The latest issue published in African Invertebrates is a special one: it honours the career and achievements of South African entomologist Dr Jason G. H. Londt. In celebration of Londt’s prolific and inspiring work, the issue was published to coincide with his 80th birthday in 2023.
For more than 50 years, Londt has made a notable impact on South African and international entomology, collecting large numbers of Diptera and other insect orders. He has made outstanding contributions to the entomological research on flies, especially assassin or robber flies (Diptera, Asilidae), on hangingflies (Mecoptera, Bittacidae), and field collections of insects, primarily in South Africa.
Throughout his career, he has described more species of Afrotropical Asilidae and Bittacidae (Mecoptera) than any other author.
“Today, some 952 Asilidae species are recognised from southern Africa and thanks to Jason’s exceptional collecting efforts and detailed revisionary taxonomic publications these species can be easily identified,“ write African Invertebrates editors John Midgley and Torsten Dikow in the editorial to the Festschrift.
The Festschrift includes nine articles celebrating Dr Londt’s career by authors from three continents, covering the broad contributions that he has made to Afrotropical entomology. It also introduces five new species described in his honour, one hangingfly and four true flies.
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Until 1st July 2023, participants at the annual TDWG conference – which will be taking place 9-13 October in Tasmania, Australia – will be able to submit their abstracts to present in-person or virtually.
For an eighth year in a row, all conference abstracts will be submitted to TDWG via the Association’s own journal: Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS Journal), published by Pensoft and powered by the end-to-end publishing platform ARPHA. Using the ‘mini-paper’ format, participants are not only openly and efficiently sharing their work with the world, but they also get to enjoy many features typically exclusive to ‘standard’ research papers, including DOI registration on Crossref, semantic enrichment and structural elements (e.g., tables, figures), all of which are stored as easily exported data.
Apart from an abstract submission portal, BISS Journal also serves as a permanent, openly accessible scholarly source for all contributions concerning the creation, maintenance, and promotion of open community-driven data standards to enable sharing and use of biodiversity data for all.
As in previous years, the abstracts will be published ahead of the event itself to provide the community with a sneak preview of the conference. The 2023 collection of abstracts, will allow readers to explore the abstracts by session (e.g., symposia, posters, contributed presentations, keynotes). Sometime after the conference, check out the media tab on most abstracts for slides presented and a link to session video when it is posted on TDWG’s YouTube channel.
Visit the TDWG 2023 conference website for more information about the scientific program, registration, abstract submission and more. Ahead, during and after the conference, join the conversation on Twitter and Mastodon via #tdwg2023.
As an expert in science communication, dissemination and exploitation, Pensoft joins the Horizon-funded project TRANSPATH to identify leverage points and interventions for triggering transformative changes at consumer, producer and organisational levels.
The magnitude of biodiversity loss and climate crisis has grown exponentially in recent years, which will inevitably lead to serious consequences at a global scale. Although reversing the degradation of ecosystems and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are top priorities for the European Union, science and policy communities are united in the belief that conventional policies alone are not enough to halt biodiversity loss or mitigate climate change.
In order to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, whilst simultaneously reshaping people’s relations with nature, we need transformative changes in our economies and societies urgently.
TRANSPATH (short for TRANSformative PATHways for synergising just biodiversity and climate actions) – a new European Union-funded project, plans to satisfy this need by accelerating diverse transformative pathways towards biodiversity-positive and climate-proofed societies, with sensitivity to social-cultural contexts and rights.
TRANSPATH will identify leverage points and interventions for triggering transformative changes at consumer, producer and organisational levels. A research team, consisting of leading academics, science-policy experts, and early-career professionals, will directly engage with diverse stakeholders, who affect and are affected by trade regimes and associated ‘greening’ mechanisms.
As a leader of WP5: Dissemination, outreach and catalysing transformative pathways, Pensoft is responsible for providinga dissemination and communication strategy, as well as taking care of the project branding and website. In addition, the Pensoft team is to organise joint activities with other projects or initiatives on transformative change and related topics.
Funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme, TRANSPATH was launched on 1st November 2022 and will be running until October 2026. The official kick-off of the project took place online and was followed by an in-person kick-off meeting of all consortium members on the 2nd and 3rd February 2023 in Wageningen, the Netherlands.
