¡Que Vive Centinela! A tiny new plant species reaffirms the “miraculous” survival of Western Ecuador’s ravished biodiversity

The discovery represents an inspiration for biodiversity conservation in an area the scientific community assumed to be a barren agricultural landscape of plant extinctions.

A new 5 cm-high plant species has been discovered on the western Andean slopes of Ecuador in an area where scientists once believed a rich diversity of native plants and animals had been totally destroyed.

John L. Clark with Amalophyllon miraculum. Credit @phinaea on Instagram.

The tiny plant, with iridescent foliage and white ephemeral flowers, was found in a farmer’s backyard during ongoing collaborative research expeditions in western Ecuador, led by teams of Ecuadorian and international researchers.

The expeditions resulted in the rediscovery of small forest fragments in a legendary hotspot known as Centinela. Selby Gardens research botanist, John L. Clark is the lead author of the article describing the new species in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal PhytoKeys.

The forest fragments are less than 20 miles from Santo Domingo, a major city of more than 300,000 people. Each fragment of Centinela is an isolated biodiversity island surrounded by large swaths of agricultural landscape largely devoid of forest.

Small purple plant leaf held between thumb and index finger.
Amalophyllon miraculum leaf.

A seminal publication titled “Biological extinction in western Ecuador” brought attention to the rapid loss of rainforest in western Ecuador. It was authored by the late botanists Alwyn Gentry and Calaway Dodson, Selby Gardens’ first Executive Director, whose research inspired names such as Gasteranthus extinctus in recognition of the loss of more than 70-97% of rainforests from the western Ecuadorian lowlands due to agriculture.

This discovery, amongst others, has shattered the preconception that the multitudes of life in the region had vanished entirely. The name Amalophyllon miraculum reflects the “miracle” of its discovery in the unexpected fragments of protected forests.

“The heroic efforts of local landowners who maintained small patches of forests – usually surrounding waterfalls – were instrumental in conserving these remnant forest fragments,” Clark says.

Ongoing conservation initiatives by foundations and academic institutions such as the Ecuadorian conservation NGO Fundación de Conservación Jocotoco and the Jardín Botánico Padre Julio Marrero (JBJM) of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador are also crucial to protecting the areas.

Original source:

Clark JL, Fernández A, Zapata JN, Restrepo-Villarroel C, White DM, Pitman NCA (2024) Amalophyllon miraculum (Gesneriaceae), an exceptionally small lithophilous new species from the western Andean slopes of Ecuador. PhytoKeys 242: 307–316. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.242.118069


Follow PhytoKeys on Facebook and X.

Pensoft launches official Weibo account to expand global reach

The Pensoft team is looking forward to engaging in conversations with its Chinese authors, editors, and readers.

Scholarly publisher Pensoft is excited to announce it is now on Chinese social media platform Weibo. The move is aimed at fostering stronger connections with researchers, academics, and enthusiasts in China, which in turn will enhance the dissemination of scientific knowledge and facilitate international collaboration.

With over half a billion active users, Weibo is a powerful social media platform that combines the functionalities of microblogging and social networking. The Pensoft team is looking forward to engaging in real-time conversations with its Chinese audience, sharing insights, and receiving their feedback.

The launch coincides with the Dragon Boat Festival, a significant cultural event in China that commemorates the ancient poet Qu Yuan and symbolizes unity and teamwork. 

The move aims to make Pensoft’s publications and updates more accessible to Chinese researchers, allowing them to stay informed about the latest scientific discoveries and advancements. In addition, it offers an excellent opportunity for Pensoft to foster collaborations with Chinese institutions, researchers, and academic societies.

As a pioneer in open-access publishing, Pensoft will also use its Weibo account to promote the benefits of open access, making sure Chinese research reaches a global audience without paywalls.

“China, with its rapidly growing research output and a burgeoning community of scholars, represents a significant segment of the global academic landscape. Recognizing the importance of engaging with this vibrant community, Pensoft’s decision to establish a presence on Weibo underscores its commitment to inclusivity and accessibility in scientific publishing,” says Lyubomir Penev, CEO and founder of Pensoft.

We invite you to join Pensoft’s Weibo account to learn all about our latest scientific discoveries and publishing updates.

Arctic botany amongst the fjords: a new annotated species checklist for Agguttinni Territorial Park

A team of museum botanists and guides travelled across the park on foot and by helicopter seeking out every plant and lichen species within the park.

