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🤩GAME ON! 6th duel in the New Species Showdown!

Every Monday and Thursday, Pensoft will be announcing a match between two competing species. Out of the 16 competitors, who’s got the greatest fandom?

Which one is the species that springs to mind when you think about the most awesome discoveries in recent times?

In an age where we more than ever need to appreciate and preserve the magnificent biodiversity inhabiting the Earth, we decided to go for a lighter and fun take on the work of taxonomists that often goes unnoticed by the public. 

From the ocean depths surrounding Indonesia to the foliage of the native forests of Príncipe Island, here come 16 species described as new to science in journals published by Pensoft. 

Out of these most amazing creatures, who’s got the greatest fandom? We shall learn that with the #NewSpeciesShowdown!

Current battle

Vote closes on Monday, 12 December @ 12:00 PM (UTC)

You can simply click on the embedded tweet to access the poll and vote.

The rules

Every Monday and Thursday, @Pensoft will be announcing a match between two competing species on Twitter using the hashtag #NewSpeciesShowdown, where you can vote in the poll for the tournament’s champion!

Right before we announce the next tie, we will let you know who won the previous competition and progresses to the next round. The champion will be announced in early January (we might give you some extra days to vote in the grand finale!)

Disclaimer

This competition is for entertainment purposes only. As it was tremendously tough to narrow the list down to only sixteen species, we admit that we left out a lot of spectacular creatures.

To ensure fairness and transparency, we made the selection based on the yearly Altmetric data, which covers articles in our journals published from 2010 onwards and ranks the publications according to their online mentions from across the Web, including news media, blogs and social networks. 

We did our best to diversify the list as much as possible in terms of taxonomic groups. However, due to the visual-centric nature of social media, we gave preference to immediately attractive species.

Winners so far

The first tie of the New Species Showdown was between the olinguito: Bassaricyon neblina (see species description) and the “snow-coated” tussock moth Ivela yini (see species description).
In the second battle, we faced two marine species discovered in the Indian Ocean and described in ZooKeys. The supergiant isopod B. raksasa (see species description) won against the Rose Fariy Wrasse C. finifenmaa (see species description) with strong 75%.
In the third battle, we faced two frog species: the tapir ‘chocolate’ frog described in Evolutionary Systematics (see species description) winning against the ‘glass frog’ described in Zookeys (see species description) with 73%.
With 62% of the votes, the two-species tournament saw the Harryplax severus crab grab the win against another species named after a great wizard from the Harry Potter universe: the Salazar’s pit viper, which was described in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution in 2020. The “unusual” crustacean was described back in 2017 in ZooKeys. As its species characters matched no genus known to date, the species also established the Harryplax genus.
With the fifth battle in the New Species Showdown taking us to the Kingdom of Plants, we enjoyed a great battle between the first pitcher plant found to grow its pitchers underground to dine (see the full study) and the Demon’s orchid, described in 2016 from a single population spread across a dwarf montane forest in southern Colombia (read the study). Both species made the headlines across the news media around the world following their descriptions in our flagship botany journal PhytoKeys.
But why are we holding the tournament right now?

If you have gone to the Pensoft website at any point this year, visited our booth at a conference, or received a newsletter from any of our journals, by this time, you must be well aware that in 2022 – more precisely, towards the end of the year – we are turning 30. And we ain’t afraid to show it!

Pensoft’s team happy to showcase the 30-year story of the company at various events this year.
Left: Maria Kolesnikova at the annual Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG 2022) conference, hosted by Pensoft in Sofia, Bulgaria. Right: Iva Boyadzhieva at the XXVI International Congress of Entomology (ICE 2022) in Helsinki, Finland.

Indeed, 30 is not that big of a number, as many of us adult humans can confirm. Yet, we take pride in reminiscing about what we’ve done over the last three decades. 

The truth is, 30 years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to picture this day, let alone think that we’d be sharing it with all of you: our journal readers, authors, editors and reviewers, collaborators in innovation, project partners, and advisors. 

Long story short, we wanted to do something special and fun to wrap up our anniversary year. While we have been active in various areas, including development of publishing technology concerning open and FAIR access and linkage for research outcomes and underlying data; and multiple EU-supported scientific projects, we have always been associated with our biodiversity journal portfolio.

Besides, who doesn’t like to learn about the latest curious creature that has evaded scientific discovery throughout human history up until our days? 😉

Now, follow the #NewSpeciesShowdown to join the contest!