For the next four years TRANSPATH will be focussing on the design and integrated assessment of a suite of transformative pathways that hold potential to accelerate shifts in unsustainable patterns of extraction, production, consumption and trade. The project’s mission will be achieved by four objectives:
Set up a Policy Board and Science-policy-practitioner Labs at multiple scales to engage and jointly deliberate on implications of diverse visions and pathways of change.
Identify and characterise leverage points for diverse contexts that lead to positive synergies between biodiversity, climate and trade domains.
Integrate and customise European and global pathways by considering coupled biodiversity-climate actions and critical leverage points.
Identify and test alternative interventions at global and European scales that can trigger transformative change at the level of consumers, producers and organisations.
TRANSPATH will bring together and advance several strands of recent research, which hold potential for triggering and accelerating transformative changes that can restrain biodiversity loss and climate change.
The project will draw on diverse contexts in Eastern and Western Europe, Africa and Latin America, to engage with policy makers and practitioners, individuals, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and multinational corporations.
In addition, policy packages and other interventions will be designed to facilitate the emergence of leverage points at different scales of action in ways that change the decision-making framework of everyday choices.
These interventions take into account the synergies and trade-offs of actions across multiple individuals and locations, as well as the role of incentives and political obstacles to implementation.
The EU project will provide a suite of Transformative Pathways along with a Toolbox of Transformative Interventions to trigger and enable these pathways. The Transformative Navigation Toolkit assists practitioners in enabling and navigating these pathways, acknowledging that determining what constitutes a ‘transformative pathway’ is also a product of an iterative and adaptive process that emerges and evolves over time.
The TRANSPATH project brings together leading academics, science-policy experts, and young professionals from different social-cultural origins across Eastern and Western Europe, Africa and Latin America. Represented by nine countries and twelve nationalities, the consortium comprises a diverse range of scientific disciplines in environments, economics, and social sciences.
Dedicated to ensuring sufficient engagement from local to global levels in this project, the experts are focused on integrated and inclusive deliberation that is essential for identifying, legitimising, and navigating transformative pathways.
MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (05/11/2023) — Researchers at the University of Minnesota have discovered a new species of tiny parasitic wasp that might prove beneficial to managing soybean gall midge, a recently emerged pest in Midwest soybean fields that can have devastating impacts on plant production.
Since the appearance of the midge in 2018, growers have struggled to manage this insect, prompting researchers to seek effective and environmentally-friendly ways to help soybean farmers protect their crop. One approach is biological control, using natural enemies to kill pests. However, because soybean gall midge is new, very little is known about which species might prove to be good allies to growers in the fight against this damaging insect.
Amelia Lindsey, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology, and Robert Koch, an associate professor in the Department of Entomology and an Extension entomologist, led the team at the University of Minnesota. They focused on searching for parasitoids — insects that lay their eggs in or on another insect — of soybean gall midge. Juveniles of the parasitoid develop inside the other insect, eventually killing them.
To find such parasitic insects, a graduate student in the Lindsey and Koch labs, Gloria Melotto, collected soybean gall midge-infested plants from a Minnesota farm and waited to see which adult insects emerged from the plants.
The researchers found:
In addition to a lot of soybean gall midges, there were a number of tiny parasitoid wasps.
In collaboration with two taxonomists who specialize in this group of insects—Jessica Awad, doctoral researcher, State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, and Elijah Talamas, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services—it became clear that there was no information on this wasp anywhere in the scientific record. It is a new-to-science species.
The team used DNA sequencing data and physical characteristics of the wasps to formally describe the specimens and give them a scientific name: Synopeas maximum.
The findings point toward this newly described parasitoid wasp species being a likely natural enemy of soybean gall midge.
“Unidentified and undescribed parasitoid micro-wasps are all around us. Although they are tiny, they play a huge role in regulating the populations of other insects, including pests. It’s really exciting to discover a new parasitoid species in such an important crop system,” said Awad.
“Effective management of soybean gall midge has proven challenging. Identification of a new species of parasitic wasp attacking this pest is an exciting breakthrough,” said Koch.