Guest blog post by Paul C. Sokoloff, Lynn J. Gillespie, Geoffrey A. Levin

On northern Baffin Island, Nunavut – the northernmost territory of Canada and Inuit homeland since time immemorial – the tips of long fjords weave around towering peaks and harbour shrubby plants, mounds of lichens, and carpets of mosses and other bryophytes, all set in a majestic landscape known and stewarded by Inuit past, present, and future. This is Agguttinni, Nunavut’s newest and largest territorial park. A new study published in Check List and led by Dr. Lynn Gillespie from the Canadian Museum of Nature, documents the 141 vascular plant, 69 bryophyte, and 93 lichen species collected from this unique protected area.

Arviqtujuq Kangiqtua fjord and Atagulisaktalik valley, location of one of the team’s base camps. Credit: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature

The backdrop to this study is the Canadian Arctic ecozone. This vast region comprises approximately 40% of Canada’s landmass and a broad array of unique habitats, from expansive flat tundra to glacial peaks to rich wetlands. The plants that grow here are well-adapted to their environment. Most grow low, soaking up heat from sun-warmed soil and staying out of cold, drying winds. Many are covered in insulating hairs and can go from bud to flower to fruit quickly during the short Arctic summers. And while woody, spreading shrubs can dominate in the low Arctic, they become rarer further north; conversely bryophyte and lichen species become increasingly important components of the biomass. In this context, the 303 species found in Agguttinni represent a wide swath of Arctic floristic diversity.

  • Arctic Pyrola (Pyrola grandiflora)
  • Arctic cinquefoil (Potentilla hyparctica)
  • Black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum)
  • Whiteworm lichen (Thamnolia subuliformis)
  • Nodding catchfly (Silene uralensis subsp. arctica)

In 2021, Dr. Gillespie’s team travelled to Kanngiqtugaapik (Clyde River) to conduct a botanical inventory of Agguttinni Territorial Park, in partnership with Nunavut Parks and Special Places and with the support of Polar Knowledge Canada. Over the course of five weeks, the team, a fearless five including museum botanists and guides from Kanngiqtugaapik, travelled across the park on foot and by helicopter seeking out every habitat and plant and lichen species within the park.  The team established four base camps at the heads of fjords, within mountain passes, and in sheltered harbours, where all necessities were slung in by helicopter, including sleeping tents, kitchen shelters, a field lab for processing samples, and even a solar panel to take advantage of the 24-hour sunlight. Through the weeks on the land, the team found an efficient tempo of collecting specimens in the field and pressing back at camp.

Paul Sokoloff and Lynn Gillespie pressing Alpine fireweed (Chamaenerion latifolium) at Atagulisaktalik. Credit: Geoffrey Levin © Canadian Museum of Nature

While 2021 was a cold, wet year on northern Baffin Island, the challenging conditions were offset with good company, good food, and warming long hikes. The team searched through hummocky tundra, over gravel scree, in river valleys and on esker ridges, documenting the flora of every terrain within Agguttinni, while our guides from Clyde River, Jaypiti Inutiq and Leeno Apak, provided us with valuable insight into their lands and kept us safe in numerous ways. These wanders, and helicopter excursions from Kanngiqtugaapik, allowed us to thoroughly inventory and compare various habitats within the park.

The sheltered valleys and heads of fjords, far inland from the coast of Baffin Bay, were the most floristically diverse in the study area. At these sites, willow shrubs grow tall (well, at up to 1.5 m high, tall for Baffin Island), and a diverse patchwork of geology and topography is home to species found nowhere else in the park, including new northern-most Canadian records of Lapland Diapensia (Diapensia lapponica) and Flame-tipped Lousewort (Pedicularis flammea), as well as species rare on Baffin Island, such as Dwarf Hawksbeard (Askellia pygmaea) and Hartz’s Bluegrass (Poa hartzii).

Flame-tipped lousewort (Pedicularis flammea) at the head of Kangiqtualuk Uqquqtifiord. This species was found only in warmer inland valleys; our collections represent the northernmost confirmed records of the species in Canada. Credit: Lynn Gillespie © Canadian Museum of Nature

Conversely, coastal habitats and inland valleys and plateaus proved to be less floristically diverse. Immediately adjacent to the Barnes Ice Cap, the recently-unglaciated zone harboured few vascular plant species and no lichens – a lesson in succession. However, amid this scour, large mounds of blackened moss, likely covered during the Little Ice Age, could be seen regenerating – new green growth amongst bare rock.

Even so, we encountered fascinating new botanical records in these environments, including the first records of Bruggemann’s Alkaligrass (Puccinellia bruggemannii) and Skult’s Shield Lichen (Parmelia skultii) for Baffin Island. On the Barnes Plateau, collections of Powdered Matchstick Lichen (Pilophorus caerulus), Starke’s Fork Moss (Kiaeria starkei) and Sprig Moss (Aongstroemia longipes) are newly reported for Nunavut.