Tracking an invasion – a single Asian hornet sparked the ongoing spread across Europe

It is likely that all Asian hornets in Europe are descended from a single queen introduced to France in 2004.

In Europe, the Asian (or “Yellow-legged”) Hornet (Vespa velutina) is a predator of insects such as honeybees, hoverflies, and other wasps, and poses serious risks to apiculture, biodiversity and pollination services. This hornet can measure up to 4cm in length and, like all other social wasps, is capable of delivering a painful sting, although it is not aggressive by nature. Thought to have been introduced into Europe from China in 2004, the Asian Hornet has rapidly spread across the continent. While it has been thus far controlled in Britain, the hornet is well established across mainland Europe and the Channel Islands. In April 2021, the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service confirmed that a single specimen had been found, ‘alive but dying’ in a private dwelling in Dublin, marking the first Irish record of this species.  

The Asian Hornet specimen recovered in Dublin. Image by Dr Aidan O’Hanlon

The circumstances of how the specimen arrived in the Irish capital are not known, but with the area’s extensive regional, national and international connectivity, there can be many possible pathways of introduction. In an Irish context, it was of particular interest to determine whether this individual originated in Europe/Britain or represented a potential new invasion source from within its native range in Southeast Asia.

The specimen was deposited in the National Museum of Ireland and identified by Dr. Aidan O’Hanlon, who suggested performing genetic analysis to determine its provenance. In collaboration with scientists from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), University College Cork, and partners on the EU Atlantic Positive Project (which aims to establish Europe-wide methodologies for the control of the Asian hornet), genetic analysis was performed and data were compared with those from specimens provided from several other locations across Europe. The researchers then published their findings in Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

An Irish hornet. Image by Danel Solabarrieta, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

“Earlier work had demonstrated that Asian hornets in Europe apparently shared the same genetic lineage, based on studies of a single gene. We took this a step further and looked at two additional genes which would be more sensitive in detecting variation within the invasive population”, explains Dr. Eileen Dillane of BEES.

Data from all three genetic markers confirmed that not only are Asian hornets in Europe of a single pedigree, but are likely descended from a single mated queen hornet that somehow arrived in France in 2004.  Furthermore, this lineage has not yet been described within the native range. 

“Our research has revealed the remarkable potential for population expansion of eusocial insects in invaded areas, even when original genetic diversity is extremely low”, says Dr. Simon Harrison, who is part of the research team .

Female V. velutina specimen from Dublin, Ireland.

These findings are both bad news and good news for the control of the Asian hornet in Europe. Whilst single mated queens can evidently rapidly re-colonise areas from where hornets have been eradicated (for example, where intensive efforts have destroyed all nests in an area), the close relatedness of all individuals of the Asian hornet in Europe offers hope for eradication methods based on biological control. 

In the Irish context, it is unlikely that this is the beginning of a larger-scale invasion, as the climate and habitat landscape of Ireland is likely less than ideal for the Asian hornet, which requires higher summer temperatures and a greater supply of energy-rich food. “Nonetheless, climate change is likely to increase the threat of a successful invasion in the future, so vigilance against this species must be maintained”, the authors of the study advise.

Original source:

Dillane E, Hayden R, O’Hanlon A, Butler F, Harrison S (2022) The first recorded occurrence of the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) in Ireland, genetic evidence for a continued single invasion across Europe. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 93: 131-138. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.93.91209

Oldest Pterodactylus fossil found in Germany

The fossil, just described in a study in the journal Fossil Record, is about one million years older than other Pterodactylus specimens.

Pterosaurs, the flying reptiles of the dinosaur era, originated in the Late Triassic (227 million years ago) and became extinct at the end-Cretaceous extinction event (66 million years ago). With wing spans ranging from 1 to 12 meters, they dominated the world’s skies for more than 160 million years.

The first described and named pterosaur – and namesake of the whole group – is Pterodactylus from the famous Solnhofen Limestone of Bavaria, southern Germany. Originally described in 1784 by the Italian naturalist Cosimo Alessandro Collini, the fossil was considered to be an aquatic animal for 25 years, before Georges Cuvier found out it was a flying reptile belonging to a new, previously unrecognized group.

The oldest specimen of this iconic pterosaur was recently found near Painten, a small town in the southern part of the Franconian Alb in central Bavaria. The fossil, described in a study in the journal Fossil Record, is about one million years older than other Pterodactylus specimens.