Ongoing work from the team includes a deeper dive into the biology of the wasp and the soybean gall midge to see how often this wasp attacks the pest, and how widespread this potential beneficial insect is across the midwest. Ultimately, the goal is to develop strategies for incorporating the natural enemy into management plans for safe and effective control of soybean gall midge infestations.
This research was supported by the Minnesota Rapid Agricultural Response Fund.
Mangrove forests are an essential component of the coastal zones in tropical and subtropical areas, providing a wide range of goods and ecosystem services that play a vital role in ecology. They are also threatened, disappearing, and degraded across the globe.
One way to stimulate effective mangrove conservation and encourage policies for their protection is to carefully assess mangrove habitats and how they change, and identify fragmented areas. But obtaining this kind of information is not always an easy task.
“Since mangrove forests are located in tidal zones and marshy areas, they are hardly accessible,” says Dr. Neda Bihamta Toosi, postdoc at Isfahan University of Technology in Iran working on landscape pattern changes using remote sensing. In a recent study in the journal Nature Conservation, together with a team of authors, she explored ways to classify these fragile ecosystems using machine learning.
Comparing the performance of different combinations of satellite images and classification techniques, the researchers looked at how good each method was at mapping mangrove ecosystems.
“We developed a novel method with a focus on landscape ecology for mapping the spatial disturbance of mangrove ecosystems,” she explains. “The provided disturbance maps facilitate future management and planning activities for mangrove ecosystems in an efficient way, thus supporting the sustainable conservation of these coastal areas.”
The results of the study showed that object-oriented classification of fused Sentinel images can significantly improve the accuracy of mangrove land use/land cover classification.
“Assessing and monitoring the condition of such ecosystems using model-based landscape metrics and principal component analysis techniques is a time- and cost-effective approach. The use of multispectral remote sensing data to generate a detailed land cover map was essential, and freely available Sentinel-2 data will guarantee its continuity in future,” explains Dr. Bihamta Toosi.
The research team hopes this approach can be used to provide information on the trend of changes in land cover that affect the development and management of mangrove ecosystems, supporting better planning and decision-making.
“Our results on the mapping of mangrove ecosystems can contribute to the improvement of management and conservation strategies for these ecosystems impacted by human activities,“ they write in their study.
Soffianian AR, Toosi NB, Asgarian A, Regnauld H, Fakheran S, Waser LT (2023) Evaluating resampled and fused Sentinel-2 data and machine-learning algorithms for mangrove mapping in the northern coast of Qeshm island, Iran. Nature Conservation 52: 1-22. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.52.89639
Mention fungi, and most people will probably think of the mushrooms they pick in fall, or maybe the yeast they add when baking or making wine. Others will perhaps recall last week’s mouldy bread – or cucumbers gone bad in the refrigerator. Indeed, mycologists have studied these fungi as sources of food and fermentation but also decay and disease for centuries.
But while we’re used to thinking of fungi as organisms that form physical structures such as fruiting bodies, or yeast-like life forms that we can grow in our kitchens or laboratories, it is gradually becoming clear that fungi don’t readily assort into only these two groups. DNA sequencing studies of environmental substrates such as soil are finding massive evidence of large groups of fungi that do not seem to form fruiting bodies and that we seem unable to grow in the lab – but that are there nonetheless. These groups are often called “dark fungi,” in analogy with the concept of “dark matter” in astronomy – something we know is out there, but that we cannot directly observe right now.
A new study in MycoKeys contrasts the accumulation of fungal species recovered using traditional mycological approaches with those recovered using environmental DNA sequencing over time. Even when allowing for various kinds of biases, the authors found that species discovery through environmental sequencing vastly outpaces traditional species recovery in a strongly increasing trend over the last five years. The authors conclude that dark fungi form a defining feature of the fungal kingdom.
“And that’s where it gets interesting”, Henrik Nilsson at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and the lead author of the study, says. “Under the current rules of nomenclature, these fungi cannot be given scientific names – they cannot be described formally. And species and groups that cannot be named formally, well, they tend to fall between the cracks. They’re typically not considered in nature conservation initiatives. They are often left out from efforts to estimate the evolutionary history of fungi, and their ecological roles and associations are largely overlooked when we try to figure out how mass and energy flow in ecosystems. They’re essentially treated as if they didn’t exist.”
