The Czech Republic is a zoologically well-studied area, and its reptile fauna is not very rich. Therefore, the recent discovery of a new reptile species for the country, the Balkan wall lizard (Podarcis tauricus), came as a big surprise. This lizard inhabits areas of the Central and Western Balkans as far as Crimea, with isolated areas of occurrence in Hungary and northern Romania, so how did it get as far north as the Czech Republic? Fortunately, the genetics in much of the lizard’s range are relatively well-studied. Finding out where lizards from the Czech Republic fit genetically could reveal the origins of this northernmost population.
An analysis published by Czech herpetologists in the journal Biodiversity Data Journal shows that the lizards from the Czech population are genetically variable; therefore, the population was not established by the introduction of a single gravid female.
The population also has genetic “markers” not yet found elsewhere, although it is clearly related to populations from the Central and Western Balkans and Hungary. These findings suggest that this could be an original, possibly relict population.
However, we cannot rule out recent introductions or spontaneous northward dispersal of the lizard associated with global climate change. Exotic species of animals and plants appear in the Czech Republic through various routes and tracing their origin is not always easy. Both intentional and unintentional introductions have been recorded for some reptiles, while some previously southern vertebrate and invertebrate species spread to the north spontaneously.
The first genetic data on the origin of the northernmost population of the Balkan wall lizard suggest that the lizard can spread to the north naturally; however, further investigations are needed to support this tentative conclusion.
Rehák I, Fischer D, Kratochvíl L, Rovatsos M (2022) Origin and haplotype diversity of the northernmost population of Podarcis tauricus (Squamata, Lacertidae): Do lizards respond to climate change and go north? Biodiversity Data Journal 10: e82156. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.10.e82156
You might think that Europe is so well studied that no large animals remain undiscovered. Yet today, a new species of giant keelback slug from Montenegro was announced in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal. The animal, as big as a medium-sized carrot, was discovered on a citizen-science expedition and jointly described by its participants.
The international team of citizen scientists from Italy, the Netherlands, Serbia, South Africa, and the United States found the slug in July 2019 while exploring the spectacular Tara Canyon, Europe’s deepest gorge, on inflatable rafts. The brownish-grey animals, with a sharp ridge along the back, and 20 cm in length when fully stretched, were hiding under rocky overhangs in the narrowest part of the ravine.
At first, the newly discovered slugs seemed superficially indistinguishable from the ash-black keelback slug (Limax cinereoniger), which also lives in the Tara Canyon. The team had to use a portable DNA lab to work out that there is a 10% difference between the two slugs in the so-called DNA barcode. Moreover, when they dissected a few of them, they found differences in the reproductive organs as well. This was enough to decide that a new species had been discovered, and they named it Limax pseudocinereoniger to indicate its similarity to L. cinereoniger.
The field trip was run by Taxon Expeditions, which organises real scientific expeditions for the general public, with the aim to make scientific discoveries. Rick de Vries, a web editor and illustrator from Amsterdam who found the first specimen of L. pseudocinereoniger, says: “It’s an incredible thrill to hold an animal in your hands and to know that it is still unknown to science”.
Zoologist Iva Njunjić, one of the authors of the paper, thinks that more unknown species are likely to be found in Tara Canyon and the Durmitor National Park, of which it is part. “Using a combination of DNA analysis and anatomy will probably reveal more species that are identical on the outside but actually belong to different species,” she says.
In 2023, Taxon Expeditions plans to take a new team of citizen scientists to Montenegro with a mission to discover new species and document the hidden biodiversity.
Taxon Expeditions was founded by Iva Njunjić and Menno Schilthuizen of Naturalis Biodiversity Center and specialises in ‘taxonomy tourism’ trips in Brunei, Italy, Montenegro, Panama, and the Netherlands.
Schilthuizen M, Thompson CG, de Vries R, van Peursen ADP, Paterno M, Maestri S, Marcolongo L, Esposti CD, Delledonne M, Njunjić I (2022) A new giant keelback slug of the genus Limax from the Balkans, described by citizen scientists. Biodiversity Data Journal 10: e69685. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.10.e69685
Amongst tetrapods, amphibians entail the highest number of threatened and data deficient species, which has put them in the limelight of research in animal ecology and conservation. Endemic species have evolved and adapted to a particular set of environmental conditions. Hence, these are more vulnerable to environmental changes and are susceptible to population declines because of their restricted distribution ranges.