Acutetip aulacomnium moss (Aongstroemia longipes), growing in the recently deglaciated zone in front of the Barnes icecap. This species is rare in eastern North America and was not previously reported for Nunavut. Credit: Lynn Gillespie © Canadian Museum of Nature

While these new records provide important new knowledge about the Arctic flora, commonly encountered species also provide important context about species important to ecosystem health and functioning, and some species proved to be unusually common in the area. For example, Mountain Woodrush (Luzula confusa), Four Angled-Mountain Heather (Cassiope tetragona), Hairy Rock-Moss (Racomitrium lanuginosum), and Orange Chocolate Chip Lichen (Solorina crocea) were encountered throughout the park. Arctic Mushroom Scales Lichen (Lichenomphalia hudsoniana) was also encountered in many locations throughout the park, despite its relative under-collection elsewhere in Nunavut.

Four-angled mountain heather (Cassiope tetragona), one of the most common plants in Agguttinni Territorial Park. Credit: Lynn Gillespie © Canadian Museum of Nature

The 1007 collections made by Dr. Gillespie’s team in 2021, deposited at the National Herbarium of Canada (CAN), serve as the biodiversity backbone of this current study. The authors examined an additional 386 existing herbarium specimens at CAN, Agriculture and Agrifoods Canada (DAO), and the Université de Montréal (MT), and from other institutions accessed through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). The vast majority of these existing specimens were collected during the Baird Expedition to Baffin Island in 1950. Seventy-four years later, these specimens still provide valuable insight into the biodiversity of Agguttinni.

This powerful combination of old and new specimens, brought together in this paper, more than doubles the number of plant and lichen species known from the park (from 136 to 299), and triples the number of known vascular plants from 45 to 137. It therefore provides a vital biodiversity reference to help in the management and conservation of Agguttinni Territorial Park. More broadly, it expands our understanding of plant diversity in northern Canada, a vast area that includes many under-explored areas. Studies like this also provide important baseline data for assessing future impacts of climate change.

With Thanks

We are grateful to the community of Kanngiqtugaapik for hosting us and this research on their land, Nunavut Parks and Special Places and Polar Knowledge Canada for supporting this work, Jaypiti Inutiq and Leeno Apak for their knowledge and protection on the land, Stéphane Caron and Louis André Grégoire for keeping us up in the air, Patrick Graillon and Linda Vaillancourt from Nunavut Parks for facilitating this work, Martha Raynolds, Helga Bültmann, Yemisi Dare and Julian Starr for excellent recent collections that were included in the study, and herbarium specialists at CAN, DAO, and MT.

Original Study

Gillespie LJ, Sokoloff PC, Levin GA, Doubt J, McMullin RT (2024) Vascular plant, bryophyte, and lichen biodiversity of Agguttinni Territorial Park, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada: an annotated species checklist of a new Arctic protected area. Check List 20(2): 279-443. https://doi.org/10.15560/20.2.279

Understanding the complex interactions between people and nature

eLTER catalyses scientific discovery and insights through state-of-the-art research infrastructure, collaborative work, and transdisciplinary expertise.

From June 4th to 18th, the Integrated European Long-Term Ecosystem, critical zone and socio-ecological Research (eLTER) is presenting its first physical exhibition in Sofia, Bulgaria.

At Lover’s Bridge, one of the most central venues in the capital for such events, visitors could see 58 photos showcasing the work of eLTER scientists and their key role in combating the grand societal challenges.

The authors – Evgeni Dimitrov and Kaloyan Konstantinov – spent half a year preparing the so-called Grand Campaign. Together, they traveled to over 30 sites in 23 countries in the span of 88 days, resulting in nearly 3000 photos and 50 videos.

Environmental sustainability can only be achieved on the basis of the robust knowledge and empirical evidence needed to identify and mitigate human impacts on ecosystems.

The pictures are accompanied by a description of each national network, site and platform, as well as the importance of eLTER’s scientific activities for Europe and the world. The goal, apart from purely aesthetic, is to acquaint the residents and guests of Sofia with the work of one of the largest and most important European Research Infrastructures.

A building with a sign that says "Consejo superior de investigaciones científicas" against a background of starry sky.
The main Doñana LTSER facilities are located inside the Doñana Biological Reserve, a UNESCO
Biosphere Reserve in Spain.