Second author Martin Ryberg at the University of Uppsala, Sweden chimes in, “And it’s not like we’re adding the few missing pieces to an otherwise nearly complete jigsaw puzzle. It seems to be the other way around. We’re talking about tens of large groups of fungi – and thousands upon thousands of species, some of which seem to be so common that we have yet to find a soil sample from which they’re absent. Indeed, we’re talking about what could well prove to be the dominant life style in the fungal kingdom.”
The mycological community has been debating whether the rules of fungal nomenclature should be modified to allow formal description of these dark fungi. So far, the matter has not been resolved in the affirmative. “I think our study shows that it’s time to stop that debate, like, right away,” Nilsson says. “What we should be debating is how we should describe them. What criteria must be fulfilled for a dark fungus to be given a formal scientific name? Clearly, formation of a fruiting body or growth in the laboratory can’t be part of those criteria.”
Co-author Alice Retter of the University of Vienna, Austria explains, “We figured we’d kickstart the how debate by listing criteria that we think make sense – criteria that would be stringent enough to allow for only particularly well-vetted dark fungi to be described, upholding a high level of scientific rigor and reproducibility in the process. We blended our own observations with suggestions from the mycological community, culled from depositing a preprint of the manuscript at bioRxiv. We’re certainly not claiming that our suggestions form the final word in the debate. It’s more like they’re the first. We’re thinking that the mycological community will jointly be able to come up with a set of sound guiding principles on the matter – and here comes an initial set of well-meaning observations for nucleation.”
The authors advocate gentle modifications to the nomenclatural rules governing the naming of fungi to allow giving formal names to at least the most well-documented species and groups of dark fungi. The suggested modifications would, at present, exclude many rare or otherwise less well-documented dark fungi from formal description.
“But you don’t have to have a theory of everything to have a theory of something,” senior author Kessy Abarenkov of the Tartu Natural History Museum, Estonia asserts. “By establishing rules for what’s needed to describe dark fungi, and specifying when we’ll have to refrain from describing such species at present, mycologists can do what they do best: doggedly gather enough research data to warrant naming of the dark fungi, group by group, and species by species. It’s what mycology has excelled at for hundreds of years. It’s just the setting that’s a bit new.”
Sten Anslan, University of Tartu, continues: “Much is at stake, obviously. The current rules governing the naming of fungi have served mycology well for a long time. We don’t want to upend or overthrow them. But we fear that if they’re not updated in this particular regard, there’s a risk that they grow increasingly obsolete over time. Having a book of rules that govern maybe only some few percent of the organisms it was originally conceived to govern – the fungal kingdom – would seem untenable in the long run.”
Marisol Sanchez-Garcia of the Swedish Agricultural University concludes: “The nomenclatural aspects of dark fungi will presumably be discussed at some length at next year’s international mycological congress in Maastricht, the Netherlands. We’re hopeful that the mycological community will reach meaningful agreement on integration of the dark fungi into the rules of nomenclature. After all, mycologists are used to negotiating and solving non-trivial questions on a day-to-day basis, and this one is hardly any different. Being part of tackling a huge, more or less unknown group of organisms where precious little is set in stone and where the rules will have to be adapted over time for the endeavour to stay attuned to recent developments, well, that’s what makes being a mycologist so interesting and rewarding in my eyes.”
Nilsson RH, Ryberg M, Wurzbacher C, Tedersoo L, Anslan S, Põlme S, Spirin V, Mikryukov V, Svantesson S, Hartmann M, Lennartsdotter C, Belford P, Khomich M, Retter A, Corcoll N, Gómez Martinez D, Jansson T, Ghobad-Nejhad M, Vu D, Sanchez-Garcia M, Kristiansson E, Abarenkov K (2023) How, not if, is the question mycologists should be asking about DNA-based typification. MycoKeys 96: 143-157. https://doi.org/10.3897/mycokeys.96.102669
Semislugs, or ‘snugs’ as they are affectionately known among mollusc researchers, are like the squatters of the snail world: they do carry a home on their back but it is too small to live in. Still, it offers a sort of protection, while not getting in the way of the worm-like physique of the slug. For reasons unknown, on the island of Borneo, which is shared among the countries of Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia, most slugs are of the semislug type. The genus Microparmarion there consists of around 10 semislug species, most of which are found in the cooler forests of the mountains. So, when citizen scientists discovered a Microparmarion in the hot lowland forest of Ulu Temburong National Park, Brunei, as part of their expedition, they were surprised.