The Murree Hills Frog and Hazara Torrent Frog are endemic to Pakistan and South Asian countries. They are associated with the torrential streams and nearby clear water pools situated at high elevation. These frogs are susceptible to threats like habitat degradation, urbanization, and climate change. A recent study published in the-open access journal Biodiversity Data Journal reports that these endemic frogs do not show much movement within and outside their habitat.
“We have, for the first time, used radio-transmitters (VHF) on frogs endemic to Himalayan region to understand their ecology,” explains Dr. Muhammad Rais, Assistant Professor at the Herpetology Lab in the Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi, and lead author of the study. “Surprisingly, the Murree Hills Frog and Hazara Torrent Frog depend heavily for their survival on particular stream(s).”
“We suggest carrying out additional long term studies by incorporating multiple adjacent stream systems to better understand dispersal and colonization in these frogs,” he says in conclusion.
Akram A, Rais M, Saeed M, Ahmed W, Gill S, Haider J (2022) Movement Paradigm for Hazara Torrent Frog Allopaa hazarensis and Murree Hills Frog Nanorana vicina (Anura: Dicroglossidae). Biodiversity Data Journal 10: e84365. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.10.e84365
Hill’s horseshoe bat, a critically endangered ‘lost species’, had not been seen in forty years until the day-and-night expedition to Nyungwe National Park (Rwanda), led by Bat Conservation International.
The rediscovery marked the culmination of survey efforts that started in 2013, as the team’s dedication paid off during a ten-day and night expedition to Nyungwe National Park in January 2019.
Careful measurements of the bat before they released it back into the wild were an early tip-off that this could be the lost species they came to find. Dr. Flanders then traveled to visit museum archives in Europe to compare the only known specimens to verify that what they had captured in the African forest was, in fact, the first evidence in 40 years that Hill’s horseshoe bat still exists.
Catching this elusive species also allowed the team to collect additional information to ensure it is easier to find in the future – including recording the first-ever echolocation calls that Hill’s horseshoe bat emits as it hunts for insects.
“Knowing the echolocation calls for this species is a game-changer,”
said Dr. Paul Webala, Senior Lecturer at Maasai Mara University, and one of the team’s lead scientists.
Since catching the pair of Hill’s horseshoe bats, the Nyungwe Park Rangers have been setting out detectors that ‘eavesdrop’ on the bats during their nightly flights through the forest.
The rangers conducted audio surveys with Wildlife Acoustics bat detectors in 23 locations over nine months resulting in recording a quarter-million sound files. Analysis of the sound files revealed Hill’s horseshoe bats were heard at eight locations, all within a small area.
“All the work so far confirms that this is a very rare species with a very small core range. We look forward to collaborating with the Rwanda Development Board and Nyungwe Management Company to strengthen the existing conservation efforts to ensure it stays protected,”
said Dr. Frick.
Careful planning and strong partnership support between all the agencies, organizations and experts involved in this initiative were key to its success, according to Dr. Olivier Nsengimana, founder and executive director of the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association.
Records from the 2019 survey and the rest of the nine-year project’s field work are included in a dataset openly available through GBIF. Other notable highlights include the first record of Lander’s horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus landeri) in Nyungwe and the first known occurrences of the Damara woolly bat (Kerivoula argentata) in Rwanda.
The research team has released the dataset alongside a preprint describing the findings and survey methods currently in review with Biodiversity Data Journal. Sharing such data, even for such a rare species, allows the international scientific community to put it to use immediately and aid conservation and research aimed at documenting and protecting African bat diversity.
“Nyungwe National Park is one of the most biologically important montane rainforests in Central Africa, supporting an exceptional range of biodiversity including many rare and endemic species, including bats. These findings reinforce the importance of Rwanda’s committed stewardship of Nyungwe National Park as a global biodiversity hotspot and our conservation efforts, including implementing species management actions. We look forward to continuing this collaboration with BCI, RWCA, and the rest of our partners to find out more about the bat diversity in this incredible landscape,”
said Mr. Eugene Mutangana, the Conservation Management Expert, Rwanda Development Board.