The specimen was unearthed in 2014 during excavations in an active limestone quarry. It took more than 120 hours of meticulous mechanical work using pneumatic tools and needles before the researchers could study it. The research team behind the discovery are Felix Augustin, Andreas Matzke, Panagiotis Kampouridis and Josephina Hartung from the University of Tübingen (Germany) and Raimund Albersdörfer from the Dinosaurier Museum Altmühltal (Germany).

“The rocks of the quarry, which yielded the new Pterodactylus specimen, consist of silicified limestone that has been dated to the upper Kimmeridgian stage (around 152 million years ago)”, explains Felix Augustin of the University of Tübingen, who is the lead author of the study. “Previously, Pterodactylus had only been found in younger rocks of southern Germany belonging to the Tithonian stage that follows after the Kimmeridgian”.

The specimen is a complete, well-preserved skeleton of a small-sized individual. “Only a very small portion of the left mandible as well as of the left and right tibia is missing. Otherwise, the skeleton is nearly perfectly preserved with every bone present and in its roughly correct anatomical position”, the researchers write in their study.

With a 5-cm-long skull, the Painten Pterodactylus represents a rare “sub-adult” individual. “Generally, the Pterodactylus specimens are not evenly distributed across the full size range but predominantly fall into distinct size-classes that are separated by marked gaps. The specimen from Painten is a rare representative of the first gap between the small and large sizes,” explains Augustin. “The Painten Pterodactylus was of an intermediate, and rarely found, ontogenetic age at the time of its death, between two consecutive year-classes.”

The Painten quarry has yielded many other “exquisitely preserved fossils”, including ichthyosaurs, turtles, marine and terrestrial crocodile-relatives, and dinosaurs.  Many of them, like this new pterosaur specimen, are on display in the new Dinosaurier Museum Altmühltal in Denkendorf (Bavaria, Germany).

Research article:

Augustin FJ, Kampouridis P, Hartung J, Albersdörfer R, Matzke AT (2022) The geologically oldest specimen of Pterodactylus: a new exquisitely preserved skeleton from the Upper Jurassic (Kimmeridgian) Plattenkalk deposits of Painten (Bavaria, Germany). Fossil Record 25(2): 331-343. https://doi.org/10.3897/fr.25.90692

Follow Fossil Record on Facebook and Twitter.

A double defensive mutualism? A case between plants, extrafloral nectaries, and trophobionts

Тhis is the first case reported in the literature of a double defensive mutualism occurring simultaneously on a single plant species.

Guest blog post by Cássio Pereira

The Zeyheria montana shrub is quite common in the Brazilian Cerrado and is known to have extrafloral nectaries on the leaf blade that attract patrolling ants such as the aggressive Ectatomma tuberculatum. The ant, in turn, defends the leaves against the action of herbivores. However, extrafloral nectaries can distract ants on the leaves, segregating them from the reproductive parts and preventing them from driving away pollinators, which can benefit the action of florivores and nectar robbers.

Surprisingly, in southeastern Brazil, we observed a second defensive mutualism occurring on the reproductive tissues of these shrubs between E. tuberculatum and the treehopper Guayaquila xiphias, which provides the ant with honeydew in exchange for protection. This trophobiosis relationship (interaction between ants and phytophagous hemipterans that secrete sugary exudates) seems to be effective not only in the defense of floral buds and flowers, but also of the fruit, which, despite being dry, contains a lot of water in its formation and is attacked by beetles of the Curculionidae family.

The treehoppers G. xiphias at the base of Z. montana fruits.

As far as we know, this is the first case reported in the literature of a double defensive mutualism occurring simultaneously on a single plant species. Given this record, important questions arise regarding these interactions. Is the trophobiosis that occurs in reproductive organs capable of increasing the fitness of these plants? Although these ants are probably also scaring away possible pollinating insects, could the fact that Z. montana is primarily pollinated by hummingbirds offset this loss given that hummingbirds are larger and perhaps immune to ant attacks?

Our record raises more questions than it answers. Long-term Z. montana population studies would help improve our ecological understanding of these interactions.

Knowledge is power: How can we make cave tourism more environmentally friendly?

A new study in Nature Conservation presents a literature-based dataset on the ecological status of 265 show caves in 39 countries across the world.

Throughout history, people have used caves for a number of reasons: as shelters, places for rituals, food storage, and, in more recent times, as touristic attractions.  In these so-called show caves, visitors can experience the natural beauty of caves, usually by following a guide on constructed, artificially lit trails.