For the past years, the scientific travel agency Taxon Expeditions, in collaboration with Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) has been organising biodiversity discovery trips for scientists, students, and laypersons to this forest. On the first trip, in 2018, during a night walk, participant Simon Berenyi, who runs an ethical pest control company in the UK, reached up to a dead leaf suspended over the trail. Everybody—the other participants, even the resident snail expert—had ducked and passed underneath this dead leaf without so much as giving it a glance. But something on its surface caught Simon’s eye. “Oi, is that a slug?” he exclaimed, and picked a slimy, well-camouflaged mollusc off it.
At the time, the team’s zoologists already suspected it was a new species – nothing like it had ever been found in this corner of the island. But that single specimen was not enough to publish its description as a new species. Over the years, successive expeditions to the same area came up with several more specimens of the same species, which made it clear that it was really a species never seen before.
On the 2022 expedition, a team composed of UBD students Nurilya Ezzwan and Izzah Hamdani and citizen scientist Harrison Wu from Virginia, USA, finished the description. Using the portable lab that Taxon Expeditions always carries with them, the team studied the animals’ shell, reproductive organs, and DNA, and prepared a paper for the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal, where it was published this week.
As usual on Taxon Expedition trips, on the last night the team voted on the scientific name for the new species. With an overwhelming majority, the ‘snug’ was named after Mr. Md Salleh Abdullah Bat, the field centre supervisor, who would retire just weeks after the team left. Mr. Salleh himself agrees that it is indeed a very fitting farewell gift.
Schilthuizen M, Berenyi S, Ezzwan NSMN, Hamdani NIAA, Wu H, De Antoni L, Vincenzi L, de Gier W, van Peursen ADP, Njunjić I, Delledonne M, Slik F, Grafe U, Cicuzza D (2023) A new semi-slug of the genus Microparmarion from Brunei, discovered, described and DNA-barcoded on citizen-science ‘taxon expeditions’ (Gastropoda, Stylommatophora, Ariophantidae). Biodiversity Data Journal 11: e101579. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.11.e101579
With expertise in science communication, dissemination and exploitation, Pensoft became part of this project dedicated to new technologies for species and habitat monitoring across Europe
The European Union puts a great value in monitoring the health of ecosystems, as comprehensive mapping can aid policy makers’ work in adopting appropriate legislation for nature conservation. It allows for understanding the impact of human activities and making informed decisions for effective management of nature’s resources. This is particularly important for the EU, as it has set ambitious goals to halt biodiversity loss and restore degraded ecosystems by 2030, as outlined in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.
Effective biodiversity monitoring can help the EU track progress towards these goals, assess the effectiveness of conservation policies and initiatives, and identify emerging threats to biodiversity.
Despite this awareness, efforts to monitor animals and plants remain spatially and temporally fragmented. This lack of integration regarding data and methods creates a gap in biodiversity monitoring, which can negatively impact policy-making. Today, modern technologies such as drones, artificial intelligence algorithms, or remote sensing are still not widely used in biodiversity monitoring.
MAMBO project (Modern Approaches to the Monitoring of BiOdiversity) recognises this need and aims to develop, test, and implement enabling tools for monitoring conservation status and ecological requirements of species and habitats. Having started in late 2022, the project is set to run for four years until September 2026.
Pensoft – with its proven expertise in communicating scientific results – is committed to amplifying the impact of MAMBO. Pensoft supports the project through tailored approaches to communication, dissemination and exploitation so as to reach the most appropriate target audience and achieve maximum visibility of the project.
Deep-dive into the project
In order to enrich the biodiversity monitoring landscape, MAMBO will implement a multi-disciplinary approach by utilising the technical expertise in the fields of computer science, remote sensing, and social science expertise on human-technology interactions, environmental economy, and citizen science. This will be combined with knowledge on species, ecology, and conservation biology.
More specifically, the project will develop, evaluate and integrate image and sound recognition-based AI solutions for EU biodiversity monitoring from species to habitats as well as promote the standardised calculation and automated retrieval of habitat data using deep learning and remote sensing.
