regions of China were visited: Anhui, Beijing, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hong Kong, Hunan, Jiangxi, Jilin, Liaoning, Nei Mongol, Shaanxi, Shandong, Sichuan, Yünnan, Zhejiang. Material from Taiwan and additional Chinese administrative regions (e.g., Macao, Qinghai, Tibet) became available through several private collections, museums, and through activities of the National Taiwan University (Chi-Feng Lee, and Ming-Luen Jeng), the Hong Kong University (David Dudgeon and his students), and the University of Macao (Emmet R. Easton).

Fig. 1. Map of China showing locations of CWBS sampling stations (1992 2001).

The water beetle fauna of China was found to be unexpectedly diverse. Several hundred of the species collected during the CWBS turned out to be new to science! In certain provinces, 100% (!) of the representatives of Elmidae and/or Hydraenidae collected are new. The taxonomic/faunistic results of the China Water Beetle Survey are largely presented in a hardcover trilogy (Fig. 2):

Fig. 2. The taxonomic/faunistic results of the CWBS are presented in three comprehensive hardcover volumes.

Jäch, M.A. & Ji, L. (eds.): Water Beetles of China. - Wien: Zoologisch-Botanische Gesellschaft in Österreich and Wiener Coleopterologenverein. Vol. I (1995), 410 pp.; Vol. II (1998), 371 pp.; Vol. III (2003), VI+572 pp.


These three volumes include more than 1,300 pages with contributions by 50 (!) authors from 18 countries. There are many colour plates showing more than 80 top quality habitus paintings (mostly by the famous artist W. Zelenka), more than 80 habitat photographs, and lots of distribution maps. The three volumes include precise descriptions of the sampling stations, an annotated checklist of the water beetle families of the world, a key to the families of water beetles occurring in China, and numerous taxonomic revisions and descriptions of almost 200 new species (and subspecies) and nine new genera (and subgenera) of aquatic and riparian Coleoptera from China and neighbouring countries. About 200 additional Chinese species (mostly Hydraenidae, Hydrophilidae, and Elmidae) are still awaiting description by specialists. Several rare species, e.g. Colymbetes minimus (originally collected by Sven Hedin in 1901), Mataeopsephus nitidipennis (not collected since 1849!), or Metagyrinus sinensis, have been rediscovered. A photograph of father David's most spectacular water beetle discovery, Hygrobia davidi, is provided. Today, Hygrobia davidi is regarded as extinct globally for it has not been collected for more than 120 years. Several contributions are dedicated to larval morphology. For the first time, the habitus of a hydraenid larva (i.e. Ochthebius gonggashanensis) is depicted in colour. Also a first two families, Epimetopidae and Torridincolidae, are recorded from China. The discovery of an entirely new beetle family, Aspidytidae, detected in central China in 1995, is reported; Aspidytes wrasei is described and despite the lack of fossil evidence, we may assume that this species is something of a living fossil - a coleopterous Giant Panda.

About 70 species of water beetle occur in Hong Kong. Three genera (Cuspidevia, Eonychius, Sinonychus) and seven species (Ceradryops matei, Cuspidevia velaris, Eonychius dudgeoni, Eulichas dudgeoni, Hydrocyphon dudgeoni, Pelthydrus dudgeoni, Sinonychus lantau) were newly described in the course of the CWBS (Jäch 1995, Jäch & Boukal 1995, Jäch & Ji 1995, Kodada & Boukal 2003, Schönmann 1994, Yoshitomi & Klausnitzer 2003). Four of these new species are named after David Dudgeon reflecting the effectiveness of his field work. Several other species (especially in the Hydraenidae, Hydrophilidae, and Elmidae) are awaiting description. The water beetle fauna of Hong Kong is most interesting from a zoogeographical point of view. The degree of endemism seems to be unusually high since many of the Hong Kong species have not been detected elsewhere in China so far. Additional faunistic surveys in neighbouring areas of Guangdong would be highly appreciated. Some of these endemic species are known only from single localities and are thus definitely of global concern: e.g. Sinonychus lantau (Elmidae) (Fig. 4), which was found only in a stream near Ngau Kwu Long on Lantau Island (see Jäch & Ji 1995: Fig. 9), or Ceradryops matei (Dryopidae) collected from a wet rocky outcrop near the parking lot at Jardine's Lookout. Other species collected in Hong Kong by early coleopterists have not been found for more than 50 years (e.g. several gyrinids such as Orectochilus severini - see Mazzoldi 1995) and should thus be regarded as locally extinct.