The exhibition is part of the events accompanying the annual consortia meeting, organized by the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (in charge of the Bulgarian LTER network), and Pensoft Publishers (leading the communication and dissemination of eLTER). This year the event is held from 3rd to 7th of June, and is attended by nearly 100 scientists from all 26 eLTER countries.

Dr Bojana Ivošević posing with unmanned aerial vehicles.
Dr Bojana Ivošević with BioSense UAVs used for vegetation monitoring of natural ecosystems, agriculture as well as archaeology in Serbia and across Southeast Europe.

The exposition is carried out in partnership with the Sofia Municipality and will be officially opened on June 6 at 11:30 am local time.

eLTER responds to the challenge of understanding the complex interactions between people and nature over the long term. Environmental sustainability can only be achieved on the basis of the robust knowledge and empirical evidence needed to identify and mitigate human impacts on ecosystems. eLTER catalyses scientific discovery and insights through its state-of-the-art research infrastructure, collaborative working culture, and transdisciplinary expertise. This enables the development and application of evidence-based solutions for the wellbeing of current and future generations.

Studies of the biogeochemical cycles and physical properties of sea-water have been conducted since the ‘70s at the Gulf of Venice.

The mission of eLTER is to facilitate high impact research and catalyse new insights about the compounded impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss, soil degradation, pollution, and unsustainable resource use on a range of European ecosystems and socio-ecological systems, representing the “critical zone” in which we live.

Sun-shunning thief: new plant species robs underground fungi to survive

Tiny and highly specialised, Thismia malayana belongs to a group of plants known as mycoheterotrophs.

Researchers in Malaysia have discovered a tiny and distinctive plant that steals its nutrients from underground fungi.

Published as a new species in the open-access journal PhytoKeys, Thismia malayana belongs to a group of plants known as mycoheterotrophs. Unlike most plants, mycoheterotrophs do not perform photosynthesis. Instead, they act as a parasite, stealing carbon resources from the fungi on their roots.

Unusual brown and orange plant in leaf litter.
Thismia malayana live specimen.

The 2 cm-long plant’s unusual adaptation takes advantage of the mycorrhizal symbiosis, which is usually a mutually beneficial relationship between colonising fungi and a plant’s root system.

Several scientific photographs of an unusual brown and orange plant.
Thismia malayana.

By stealing nutrients from fungi, it can thrive in the low-light conditions of dense forest understories where its highly specialised flowers are pollinated by fungus gnats and other small insects.

A team of botanists from the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) collaborated with local naturalists and stakeholders to make the discovery in the tropical rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia. It was there they found the miniscule species hidden amongst leaf litter and growing near tree roots and old rotten logs.

The research team identified Thismia malayana in two locations: the lowlands of Gunung Angsi Forest Reserve in Negeri Sembilan and the hilly dipterocarp forests of Gunung Benom in the Tengku Hassanal Wildlife Reserve, Pahang.

Unusual brown and orange plant with a scale showing it measures around 2 cm long.
Thismia malayana with scales (the finest grade is 0.5 mm).

Despite its small size, Thismia malayana is very sensitive to environmental changes and has been classified as Vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List criteria. Its limited distribution and the potential threat from trampling due to its proximity to hiking trails underscore the importance of continued conservation efforts.

Original source

Siti-Munirah MY, Hardy-Adrian C, Mohamad-Shafiq S, Irwan-Syah Z, Hamidi AH (2024) Thismia malayana (Thismiaceae), a new mycoheterotrophic species from Peninsular Malaysia. PhytoKeys 242: 229-239. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.242.120967


Follow PhytoKeys on Facebook and X.

Captivating blue-colored ant discovered in India’s remote Siang Valley

It was named Paraparatrechina neela, after the word “neela”, which means blue in various Indian languages.

Nothing like the common red, black, or brown ants, a stunning blue ant has been discovered from Yingku village in Arunachal Pradesh, northeastern India. This new species belongs to the rare genus Paraparatrechina and has been named Paraparatrechina neela. The word “neela” signifies the color blue in most Indian languages – a fitting tribute to the ant’s unique coloration.

Entomologists Dr. Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan and Sahanashree R, from Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in Bengaluru, along with Aswaj Punnath from the University of Florida, collaborated to describe the remarkable new species. Their scientific description of the ant is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Paraparatrechina neela. Photo by Sahanashree R

“While exploring a tree hole about 10 feet up in a steep cattle track in the remote Yinku village one evening, something sparkled in the twilight. With the dim light available, two insects were sucked into an aspirator. To our surprise, we later found they were ants” said the researchers.