“Technical breakthroughs in the realm of high spatial resolution remote sensing set the future of ecological monitoring and can greatly enrich traditional approaches to biodiversity monitoring.”
In order to achieve its goals, the project will test existing tools in combination with MAMBO-developed new technologies at the project’s demonstration sites geographically spread across Europe. This will contribute to an integrated European biodiversity monitoring system with potential for dynamic adaptations.
Pensoft is part of MAMBO’s Work Package 7 (WP7): “Science-policy interface and dissemination”, led by Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ). The work package is dedicated to providing a distinct identity of the project and its services through branding, visualisation and elaborated dissemination and communication strategy.
Within WP7, Pensoft will also be taking care after the launch of an open-science collection of research outputs in the scholarly journal Research Ideas and Outcomes(RIO).
Amongst the tasks of the partners in WP7 is also the development of different pathways for integrating new technologies and innovations into the EU Pollinators Monitoring Scheme (EU PoMS; SPRING).
Tetrigidae, commonly known as pygmy grasshoppers, are an ancient and diverse family, currently numbering about 2000 species. As their name suggests, tetrigids are very small; their largest representatives are barely several centimeters long, so they might be difficult to spot on a casual stroll through tropical vegetation. However, when they are spotted, they are immediately recognizable by their elongated pronotum, a hard structure that starts behind the head and covers the entire body like a hood. They come in many shapes and colors and are often exciting to see, but this comes with a price—the taxonomy of Tetrigidae, the way they are organized into natural groups, is a mess. This is where we come in.
In our latest paper, we dealt with Choriphyllini, a small Caribbean tribe that belongs to the subfamily Cladonotinae. This subfamily had been filling up with unrelated but similar-looking tetrigids for more than a century. It had never been clearly defined so almost everything wingless and robust was assigned to Cladonotinae. We decided to put an end to this by slowly removing the superficially similar genera from the subfamily and describing tribes to group the genera that are clearly related to each other. We piloted this system just last year, when we described the tribe Valalyllini from Madagascar, with only two endemic (and endangered) genera and species.
Put the species of Choriphyllini and Valalyllini together, mix them up, and try to guess which belongs where—this is no simple task; they are all doing their impressions of dead leaves that our primate brains struggle to differentiate. And there’s more: such leaf-like grasshoppers live in Africa and South East Asia as well, and then there are those that look like twigs and spiky tree bark.
Only now that we have an idea of what the true Cladonotinae are can we be properly amazed by the duality they represent to us. On the one hand, they are incredibly diverse with every species having its own variation on the basic shape. On the other, they are so alike that they either represent the best example of convergent evolution ever documented or they all stem from a common ancestor that is currently supposed to have lived during the Mesozoic. The evolutionary history of Cladonotinae will take many years to unravel, but the work can only begin after we define what to call by that name.
It only took 250 years
The first species of Choriphyllini, Phyllotettix rhombeus, was described in 1765 as Cicada rhombea, that is, as a member of an entirely different order of insects. Continuing in this manner, many authors (including the great Linnaeus himself) made many taxonomic and nomenclatural mistakes that compounded over the centuries and made these grasshoppers difficult to identify and refer to. It didn’t help that new species and new records kept being reported without being contextualized by comprehensive literature reviews. Like detectives, we followed the scattered crumbs of data and arrived at a synthesis that will make future research in the region much more pleasant.
This is not where interesting facts about Phyllotettix rhombeus stop. While looking through the literature, we tried to extract the measurements of drawings. Most of the drawings had a scale bar printed next to them, but the archaic usage of “lines” as the standard measurement initially gave us some trouble. That is why at first we doubted one of our most fascinating discoveries: with the pronotal length measuring nearly 3 centimeters, Phyllotettix rhombeus is the largest tetrigid ever recorded! Many, many authors dealt with this species over the last 250 years, but this record was never made explicit.
It should not go unnoticed now that its proposed common name is “Jamaican Colossal Jumping Leaf”. Inspired by this, we took the measurements of the other species as well and made a figure where all the specimens are resized to a common scale, which shows the diversity of both shapes and sizes.