But caves are also very fragile ecosystems, bursting with underground life. They are home to numerous invertebrate and bat species, including ones that are threatened or endemic. The human disturbances caused by the changes in the infrastructure and environment, coupled with the influx of tourists, often affect the ecological processes and, consequently, these organisms. But how much do we know about the influence of tourists on cave ecosystems?

According to a new study in the open-access journal Nature Conservation, not enough.

Apart from affecting subterranean invertebrates, the artificial lighting and noise related to tourist visits may also affect the life of bats, making it harder for them to reproduce or overwinter in caves.

Going through more than 1,000 scientific papers, an Italian team of scientists, led by Marco Isaia and Elena Piano from the University of Torino, prepared a literature-based dataset relative to the knowledge on the ecological status of 265 show caves in 39 countries across the world. Their database includes a georeferenced set of show caves, where researchers have evaluated a number of environmental indicators that help monitor the impact of tourism and its related activities on subterranean ecosystems. They also list cave characteristics for each cave, including its natural heritage that attracts tourists.

There are many ways in which tourism can disturb life in a cave. For example, the presence of visitors may help increase cave temperature, which, combined with the increase of CO2 air concentration caused by tourists’ breath, may enhance carbonate dissolution, damaging geological formations. Moreover, tourists can carry pollutants and propagules of microorganisms into the cave through their clothes and hands, which then land on geological formations, in the water, in the air, and on the ground. Apart from affecting subterranean invertebrates, the artificial lighting and noise related to tourist visits may also affect the life of bats, making it harder for them to reproduce or overwinter in caves.

The dataset published in Nature Conservation set a baseline towards the integrated and multidisciplinary study of the impacts caused by tourism on these fragile ecosystems, but the research team points out that much remains to be done. For example, they found out that there wasn’t enough research on show caves outside of Europe, or on the possible impacts of tourism on the subterranean fauna in the context of climate change.

Ultimately, the data in this study can help managing authorities come up with guidelines that will allow a sustainable touristic development of show caves, not only from an environmental perspective, but also from an economic and social point of view.

“Overall, this data paper could fill the lack of awareness towards the fragility of the natural heritage of show caves to favour a sustainable touristic use that would guarantee their preservation for future generations as well as the economic development of local communities”, the authors conclude.

Research article:

Piano E, Nicolosi G, Mammola S, Balestra V, Baroni B, Bellopede R, Cumino E, Muzzulini N, Piquet A, Isaia M (2022) A literature-based database of the natural heritage, the ecological status and tourism-related impacts in show caves worldwide. Nature Conservation 50: 159-174. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.50.80505

All images are from Bossea show cave in Italy, by Simone Marzocchi.

Follow Nature Conservation on Facebook and Twitter.

‘Nature’s Envelope’ – a simple device that reveals the scope and scale of all biological processes

All processes fit into a broad S-shaped envelope extending from the briefest to the most enduring biological events. For the first time, we have the first simple model that depicts the scope and scale of biology.

Arctic tern by Mark Stock, Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park. License: CC BY-SA.

As biology is progressing into a digital age, it is creating new opportunities for discovery. 

Increasingly, information from investigations into aspects of biology from ecology to molecular biology is available in a digital form. Older ‘legacy’ information is being digitized. Together, the digital information is accumulated in databases from which it can be harvested and examined with an increasing array of algorithmic and visualization tools.

From this trend has emerged a vision that, one day, we should be able to analyze any and all aspects of biology in this digital world. 

However, before this can happen, there will need to be an infrastructure that gathers information from ALL sources, reshapes it as standardized data using universal metadata and ontologies, and made freely available for analysis. 

That information also must make its way to trustworthy repositories to guarantee the permanent access to the data in a polished and fully suited for re-use state.

The first layer in the infrastructure is the one that gathers all old and new information, whether it be about the migrations of ocean mammals, the sequence of bases in ribosomal RNA, or the known locations of particular species of ciliated protozoa.

How many of these subdomains will be there?

To answer this, we need to have a sense of the scope and scale of biology.

With the Nature’s Envelope we have, for the first time, a simple model that depicts the scope and scale of biology. Presented as a rhetorical device by its author Dr David J. Patterson (University of Sydney, Australia), the Nature’s Envelope is described in a Forum Paper, published in the open-science journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO).

This is achieved by compiling information about the processes conducted by all living organisms. The processes occur at all levels of organization, from sub-molecular transactions, such as those that underpin nervous impulses, to those within and among plants, animals, fungi, protists and prokaryotes. Further, they are also the actions and reactions of individuals and communities; but also the sum of the interactions that make up an ecosystem; and finally, the consequences of the biosphere as a whole system. 