“Sharing the survey data to be accessible freely through GBIF is as important to bat conservation as the actual findings. These data belong to anyone and everyone working to ensure these species have protected forests to call home. Open data sharing ensures we live up to the promise that conservation benefits us all,”
said Dr. Frick.
Flanders J, Frick WF, Nziza J, Nsengimana O, Kaleme P, Dusabe MC, Ndikubwimana I, Twizeyimana I, Kibiwot S, Ntihemuka P, Cheng TL, Muvunyi R, Webala P (2022) Rediscovery of the critically endangered Hill’s horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hilli) and other new records of bat species in Rwanda. ARPHA Preprints. https://doi.org/10.3897/arphapreprints.e83547
In Corsica, away from the eyes of locals and tourists, hides a population of unprecedented proportions of a rare and protected orchid: the neglected Serapias (Serapiasneglecta). In a closed military base in the east of the island, researchers discovered 155,000 individuals of the plant.
Globally, this orchid can only be found in the south of France (including Corsica), Italy, and along the east coast of the Adriatic, but none of its known populations has been as abundant as the one documented in Solenzara.
The maintenance of the closed military area turned out to be really favourable to the development of orchids. The flower was abundant around the edges of runways and on lawns near military buildings.
“Мilitary bases are important areas for biodiversity because they are closed to the public, are not heavily impacted and these areas have soils that are often poorly fertilised and untreated due to old installations, so they often have high biodiversity,” the researchers say in their study.
The meadows around the airport are regularly mowed for security reasons, which allows orchids to thrive in a low vegetation environment with little competition. In addition, the history of the land with its position on the old Travo river bed favours low vegetation, providing rocky ground just a few centimetres beneath the soil.
“The case of S. neglecta is particularly remarkable, because this species benefits from a national protection status and it is a sub-endemic species with a very localised distribution worldwide,” the research team writes. Moreover, the species is classified as near threatened in the World and European Red Lists of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The Ecotonia consultancy also did several inventories on the air base, finding biodiversity of rare richness: 552 species of plants, including 19 with protected status in France. Within only 550 ha, they found 23% of the plant species distributed in Corsica. Among these are some very rare plants, as well as endangered species such as the gratiole (Gratiola officinalis) and Anthemis arvensis subsp. incrassate, a subspecies of the corn chamomile.
The Solenzara military base hides rich floristic diversity thanks to its history, management, and the lack of public access. While the Corsican coastline is suffering from urbanisation, this sector is a testament to the local flora, featuring several species with conservation status.
The protection of this richness is crucial. “If logistical developments are carried out on this base, they will have to favour the conservation of this exceptional floristic biodiversity, and, in particular of this particularly abundant orchid. Military bases are a great opportunity for the conservation of species and would benefit from enhancing their natural heritage,” the researchers conclude.
Julien M, Schatz B, Contant S, Filippi G (2022) Flora richness of a military area: discovery of a remarkable station of Serapias neglecta in Corsica. Biodiversity Data Journal 10: e76375. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.10.e76375
While 2021 may have been a stressful and, frankly, strange year, in the world of biodiversity there has been plenty to celebrate! Out of the many new species we published in our journals this year, we’ve curated a selection of the 10 most spectacular discoveries. The world hides amazing creatures just waiting to be found – and we’re making this happen, one new species at a time.
Read Part 1 of the Top 10 new species of 2021 here.
5. The Instagram model
Many students and young researchers are encouraged to explore biodiversity by starting from their own backyard. Yes, but how often do they find undescribed snake species in there?
“It is quite interesting to see how an image on Instagram led to the discovery of such a pretty snake that, until very recently, remained hidden to the world,” Zeeshan A. Mirza told us earlier this month.
“What’s even more interesting is that the exploration of your own backyard may yield still undocumented species. Lately, people have been eager to travel to remote biodiversity hotspots to find new or rare species, but if one looks in their own backyard, they may end up finding a new species right there.”