Fig. 3. Streams in the tropical rain forests of Xishuangbanna (Yunnan) were found to be exceedingly diverse with regard to water beetles.

In Austria, biological water quality assessment has a long tradition. By 1968, the first map of the biological water quality of the Austrian rivers had already been published. In 1990 a national monitoring network for Austrian rivers was established with the sampling sites, frequency of investigations, parameters, and analytical methods legally fixed in the "ordinance on water quality monitoring". In 1985 and 1990 the maintainance and restoration of the ecological functioning of rivers was defined as one of the main targets for water protection in the Federal Act on Water. Besides the saprobic system an ecological evaluation using benthic bio-indicators, such as water beetles, provides the main tool to assess the ecological quality of aquatic habitats in Austria.

China, on the contrary, is still in a developmental stage with regard to biological water quality assessment. Despite the nation's tremendously rich fresh water resources, Chinese officials have largely neglected the problems of pollution and destruction of aquatic habitats caused by population growth (a fifth of the world's total population lives in China), booming economy and deforestation. However, Chinese experts have meanwhile realized the enormous threat and - in search of lasting solutions - have selected the Austrian monitoring system as a model. Hopefully, the results of the China Water Beetle Survey will - in the long run - form the basis for a modern biological water quality assessment and will thus help to protect some of the world's most diverse aquatic environments.

Fig. 4. A stream near Ngau Kwu Long produced the first record worldwide for a water beetle species new to science and known solely from Lantau Island - Sinonychus lantau. It represents a new genus of the Riffle Beetle family (Elmidae).


I thank Andrew E.Z. Short for reading the manuscript.


Jäch, M.A. (1995). Eulichadidae: Synopsis of the species of the genus Eulichas Jacobson from China, Laos and Vietnam. In: Water Beetles of China, Vol. I. (eds. M.A. Jäch and L. Ji), pp. 359-388, Wien: Zoologisch-Botanische Gesellschaft in Österreich and Wiener Coleopterologenverein.

Jäch, M.A & Boukal, D. (1995). Elmidae: 2. Notes on Macronychini, with description of four new genera from China. In: Water Beetles of China, Vol. I. (eds. M.A Jäch and L. Ji), pp. 299-323, Wien: Zoologisch-Botanische Gesellschaft in Österreich and Wiener Coleopterologenverein.

Jäch, M.A. & Ji, L. (1995). Introduction. In: Water Beetles of China, Vol. I. (eds. M.A. Jäch and L. Ji), pp. 5-32, Zoologisch-Botanische Gesellschaft in Österreich and Wiener Coleopterologenverein, Wien.

Kodada, J. & Boukal, D.S. (2003). Dryopidae: II. Description of Ceradryops matei sp.n. from Hong Kong, and synonymical note on the genus Uenodryops Satô (Coleoptera),. In: Water Beetles of China, Vol. III. - (eds. M.A. Jäch and L. Ji), pp. 473-479, Wien: Zoologisch-Botanische Gesellschaft in Österreich and Wiener Coleopterologenverein.

Mazzoldi, P. (1995). Gyrinidae: Catalogue of Chinese Gyrinidae. In: Water Beetles of China, Vol. I, (eds. M.A. Jäch and L. Ji.), pp. 155-172, Wien: Zoologisch-Botanische Gesellschaft in Österreich and Wiener Coleopterologenverein.

Schönmann, H. (1994). Revision der Gattung Pelthydrus Orchymont. 1. Teil Globipelthydrus subgen.n. (Hydrophilidae). Koleopterologische Rundschau 64: 189-222.

Yoshitomi, H. & Klausnitzer, B. (2003). Scirtidae: World check list of Hydrocyphon Redtenbacher, and revision of the Chinese species (Coleoptera). In: Water Beetles of China, Vol. III. (eds. M.A. Jäch and L. Ji), pp. 519-537 Wien: Zoologisch-Botanische Gesellschaft in Österreich and Wiener Coleopterologenverein.




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