Nature’s Envelope, in green, includes all processes carried out by, involving, or the result of the activities of any and all organisms. The axes depict the duration of events and the sizes of participants using a log10 scale. Image by David J. Patterson. License: CC BY.

In the Nature’s Envelope, information on sizes of participants and durations of processes from all levels of organization are plotted on a grid. The grid uses a logarithmic (base 10) scale, which has about 21 orders of magnitude of size and 35 orders of magnitude of time. Information on processes ranging from the subatomic, through molecular, cellular, tissue, organismic, species, communities to ecosystems is assigned to the appropriate decadal blocks. 

Examples include movements from the stepping motion of molecules like kinesin that move forward 8 nanometres in about 10 milliseconds; or the migrations of Arctic terns which follow routes of 30,000 km or more from Europe to Antarctica over 3 to 4 months.

The extremes of life processes are determined by the smallest and largest entities to participate, and the briefest and most enduring processes.

The briefest event to be included is the transfer of energy from a photon to a photosynthetic pigment as the photon passes through a chlorophyll molecule several nanometres in width at a speed of 300,000 km per second. That transaction is conducted in about 10-17 seconds. As it involves the smallest subatomic particles, it defines the lower left corner of the grid. 

The most enduring is the process of evolution that has been progressing for almost 4 billion years. The influence of the latter has created the biosphere (the largest living object) and affects the gas content of the atmosphere. This process established the upper right extreme of the grid.

All biological processes fit into a broad S-shaped envelope that includes about half of the decadal blocks in the grid. The envelope drawn round the initial examples is Nature’s Envelope.

Nature’s envelope will be a useful addition to many discussions, whether they deal with the infrastructure that will manage the digital age of biology, or provide the context for education on the diversity and range of processes that living systems engage in.

The version of Nature’s Envelope published in the RIO journal is seen as a first version, to be refined and enhanced through community participation,”

comments Patterson.

***

Original source:

Patterson DJ (2022) The scope and scale of the life sciences (‘Nature’s envelope’). Research Ideas and Outcomes 8: e96132. https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.8.e96132

***

Follow Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal) on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

Digitising beans to feed the world

In 2018, NHM London’s digitisation team started a project to digitise non-type herbarium material from the legume family. A recent data paper in the Biodiversity Data Journal reports on the outcomes.

You can find the original blog post by the Natural History Museum of London, reposted here with minor edits.

Legumes are a group of plants that include soybeans, peas, chickpeas, peanuts and lentils. They are a significant source of protein, fibre, carbohydrates, and minerals in our diet and some, like the cowpea, are resistant to droughts.

In 2018, the Natural History Museum of London’s (NHM London) digitisation team started a project in collaboration with project leader Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

The project’s outcomes were published in a data paper in the Biodiversity Data Journal. Within the project, the digitisation team aimed to collectively digitise non-type herbarium material from the legume family. This includes rosewood trees (Dalbergia), padauk trees (Pterocarpus) and the Phaseolinae subtribe that contains many of the beans cultivated for human and animal food.

This project was made possible through the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)-allocated Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding, distributed by the UK government in its “global efforts to defeat poverty, tackle instability and create prosperity in developing countries”.

AfricanGuinea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar
AsianBangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, New Guinea and India
Southern and Central AmericanGuatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil
ODA-listed Countries

The legume groups: Dalbergia, Pterocarpus and Phaseolinae,were chosen for digitisation to support the development of dry beans as a sustainable and resilient crop, and to aid conservation and sustainable use of rosewood and padauk trees. Some of these beans, especially cow pea and pigeon pea, are sustainable and resilient crops, as they can be grown in poor-quality soils and are drought stress resistant. This makes them particularly suitable for agricultural production where the growing of other crops would be difficult.

Digitally discoverable herbarium specimens can provide important information about the distribution of individual species, as well as highlighting which species occur naturally together.

While there have been collaborative efforts between herbaria in the past, these have tended to prioritise digitisation of type specimens: the example specimens for which a species is named.

Types are important to identification, but being individual specimens, they don’t offer insights into species distribution over time. By focusing on the non-types across the world and over the last 200 years, we have released a brand-new resource to the global scientific community.

Searching for beans

This collection was digitised by creating an inventory record for each specimen, attaching images of each herbarium sheet, and then transcribing more data and georeferencing the specimens, providing an accurate locality in space and time for their collection. 