Do freshwater snails make good tennis players? Well, one of them certainly has the name for it.
Enter Travunijana djokovici, a new species of aquatic snail named after famous Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic.
Found in a karstic spring near Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, T. Djokovici is part of the family of mud snails, which inhabit fresh or brackish water, including caves and subterranean habitats.
The tiny snail was discovered by Slovak biospeleologist Jozef Grego and Montenegrin zoologist Vladimir Pešić of the University of Montenegro, who claim they named it after the renowned tennis player “to acknowledge his inspiring enthusiasm and energy.”.
To discover some of the world’s rarest animals that inhabit the unique underground habitats of the Dinaric karst, to reach inaccessible cave and spring habitats and for the restless work during processing of the collected material, you need Novak’s energy and enthusiasm,” they add.
Amazingly, Novak Djokovic found out that he’s now a namesake to a tiny snail, and he even had a comment.
“I am honoured that a new species of snail was named after me because I am a big fan of nature and ecosystems and I appreciate all kinds of animals and plants,” he says in an Eurosport article. “I don’t know how symbolic this is, because throughout my career I always tried to be fast and then a snail was named after me,” he joked. “Maybe it’s a message for me, telling me to slow down a bit!”
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected all of us, and the scientific world is no exception. Fieldwork got postponed, museums remained closed, arranging meet-ups and travel became almost impossible.
P. coronavirus was collected near a stream in the Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park in Kosovo by a team of scientists led by Professor Halil Ibrahimi of the University of Prishtina. After molecular and morphological analyses, it was described as a caddisfly species new to science. Its namewill be an eternal memory of an extremely difficult period.
In a broader sense, the researchers also wish to bring attention to “another silent pandemic occurring on freshwater organisms in Kosovo’s rivers,” caused by the pollution and degradation of freshwater habitats, as well as the activity increasing in recent years of mismanaged hydropower plants. Particularly, the river basin of the Lumbardhi i Deçanit River, where the new species was discovered, has turned into a ‘battlefield’ for scientists and civil society on one side and the management of the hydropower plant operating on this river on the other.
P. coronavirus is part of the small insect order of Trichoptera, which is very sensitive to water pollution and habitat deterioration. The authors of the species argue that it is a small-scale endemic taxon, very sensitive to the ongoing activities in Lumbardhi i Deçanit river, and failure to understand this may drive it, along with many other species, towards extinction.
If you think spiders can’t be cute, you’ve probably never seen a peacock spider. They have big forward-facing eyes, and their males perform fun courtship dances.
Citizen scientist Sheryl Holliday was the first to spot this vibrant spider while walking in Mount Gambier, Australia, and she posted her find on Facebook.It was later described as a new species by arachnologist Joseph Schubert of Museums Victoria.
Coloured bright orange, it was called Maratus Nemo, after the popular Disney character.
‘It has a really vibrant orange face with white stripes on it, which kind of looks like a clown fish, so I thought Nemo would be a really suitable name for it,’ Joseph Schubert says.
Maratus Nemo is probably the first influencer arachnid – his curious story, bright colours and fun name practically made him an internet star overnight.
1. The tiny ant that challenges gender stereotypes
Found in Ecuador’s evergreen tropical forests, this miniature trap jaw ant bears the curious Latin name Strumigenys ayersthey. Unlike most species named in honour of people, whose names end with -ae (after females) and –i (after males), S. ayersthey might be the only species in the world to have a scientific name with the suffix –they.
“In contrast to the traditional naming practices that identify individuals as one of two distinct genders, we have chosen a non-Latinized portmanteau honoring the artist Jeremy Ayers and representing people that do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments, Strumigenys ayersthey,” authors Philipp Hoenle of the Technical University of Darmstadt and Douglas Booher of Yale University state in their paper.
“Strumigenys ayersthey sp. nov. is thus inclusively named in honor of Jeremy Ayers for the multitude of humans among the spectrum of gender who have been unrepresented under traditional naming practices.”
Curiously, it was no other than lead singer and lyricist of the American alternative rock band R.E.M. Michael Stipe that joined Booher in writing the etymology section for the research article, where they explain the origin of the species name and honor their mutual friend, activist and artist Jeremy Ayers.