Besides P. rhombeus, there are three more species in the genus Phyllotettix: P. plagiatus,P. foliatus, and P. compressus. All four of them are known only from Jamaica. P. foliatus and P. compressus are known from the Blue Mountains, but for the other two no precise localities are known; we still don’t know where exactly the largest tetrigid lives. The other genus of the tribe is Choriphyllum, also with four species. Three of them, C. sagrai, C. saussurei, and C. wallaceum live in Cuba, while C. bahamense is all alone on Hummingbird Cay island in the Bahamas. The easiest way to differentiate these two genera is a little strange but practical, the tallest point of the leaf-like crest in Choriphyllum species is in the front, while in Phyllotettix species it is in the back.
Some Caribbean leaves dance and jump
For each species, we proposed a common name as a means to give these animals even more character. Names, such as “Jamaican Bitten Jumping Leaf” and “Old Cuban Dancing Leaf” may not be “official”, but they have certainly found their audience. The tweet in which we shared the collage of all the species was viewed over 17000 times; everyone was amazed by the pretty shapes and some even noted that they especially liked the crazy common names. We were very glad to see our scientific and artistic package that is Choriphyllini be so warmly received.
Another hit on Twitter, with over 20000 views, is the post showcasing the newly-described species from Cuba, Choriphyllum wallaceum. The holotype of this species has been awaiting description for a long time. We found it in Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain, with a note from Ignacio Bolívar, the father of the Tetrigidae classification system. He referred to it as “Choriphyllum Seoanei” but never managed to publish it.
This “new” species presented us with the perfect opportunity to honor the 200th anniversary of Alfred Russel Wallace’s birth. Wallace is often called the “father of biogeography” but is all too often neglected when discussing the origins of the theory of evolution, with which Charles Darwin is considered synonymous. Wallace, with his independent arrival at the key concepts of the evolutionary theory, his correspondence with Darwin, and his staunch defense of Darwin’s ideas, was (and is) at the very least equal to Darwin and deserves much more recognition than he currently gets.
This is just the start
Choriphyllini are a pretty package, but one that merely introduces the real problem. The history of this tribe is long, yet we have very few specimens to work with. Although we have an understanding of how morphology varies within species, P. compressus and P. foliatus are not only suspiciously similar to each other, but they also live in the same general area of the Blue Mountains. It remains to be seen if they are in fact a single species.
Much more pressing is that we have only a vague idea of where these animals live and how their populations are impacted by various factors such as human activity and climate change—we do not have a baseline against which to assess their conservation status. Then there is the fact that there are many more islands in the Caribbean, making the possibility of discovering new Choriphyllini species on them real and exciting. We can only guess what the future holds for these neglected animals.
The stage is set; everything we know about this group is laid out in the paper and now there is no path but forward. Research is expensive, dedication to this work takes a certain kind of soul, and everything takes time. It is our sincere hope that someone someday takes this further. The pygmy jumping leaves will wait for as long as they can, on their islands, hopping without a care in the world.
Deranja M, Kasalo N, Adžić K, Franjević D, Skejo J (2022) Lepocranus and Valalyllum gen. nov. (Orthoptera, Tetrigidae, Cladonotinae), endangered Malagasy dead-leaf-like grasshoppers. ZooKeys 1109: 1-15. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1109.85565
When University of California, Berkeley, entomologist Kipling Will first heard that former Gov. Jerry Brown was hosting field scientists on his Colusa County ranch, he jumped at the chance to hunt for beetles on the property.
“I reached out and said, ‘Hey, I want to sample your beetles,’” Will said. “And [Brown] was quite game to let me come up there.”
Will, a professor of environmental science, policy and management, has travelled to all corners of California to study carabid beetles, ground beetles that are important predators of other insects. But Will’s repeated visits to Brown’s ranch proved especially fruitful.
While sampling for insects near Freshwater Creek, Will collected a rare species of beetle that had never been named or described — and which, according to records, had not been observed by scientists in over 55 years. The new species will be named Bembidion brownorum, in honor of Brown and his wife, Anne Brown.
“I’m very glad that [my ranch] is advancing science in some interesting and important ways,” said Brown, who has hosted a wild variety of field researchers, including geologists, anthropologists and botanists, on the property. “There are so many undiscovered species. I think it’s very important that we catalog and discover what we have and understand their impact on the environment — how it’s functioning and how it’s changing.”