The ant was found during an expedition to Siang valley in Arunachal Pradesh to resurvey its biodiversity after the century-old ‘Abhor expedition’. The original Abor expedition from the period of colonial rule in India was a punitive military expedition against the indigenous people there in 1911-1912. A scientific team also accompanied the military expedition, to document the natural history and geography of the Siang Valley. Тhis expedition encountered several challenges, including hostile terrain, difficult weather conditions, and resistance from local tribes. Despite the challenges, it managed to explore and map large parts of the Siang Valley region, cataloguing every plant, frog, lizard, fish, bird & mammal and insects they found, with the discoveries published in several volumes from 1912 to 1922 in the Records of the Indian Museum.

A view of Suabg Valley. Photo by Ranjith AP

Now, a century later, a team of researchers  from ATREE and a documentation team from Felis Creations Bangalore have embarked on a series of expeditions under the banner “Siang Expedition”, to resurvey and document the biodiver­sity of the region. This expedition was funded by the National Geographic Society through the wild­life-conservation expedition grant.

“Nestled within a Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, Arunachal Pradesh’s Siang Valley presents a world of unparalleled diversity, much of it yet to be explored. However, this very richness, both cultural and ecological, faces unprecedented threats. Large-scale infrastructure projects like dams, highways, and military installations, along with climate change, are rapidly altering the valley. The impact extends beyond the valley itself, as these mountains play a critical role not only in sustaining their own diverse ecosystems but also in ensuring the well-being of millions of people living downstream”, said Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan, corresponding author of the paper.

Paraparatrechina neela is a small ant with a total length of less than 2mm. Its body is predominantly metallic blue, except for the antennae, mandibles, and legs. The head is subtriangular with large eyes, and has a triangular mouthpart (mandible) featuring five teeth. This species has a distinct metallic blue colour that is different from any other species in its genus.

Paraparatrechina neela. Photo by Sahanashree R

Blue is relatively rare in the animal kingdom. Various groups of vertebrates, including fish, frogs, and birds, as well as invertebrates such as spiders and flies and wasps, showcase blue coloration. In insects, it is often produced by the arrangement of biological photonic nanostructures, which create structural colours rather than being caused by pigments. While blue coloration is commonly observed in some insects like butterflies, beetles, bees, and wasps, it is relatively rare in ants. Out of the 16,724 known species and subspecies of ants worldwide, only a few exhibit blue coloration or iridescence.

The discovery of Paraparatrechina neela contributes to the richness of ant diversity and represents the unique biodiversity of the Eastern Himalayas, and its blue coloration raises intriguing questions. Does it help in communication, camouflage, or other ecological interactions? Delving into the evolution of this conspicuous coloration and its connections to elevation and the biology of Paraparatrechina neela presents an exciting avenue for research.

Research article:
Sahanashree R, Punnath A, Rajan Priyadarsanan D (2024) A remarkable new species of Paraparatrechina Donisthorpe (1947) (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, Formicinae) from the Eastern Himalayas, India. ZooKeys 1203: 159-172. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1203.114168

Microplastic contamination of Black Sea fish threatens marine ecosystems

Five commercially important fish species from the Bulgarian Black Sea coast were found to be contaminated with microplastics.

Guest blog post by Stephany Toschkova, Sevginar Ibryamova, Darina Ch. Bachvarova, Teodora Koynova, Elitca Stanachkova, Radoslav Ivanov, Nikolay Natchev, Tsveteslava Ignatova-Ivanova

One of the main problems of the world’s oceans, reported by many scientific studies, is microplastic pollution. It is also one of the main sources of pollution in the Black Sea. Our new study in BioRisk details microplastic contamination in five fish species important for commercial fishing (Garfish, Мullet, Knout goby, Pontic shad, and Mediterranean horse mackerel). The fish were collected from the Sozopol area of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.

  • A photo of a Mediterranean horse mackerel.
  • A photo of a Knout Goby.
  • A photo of a mullet fish.

Our results show a wide variety of micropollutants originating from commonly used items such as plastic cups, stirrers, bags, soft drink bottles, fishing nets, packaging, аnd personal hygiene products. These objects systematically enter the Black Sea and degrade into microplastic particles. Microplastics (MPs) were found in all studied tissues of the fish in the form of pellets, fibers and fragments. Pellets were found most frequently, followed by irregularly shaped fragments, while fibers were the least numerous.

Stereomicroscope picture of morphological types of microplastics (arrowheads) recognized in the studied specied from: A) Garfish; B) Mullet C) Pontic shad and D) Mediterranean horse mackerel.