We originally had four months and three members of staff to digitise over 11,000 specimens. The Covid-19 lockdown was ironically rather lucky for this project as it enabled us to have more time to transcribe and georeference all of the records. 

say the researchers behind the digitisation project.
Map showing breakdown of records by country.

“We were able to assign country-level data to 10,857 out of the total number of 11,222 records. We were also able to transcribe the collectors’ names from the majority of our specimen labels (10,879 out of 11,222). Only 770 out of the 2,226 individuals identified during this project collected their specimens in ODA listed countries. The highest contributors were: Richard Beddome (130 specimens), Charles Clarke (110), Hans Schlieben (98) and Nathaniel Wallich (79). The breakdown of records by ODA country can be seen in the chart below. “

Map showing breakdown of records by country and pie chart showing distribution by ODA listed countries.

From our data, we can see the peak decade of collection was the 1930s, with almost half (4,583 specimens or 49,43%) collected between 1900 and 1950 (Fig. 10).

This peak can be attributed to three of our most prolific collectors: Arthur Kerr, John Gossweiler and Georges Le Testu, all of whom were most active in the 1930s. The oldest specimen (BM013713473) was collected by Mark Catesby (1683-1749) in the Bahamas in 1726.

they explain.

An interesting, but perhaps unsurprising, finding is that our collection is strongly male-dominated.

There are only two women (Caroline Whitefoord and Ynes Mexia) in the list of our top 50 plant collectors and they are not close to the most prolific collectors.

We identified more women in the rest of our records, but their contribution is on average less than 25 specimens per person in the dataset consisting of more than 10,000 specimens. In contrast, the top five male collectors contributed 10% of our collection. 

they continued

Releasing Rosewoods

Both the Pterocarpus and Dalbergia genera include species that are used as expensive good quality timber that is prone to illegal logging. Many species such as Pterocarpus tinctorius are also listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. By releasing this new resource of information on all these plants from three of the biggest herbaria in the world, we can share this datа with the people who are taking care of biodiversity in these countries. The data can be used to identify hotspots, where the tree is naturally growing and protect these areas. These data would also allow much closer attention to be paid to areas that could be targets for illegal logging activity.

Pterocarpus tinctorius is a species of padauk tree that is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is a food and animal feed crop grown in the semi-arid tropics.

The ODA-listed countries are economically impoverished and disproportionately prone to be disadvantaged with the changing climate whether from flood or drought or increase in temperature.

Using data to identify good, nutritious plant species that can be grown in such conditions can therefore benefit local communities, potentially reducing dependence on imports, aid and on less resilient crops. 

the team adds in conclusion.

***

This dataset is now openly available on the Museum’s Data Portal and a data paper about this work has been released in the Biodiversity Data Journal.

***

Stay in touch with the Digitisation team by following us on Instagram and Twitter

Don’t forget to also follow the Biodiversity Data Journal on Twitter and Facebook.

A Needle in a Coastal Haystack

A tiny species known only from fossils is found alive in the tidepools of Santa Barbara.

Discovering a new species is always exciting, but so is finding one alive that everyone assumed had been lost to the passage of time. A small clam, previously known only from fossils, has recently been found living at Naples Point, just up the coast from UC Santa Barbara. The discovery appears in the journal ZooKeys.

“It’s not all that common to find alive a species first known from the fossil record, especially in a region as well-studied as Southern California,” said co-author Jeff Goddard, a research associate at UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. “Ours doesn’t go back anywhere near as far as the famous Coelacanth or the deep-water mollusk Neopilina galatheae — representing an entire class of animals thought to have disappeared 400 million years ago — but it does go back to the time of all those wondrous animals captured by the La Brea Tar Pits.”

Jeff Goddard with students. Photo Credit: 
Courtesy Image

On an afternoon low tide in November 2018, Goddard was turning over rocks searching for nudibranch sea slugs at Naples Point, when a pair of small, translucent bivalves caught his eye. “Their shells were only 10 millimeters long,” he said. “But when they extended and started waving about a bright white-striped foot longer than their shell, I realized I had never seen this species before.” This surprised Goddard, who has spent decades in California’s intertidal habitats, including many years specifically at Naples Point. He immediately stopped what he was doing to take close-up photos of the intriguing animals.

“I was surprised and intrigued. This was something I’d never seen before.”

Paul Valentich-Scott

With quality images in hand, Goddard decided not to collect the animals, which appeared to be rare. After pinning down their taxonomic family, he sent the images to Paul Valentich-Scott, curator emeritus of malacology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. “I was surprised and intrigued,” Valentich-Scott recalled. “I know this family of bivalves (Galeommatidae) very well along the coast of the Americas. This was something I’d never seen before.”

