Immortalized by a bug: Minimizing the environmental impacts of development

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The Superbotrechus Bennetti beetle was discovered during a survey of cave biodiversity in China.

One of the best parts of the job as a World Bank Task Team Leader is the opportunity to learn new skills. What I never anticipated when I joined the Bank is that I would end up being immortalized by a bug. Or to be specific, a beetle that was named after me – the ‘Superbotrechus Bennetti’.

The World Bank has very strict safeguard policies which we must follow on our projects. These are designed to minimize or mitigate the environmental and social impacts of the projects. During the preparation of the Yichang-Badong Highway Project in China we learned that the route would traverse an area of karst caves.

From a biodiversity point of view, karst caves are very special. They are often completely isolated ecosystems where one can find unique species, particularly invertebrates. When encountering karst caves it is important to record the existing biodiversity as well as take measures to ensure that wherever possible the caves are protected from the impacts of development.

We were fortunate that the project was with the Hubei Provincial Communications Department (HPCD), which was committed to minimizing the environmental impact of the project. The project’s environmental specialist Anil Somani and the East Asia and Pacific region’s biodiversity specialist Tony Whitten met with the HPCD to explain the importance of cave biodiversity and the HPCD agreed to have a local university undertake a baseline survey to catalog the cave biodiversity.

This survey identified a number of caves in the area, with different levels of human impact. We then narrowed our work down to caves within 1 km of the centreline of the road, and conducted further surveys and sampling of the cave biodiversity. This helped us to define specific mitigation measures to be taken in the project – such as putting in fencing to prevent workers accessing the caves, or changing the runoff from the road so that the caves would not be flooded. It was great to be working with the team, and Tony was particularly excited when they discovered what was thought to be a new species of beetle.

The process for identifying a species is quite precise. Tony said some people spend years with a single sample. I’m glad that I am an engineer building roads! The samples were sent off to Guangzhou and from there they worked with specialists in France to classify the samples. Tony was pleased to tell me, “The beautiful trechine carabid beetle from Duandongzi Cave, Yichang, is both a new genus and species and is named the Superbotrechus bennetti.” A full description of the beetle is in the paper here (pdf - it is in French).

When I commented to Tony that I wasn’t sure it was a compliment to have a beetle named after me he responded, “Hey, I've had a dull, transparent snail, a beetle with boggle eyes, a fish with strange genitals etc named after me so count yourself lucky!”

I will take a blind beetle over a fish with strange genitals any day – although the real credit should go to the HPCD for their support and commitment to the environment.


Chris Bennett

Lead Transport Specialist

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