The bulk of the isolated plastics are made of polyethylene (PE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PE is found in plastic bottles, cups, stirrers, and plastic bags. This polymer is very light and floats on the surface of the sea because its density is lower than that of water. PET, on the other hand, is denser than water and more likely to sink and accumulate in it and in organisms living on the seafloor. These polymers are widely used in fabrics, nets, ropes, and strings used for fishing, one of the main economic activities in the Black Sea. The predominant polymer type, PE, corresponds to the content of manufactured plastics all around Europe, as almost half of the plastics produced in Europe are reported as PE.

The sinking and sedimentation of plastics relate to the fact that the upper layer of the Black Sea is less dense than that of other seas. Furthermore, the weight of these particles increases due to the accumulation of marine plants and nutrients on them, and this can affect the distribution of plastics and their sedimentation on the seabed.

A satellite image of the Black Sea. Photo by NASA/GSFC/MODIS

Judging by the obtained results and the amount and type of polymers found in the study and the literature, the source of contamination, in our opinion, can be mainly attributed to domestic wastewater discharges coming from the washing of synthetic fabrics. In Bulgaria, wastewater is discharged – directly or after purification – into marine and freshwater ecosystems, as is the case in other neighbouring countries along the Black Sea coast. However, detailed studies are needed to prove this hypothesis. 

Considering the wide variety of MP types detected in the digestive tracts of the fish, we assume that they regularly ingested MPs during feeding. Many nutrients are also held on the plastic particles, which deceives the fish into perceiving them as food.

It has been reported that plastics smaller than 1000 μm can reach the digestive tract or the gills of fish, and in turn can cause adverse effects such as a weak immune response or reduced fertility.

MPs can also accumulate in predatory fish species. Unfortunately, very limited research was performed on bioaccumulation and biomagnification in food webs, therefore more studies are needed to reach this conclusion.

MPs enter seawater food chains in different pathways and threaten entire ecosystems through their ability to transport pollutants, pathogenic microorganisms, and alien species. Bearing in mind the intensifying economic activity on the Black Sea coast and the consequent influence on the riverine water quality, river mouths can be considered potential sources of MPs. Particularly concerning is the area near the Kamchia River mouth, which is the biggest intra-territorial river in Bulgaria, entering directly into the Black Sea, with a catchment area of more than 5 300 km2 . This catchment and the entire Black Sea coast, where agriculture is well developed is a potential source of MPs, which have the ability to absorb and release toxic chemicals of organic and inorganic origin such as bisphenol A, PCBs and DDT, creating an additional potential risk to human health.

A satellite image showing the Kamchia River mouth.
A satellite image showing the Kamchia River mouth.

Humans are exposed to BPA in the environment they live in, from the air we breathe to the food and drinks we consume. So, even if BPA intake is below accepted limits, this does not guarantee that the additive will not accumulate and cause more pronounced effects and chronic toxicity in the food chain, given its tendency to accumulate.

It is important that future research determines the toxicological side effects of plastic ingestion for fish communities in both benthic and pelagic habitats. However, even if we stop introducing plastics into the water system, both groups of fish will continue to be impacted, since the number of microplastics can increase due to the breakdown of larger plastics in the environment. 

This study shows the need to carry out further studies of microplastics using different types of microscopic and spectral analysis. Even though microplastics may not pose a risk to humans who consume fish, these contaminants pose a potential risk to marine food webs and endangered species. We found particles of different sizes, types and colours in different fish species, and believe the variability of polymer types in fish can indicate the polymer types in water to some extent. Our results show that fish are important as ecological bioindicators and serve as a basis for future studies on microplastic pollution in tourist sandy beaches.

Research article:

Toschkova S, Ibryamova S, Bachvarova DCh, Koynova T, Stanachkova E, Ivanov R, Natchev N, Ignatova-Ivanova T (2024) The assessment of the bioaccumulation of microplastics in key fish species from the Bulgarian aquatory of the Black Sea. BioRisk 22: 17-31. https://doi.org/10.3897/biorisk.22.117668

Snake in a ski mask: a striking new species from the Arabian Peninsula

The stylish serpent is dubbed “the missing piece of the puzzle” as it fills a large distribution gap for its genus.

Researchers have discovered a new distinctive and secretive snake species in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia.

Rhynchocalamus hejazicus is a small snake bearing a black collar and reddish colouration. A completely black variation of of the species known as a ‘melanistic morphotype’ was also discovered.

A black snake on stony ground.
Melanistic morphotype of Rhynchocalamus hejazicus.

The snake’s genus Rhynchocalamus previously had a large distribution gap, stretching between the Levant and coastal regions of Yemen and Oman. However, the new species is widely distributed between these areas, prompting the research team to dub it “the missing piece of the puzzle.”