He mentioned a few possibilities to Goddard, but said he’d need to see the animal in-person to make a proper assessment. So, Goddard returned to Naples Point to claim his clam. But after two hours combing just a few square meters, he still hadn’t caught sight of his prize. The species would continue to elude him many more times.

Nine trips later, in March 2019, and nearly ready to give up for good, Goddard turned over yet another rock and saw the needle in the haystack. A single specimen, next to a couple of small white nudibranchs and a large chiton. Valentich-Scott would get his specimen at last, and the pair could finally set to work on identification.

A dazzling play of colors highlights Southern California’s long lost clam. Photo Credit: 
Jeff Goddard

Valentich-Scott was even more surprised once he got his hands on the shell. He knew it belonged to a genus with one member in the Santa Barbara region, but this shell didn’t match any of them. It raised the exciting possibility that they had found a new species.

“This really started ‘the hunt’ for me,” Valentich-Scott said. “When I suspect something is a new species, I need to track back through all of the scientific literature from 1758 to the present. It can be a daunting task, but with experience it can go pretty quickly.”

The two researchers decided to check out an intriguing reference to a fossil species. They tracked down illustrations of the bivalve Bornia cooki from the paper describing the species in 1937. It appeared to match the modern specimen. If confirmed, this would mean that Goddard had found not a new species, but a sort of living fossil.

It is worth noting that the scientist who described the species, George Willett, estimated he had excavated and examined perhaps 1 million fossil specimens from the same location, the Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles. That said, he never found B. cooki himself. Rather, he named it after Edna Cook, a Baldwin Hills collector who had found the only two specimens known.

Valentich-Scott requested Willett’s original specimen (now classified as Cymatioa cooki) from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. This object, called the “type specimen,” serves to define the species, so it’s the ultimate arbiter of the clam’s identification.

The type specimen that George Willett used to originally describe the species. Photo credit: VALENTICH-SCOTT ET AL.

Meanwhile, Goddard found another specimen at Naples Point — a single empty shell in the sand underneath a boulder. After carefully comparing the specimens from Naples Point with Willett’s fossil, Valentich-Scott concluded they were the same species. “It was pretty remarkable,” he recalled.

Small size and cryptic habitat notwithstanding, all of this begs the question of how the clam eluded detection for so long. “There is such a long history of shell-collecting and malacology in Southern California — including folks interested in the harder to find micro-mollusks — that it’s hard to believe no one found even the shells of our little cutie,” Goddard said.

He suspects the clams may have arrived here on currents as planktonic larvae, carried up from the south during marine heatwaves from 2014 through 2016. These enabled many marine species to extend their distributions northward, including several documented specifically at Naples Point. Depending on the animal’s growth rate and longevity, this could explain why no one had noticed C. cooki at the site prior to 2018, including Goddard, who has worked on nudibranchs at Naples Point since 2002.

“The Pacific coast of Baja California has broad intertidal boulder fields that stretch literally for miles,” Goddard said, “and I suspect that down there Cymatioa cooki is probably living in close association with animals burrowing beneath those boulders.”

Research article:

Valentich-Scott P, Goddard JHR (2022) A fossil species found living off southern California, with notes on the genus Cymatioa (Mollusca, Bivalvia, Galeommatoidea). ZooKeys 1128: 53-62. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1128.95139

Press release originally published by UC Santa Barbara. Republished with permission.

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Invasive fruit fly may pose threat to forest ecosystems

The decay of fruits attacked by the spotted wing drosophila leads to a loss of resources, which can cause considerable ecological damage.

The invasive spotted wing drosophila (SWD), introduced from South-East Asia, is a well-known fruit crop pest. It lays its eggs by destroying the mechanical protection of the fruit’s skin, providing an entry point for further infestation. Egg deposition and inoculated microbes then accelerate decay, and as a result the fruit rots and becomes inedible. While this small fly is known to cause massive economic damage in agriculture, little is known about its ecological impact on more natural ecosystems such as forests.

The larvae of the invasive spotted wing drosophila develops in fruits of many forest species such as brambles. Its occurrence result in a fast decay of the fruits.

A recent study by Swiss scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL and the Ökobüro Biotopia, published in the scientific journal NeoBiota, concluded that the SWD competes strongly with other fruit-eating species and that its presence could have far-reaching consequences for ecosystems.