Brown’s 2,500-acre ranch is about an hour’s drive north of Sacramento, in an agricultural region where most of the land is privately owned and insect biodiversity is historically understudied. For more than two years, Will has regularly sampled for insects on the ranch, sometimes even showing the beetles that he finds to the Browns.
Jerry Brown said his dedication to welcoming researchers onto his land is rooted in the ranch’s history as a stagecoach stop called Mountain House, and in his own interest in climate change and conservation.
“We don’t have stagecoach stop, but we have a place of gathering, of research and collaboration,” said Brown, who is currently chair of the California-China Climate Institute at UC Berkeley.
After collecting a beetle at the ranch that didn’t resemble any species he was familiar with, Will called up Bembidion expert David Maddison, a professor of integrative biology at Oregon State University, to help identify the specimen. Together, the scientists used morphological and DNA analysis to confirm that the beetle represented a completely new species.
Will then combed through entomology collections at museums throughout California in search of other specimens that may have been unlabeled or misidentified. He found only 21 other specimens of the species, the most recent of which was collected in 1966.
The lack of any more recent specimens indicated to him that the species likely collapsed during the second half of the 20th century, driven out of its natural habitat by rapid urbanization and agricultural development across the state.
“The sad truth is, [the species] has probably been in a huge decline. If you look at the places that it was found the ‘20s and ‘30s and ‘40s, almost none of that natural habitat is left,” Will said. “But we don’t know for sure. So, the thing to do is to get it out there, describe it and tell people, ‘Hey, look for this thing,’ because maybe we’ll find some place where it’s doing fine.
“Having access to Jerry’s ranch in Colusa County gives me the opportunity to really spend time sampling, to look for rare things like this.”
Will and Maddison describe Bembidion brownorum in a study published in the journal Zookeys.
Big for a Bembidion
To the naked eye, Bembidion brownorum isn’t particularly remarkable: The diminutive beetle is brown in color and measures around 5 millimeters in length, about the diameter of a standard pencil. But under magnification, it glows with a green and gold metallic shimmer.
It was the unusual shape of the beetle’s prothorax, the segment of the insect that sits right behind its head, that first caught Will’s eye.
“I was looking at this one beetle thinking, ‘It just doesn’t fit any of the ones that I can identify,’” Will said. “The shape of prothorax is just not like any of the others.”
According to Maddison, Bembidion brownorum is also relatively large compared to other Bembidion beetles, which are usually closer to 3 to 4 millimeters in length.
“It’s big for a Bembidion,” Maddison said. “At first glance, it was pretty obvious that it was probably something new.”
With so few examples to study, it’s difficult to describe the lifestyle and behavior of Bembidion brownorum with any certainty, Will said. However, given where the beetle was found on Brown’s ranch — in the vicinity of Freshwater Creek, which occasionally dries into a series of trellis-like pools in the summer months — it is likely that the beetle lives near the edges of bodies of water that periodically flood and then evaporate.
The 21 historical specimens of Bembidion brownorum are housed at either the Essig Museum Entomology Collection at UC Berkeley or at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which both have insect specimens going back more than 100 years. The discovery highlights the vital importance of maintaining these collections for current and future research, the scientists said.
“One of the things that I find interesting about is that, before Kip found that specimen, there were already specimens in collections — there was this hidden diversity that people didn’t recognize,” Maddison said. “At one point, [the beetle] probably was much more widespread and much more common, and Kip and I have some ideas as to where you would target to try to find more.”
Previous specimens were collected at locations throughout the Central Valley and in the Los Angeles Basin, regions that have been transformed over the last century. While the beetle may still survive in some areas, Will said that the patchwork of private landownership may make it difficult to find.
“There is a lot of desire to conserve the environment and combat climate change, but in many cases, we’re not keeping up with the rate of extinction — we’re not able to describe the species that need to be described as fast as things are going extinct,” Will said. “And this certainly is true in California, where there are an awful lot of undescribed insects out there and not a lot being done to get them described. I think that having more knowledge of what they are and where they where they live is really fundamental.”
John S. Sproul of the University of Nebraska Omaha is also a co-author of the study. This research was supported by the Harold E. and Leona M. Rice Endowment Fund at Oregon State University.