Distribution map of the new species showing the location of the material examined in this study. Various areas in western Saudi Arabia are marked.
Distribution of Rhynchocalamus hejazicus, showing the location of the material examined in the study.

The international team led by scientists from the Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos (CIBIO), Portugal, and Charles University, Czech Republic, published their discovery in Zoosystematics and Evolution, an open-access journal published by Pensoft on behalf of Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.

Rhynchocalamus hejazicus inhabits sandy and stony soils with varying vegetation cover and is found in habitats disturbed by humans, suggesting the species should not be categorised as threatened according to IUCN criteria.

Three images of habitats. The first is a barren desert landscape with sparse trees and rocks scattered throughout. The second is a dry desert scene featuring a small number of trees and rocks. The third is an arid landscape with a handful of trees and rocks in view.
Habitats of the holotype and two paratype specimens of R. hejazicus.

The species’ natural history and behaviour remain unclear, and further monitoring and conservation efforts are necessary to better understand its ecological dynamics. However, it appears that Rhynchocalamus hejazicus is predominantly nocturnal as all encountered individuals were active at night.

“The discovery of a new species of snake widespread in the central-western regions of Saudi Arabia is surprising and gives rise to the hope that more undiscovered species might be present in the Kingdom,” the authors say.

Orange snake with black collar and nose colouration on sandy ground.
Rhynchocalamus hejazicus.

Most observations of the new species are the result of intense sampling efforts in a vast area around the ancient Arabic oasis city of AlUla, fostered by the Royal Commission for AlUla, Saudi Arabia, which is pushing forward scientific activities and explorations to promote conservation in the region. Recent research in Saudi Arabia has led to fruitful collaborations and findings like this study, to which many experts from multiple teams contributed significantly.

The discovery of such a distinctive snake highlights the existing gap in knowledge of rare and secretive species, and the need to enhance sampling efforts and monitoring strategies to fully capture species diversity in unexplored areas.

Original source

Licata F, Pola L, Šmíd J, Ibrahim AA, Liz AV, Santos B, Patkó L, Abdulkareem A, Gonçalves DV, AlShammari AM, Busais S, Egan DM, Ramalho RMO, Smithson J, Brito JC (2024) The missing piece of the puzzle: A new and widespread species of the genus Rhynchocalamus Günther, 1864 (Squamata, Colubridae) from the Arabian Peninsula. Zoosystematics and Evolution 100(2): 691-704. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.100.123441

Follow Zoosystematics and Evolution on X and Facebook for more!

Vegetation Classification and Survey featured by Web of Science four years after its launch

Vegetation Classification and Survey will soon receive its very first Journal Impact Factor.

Only four years after the inaugural editorial by Prof Dr Florian Jansen, Dr Idoia Biurrun, Prof Dr Jürgen Dengler and Dr Wolfgang Willner that officialised the third and still youngest scientific journal of the International Association of Vegetation Science (IAVS), the Vegetation Classification and Survey (VCS) journal successfully completed the rigorous quality and integrity assessment at Web of Science (WoS).

Late May 2024 saw the whole content ever published in VCS added to the Core Collection of the renowned academic platform, further boosting its discoverability, accessibility and reliability to researchers and other stakeholders alike, confirms the Indexing team of Pensoft and the ARPHA scholarly publishing platform.

“Many thanks to IAVS as owner and Pensoft as publisher, who made this success story possible. However, most of all, this early inclusion into the Web of Science Core Edition is due to the good articles of our authors and the great volunteer service our Associate Editors, Guest Editors, Linguistic Editors, Editorial Review Board members, and other reviewers did and do for VCS,”

the Chief Editors comment on the latest success.

The news means that VCS is soon to receive its very first Journal Impact Factor (JIF): allegedly the most popular and sought after journal-level metric, which annually releases the citation (or “impact”) rate of a given scholarly journal over the last period. By the end of next month, for example, we will know how different journals indexed by WoS have performed compared to each other, based on the number of citations received in 2023 (from other journals indexed by WoS) for papers published in 2021 and 2022 combined.

In 2022, VCS and its all-time publications were also featured by the largest and similarly acclaimed scientific database: Scopus, thus receiving its very first Scopus CiteScore* last June. At 2.0, the result instantly gave a promise of the widely appreciated content published in the journal.

In an editorial, published in the beginning of 2024, the Chief Editors assessed the performance of the journal and analysed the available data from Scopus to predict the citation rates for the journal in the next few years. There, the team also compared the journal’s latest performance with similar journals, including the other two journals owned by the IAVS (i.e. Applied Vegetation Science and Journal of Vegetation Science). Given that as of May 2024 the Scopus CiteScoreTracker for VCS reads 2.5, their optimistic forecasts seem rather realistic.