The research team assessed the use of potential host plants at 64 sites in forests from mid-June to mid-October 2020 by checking a total of 12,000 fruits for SWD egg deposits. To determine if SWD attacks trigger fruit decay, they also recorded symptoms of fruit decay after egg deposition. In addition, they monitored the fruit fly (drosophilid) fauna in the area, assuming that the SWD would outnumber and possibly outcompete other fruit-eating insects.

The male of the invasive spotted wing drosophila can be easily identified by the dark spots on the wings.

The authors found egg deposits on the fruits of 31 of the 39 fruit-bearing forest plant species they studied, with 18 species showing an attack rate of more than 50%. Furthermore, more than 50% of the affected plant species showed severe symptoms of decay after egg deposition. The egg depositions may alter the attractiveness of fruits, because they change their chemical composition and visual cues, such as colour, shape and reflective patterns, which in turn might lead seed dispersers such as birds to consume less fruits.

Given the large number of infested fruits, significant ecological impacts can be expected. “Rapid decay of fruits attacked by the spotted wing drosophila results in a loss of fruit available for other species competing for this resource, and may disrupt seed-dispersal mutualisms due to reduced consumption of fruit by dispersers such as birds,” says Prof. Martin M. Gossner, entomologist at the WSL. “If the fly reproduces in large numbers, both seed dispersers and plants could suffer.”

The females of the invasive spotted wing drosophila has an enlarged, serrated ovipositor to attack undamaged fruits, which gives it a competitive advantage over native fruit flies.

The authors further found that SWD were strongly represented and dominant in trap catches, and showed that the more abundant SWD were, the less abundant native drosophilids were. This suggests additional negative impacts of the invasive species on native communities.

With ongoing climate change, these potentially severe ecological impacts might be amplified in temperate forests, as higher average and winter temperatures will most likely lead to shorter generation times and lower winter mortality, which will eventually further increase the pressure on forest fruits and the competitiveness of the SWD over native drosophilids, the authors note.

Research article:
Bühlmann I, Gossner MM (2022) Invasive Drosophila suzukii outnumbers native controphics and causes substantial damage to fruits of forest plants. NeoBiota 77: 39-77. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.77.87319

Photos by Prof. Martin M. Gossner.

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Leaves and Spines: A new spiny-tailed leaf-toed gecko from the unexplored coastal savanna of Angola

A random survey in a poorly explored region of the southern Benguela Province of Angola, led to the discovery of a unique new spiny-tailed leaf-toed gecko.

Guest blog post by Javier Lobon-Rovira

After the long, hard days of fieldwork in the arid coastal region of southern Angola, Angolan researcher Pedro Vaz Pinto and his enthusiastic son Afonso, found the best spot to spend the night before heading back home. In the area of Carivo, every night was different: after four visits to this unique place, a different gecko species always showed up to add to the growing species list.

On a random night in August 2021, they went for a routine night walks and came across this unique gecko. In shock, Pedro immediately started sharing photos with the coauthors, Werner and Javier. “Guys, I think I found a new Kolekanos” he said.

Kolekanos is a unique and iconic gecko genus in Africa and more specifically only known from southwestern Angola. Kolekanos plumicaudus was described by one of the most recognized herpetologists in Africa, the late Wulf Haacke (1936– 2021).

Feather-tailed Kolekanos was at that point a monotypic genus (only one species in the genus), known only from ~200km south of the new discovery. Immediately, we all knew that what we were looking in that photo was something different from the known K. plumicaudus. “It is a Kolekanos… but, those are spines in the tail, not feathers…” was one of the most common reactions that night. So, we started planning our next trip to the area.

Three months later we were back at Carivo, now focusing on finding more specimens of that unique gecko. After only one hour, we spotted at least six specimens among the semi-dessert vegetations and rocks. At that moment, all doubt went away. The behavior and habitat of the new gecko was completely distinctive in comparison with K. plumicaudus.

Then, with our goal achieved and based on the big success of the first night, we planned to go back through different areas to explore some of the most remote regions in Northern Namibe and southern Benguela provinces. After two days driving on impossible roads, the team reached Ekongo. That night we were tired, so we decided to have a short walk around the camp. And… there it was…! Like a ghost, this small, cryptic, and elusive gecko started  showing up in every big rock boulder. 

This study, now published in the journal ZooKeys, also highlights how poorly explored and understood some regions of Angola remain, even as it has been considered as an important source of diversification and endemism in West Africa.