“The VCS articles of 2023 were on average even better cited than those in Applied Vegetation Science of the same year and had reached about the same level as Journal of Vegetation Science and Biodiversity and Conservation,”

they concluded.

In a recent post, published on the IAVS blog, on behalf of the four VCS Chief Editors, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Dengler further comments on the latest achievements of the journal, while also highlighting particularly valued recent publications.

The team also uses the occasion to invite experts in the field of vegetation science to submit their manuscripts in 2024 to make use of the generous financial support by the IAVS. Given the increasing interest in VCS, the journal also invites additional linguistic editors, as well as reviewers who wish to join the Editorial Review Board.


Keep yourself updated with news from Vegetation Classification and Survey on X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook. You can also follow IAVS on X and join the Association’s public group on Facebook


*Note that the Scopus database features a different selection of scientific journals compared to Web of Science to estimate citation metrics. The indexers are also using different formulae, where the former looks into citations made in the last two complete years for eligible papers published in the same years.


About Vegetation Classification and Survey:

Vegetation Classification and Survey (VCS) is an international, peer-reviewed, online journal on plant community ecology published on behalf of the International Association for Vegetation Science (IAVS). It is devoted to vegetation survey and classification at any organisational and spatial scale and without restriction to certain methodological approaches.

The scope of VCS is focused on vegetation typologies and vegetation classification systems, their methodological foundation, their development and their application. The journal publishes original papers that develop new typologies as well as applied studies that use such typologies, for example, in vegetation mapping, ecosystem modelling, nature conservation, land use management, or monitoring. Particularly encouraged are methodological studies that design and compare tools for vegetation classification and mapping, such as algorithms, databases and nomenclatural principles, or are dealing with the conceptual and theoretical bases of vegetation survey and classification. 

VCS also includes two permanent collections (or sections): “Ecoinformatics” and “Phytosociological Nomenclature”. 

About Pensoft:

Pensoft is an independent, open-access publisher and technology provider, best known for its biodiversity journals, including ZooKeys, Biodiversity Data Journal, Phytokeys, Mycokeys, One Ecosystem, Metabarcoding and Metagenomics and many others. To date, the company has continuously been working on various tools and workflows designed to facilitate biodiversity data findability, accessibility, discoverability and interoperability.

About ARPHA Platform:

Pensoft publishes its journals on its self-developed ARPHA publishing platform: an end-to-end, narrative- and data-integrated publishing solution that supports the full life cycle of a manuscript, from authoring to reviewing, publishing and dissemination. ARPHA provides accomplished and streamlined production workflows that can be heavily customised by client journals not necessarily linked to Pensoft as a publisher, since ARPHA is specially targeted at learned societies, research institutions and university presses. The platform enables a variety of publishing models through a number of options for branding, production and revenue models. Alongside its elaborate and highly automated publishing tools and services, ARPHA provides a range of human-provided services, such as science communication and assistance in indexation at databases like Web of Science and Scopus, to provide a complete full-featured publishing solution package.

Integration of ecosystem services in urban planning tools can directly contribute to the sustainability of ecosystems

Integrated ecosystem services can be a potent tool to inform and guide spatial decision-making.

Guest blog post by Zeynep Türkay

Ecosystem services’ (ES) integration into global policies is widely recognized as a hope for environmental sustainability, as they provide a robust framework for representing natural values. The role of healthy ecosystems in combating climate change-related risks and ensuring the sustainability of ecosystem services that are critical for human-natural life is well understood, and in this context, the protection and sustainability of Integrated ES areas, which represent the highest ecological functional areas in this sense, need to be highlighted. Integrated ES can be a potent tool to inform and guide spatial decision-making. However, presently, there is a need to improve the content of related conventional tools on how to introduce and involve their roles in decision-making processes.

A map of Istanbul showing the integrated ecosystem services potential of the current situation.
A map of Istanbul showing the integrated ecosystem services potential of the current situation.

Our paper, published in the journal One Ecosystem, investigates the incorporation of this problem, underlines ES significance as the Integrated ES, and transfers this information into spatial decision-making. The content of the paper discusses the potential contributions and limitations of the integration. It provides solid suggestions on how Integrated ES can be operationalized in Istanbul’s high-level plans.

Research article:

Türkay Z, Tezer A (2024) Contribution of integrated ecosystem services to urban planning tools: Can it be more functional for the sustainability of ecosystems? One Ecosystem 9: e121553. https://doi.org/10.3897/oneeco.9.e121553