This ant can be distinguished by its predominantly smooth and shining cuticle surface and long trap-jaw mandibles, which make it unique among nearly a thousand species of its genus.
“Such a beautiful and rare animal was just the species to celebrate both biological and human diversity,” Douglas Booher said.
The deep ocean is the last frontier on our planet. It is home to creatures beyond our imagination and filled to the brim with life. Coastal communities have known the value of a healthy ocean for centuries, yet much of its life remains unknown, sitting beyond the reach of most research programs due to the hostility of its depth and vastness. With current research and monitoring activities in the region mostly focussing on shallow reefs, our Field Identification Guide, published in the peer-reviewed, open-access Biodiversity Data Journal, aims to showcase the benthic organisms that inhabit the Seychelles’ deeper reefscapes. The research cruise that gathered the imagery data used to create the guide, Nekton’s “First Descent: Seychelles Expedition”, was the first of its kind to systematically survey deeper reefs in Seychelles waters, bringing to light previously little-known ecosystems and their inhabitants.
Guest blog post by Nico Fassbender, Zoleka Filander, Carlos Moura, Paris Stefanoudis and Lucy Woodall
“We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see.”
These compelling words by author Richard Louv perfectly describe the importance of taxonomy in today’s conservation efforts.
The deep ocean is the last frontier on our planet. It is home to creatures beyond our imagination and filled to the brim with life. Coastal communities have known the value of a healthy ocean for centuries, yet much of its life remains unknown, sitting beyond the reach of most research programs due to the hostility of its depth and vastness.
More recently, the importance of deeper ecosystems started moving into the focus of modern marine research as many scientists across the globe are now working to unriddle the mysteries and processes that drive the patterns of life down in the deep.
Deeper reef habitats, starting at ~30m depth beyond SCUBA diving limits, are of crucial importance for coastal communities and adjacent ecosystems alike. They have been found to not only support coral and fish larval supply, aiding shallower reefs, but also to act as a refuge for many species in times of disturbance. Yet, going back to the start of this post – you cannot protect what you don’t know – and we currently know very little about these deeper reefs, especially ones in the Western Indian Ocean region.
We are many nations, but together we are one ocean.
With current research and monitoring activities in the region mostly focussing on shallow reefs, our Field Identification Guide, published in the peer-reviewed, open-access Biodiversity Data Journal, aims to showcase the benthic organisms that inhabit the Seychelles’ deeper reefscapes. The research cruise that gathered the imagery data used to create the guide, Nekton’s “First Descent: Seychelles Expedition”, was the first of its kind to systematically survey deeper reefs in Seychelles waters, bringing to light previously little-known ecosystems and their inhabitants.
All species play relevant roles in trophic relations, in the functioning of ecosystems, and all have a potential biotechnological interest.
Our Field Identification Guide is one of the first efforts to describe the mesophotic and sub-mesophotic reefs in the Western Indian Ocean. To effectively protect these ecosystems, stakeholders need to be able to visualise them and scientists need to be able to identify and classify the organisms they observe. Displaying the diversity of the benthic organisms we encountered is only the first step in a complex and long process, allowing us to categorize, study, monitor and thus effectively protect these habitats.
The correct identification of life is a fundamental building block of ecological knowledge. This international collaboration provided an important place to start from when considering the life on deeper reefs in Seychelles and the wider Western Indian Ocean region.
To survey the benthic flora and fauna of the Seychelles, we used a variety of methods, including submersibles, remotely operated vehicles and SCUBA diving teams equipped with stereo-video camera systems. We then recorded benthic communities during transect surveys conducted at 10 m, 30 m, 60 m, 120 m, 250 m and 350 m depths. This way, we ended up with 45 h of video footage and enough images to be able to present a photographic guide for the visual identification of the marine macrophytes, corals, sponges and other common invertebrates that inhabit Seychelles’ reefs.
We encountered coral fan gardens on steep slopes, boulders entirely encrusted with sponges of all colours and textures, corals of all shapes and sizes, and an amazing variety of critters. The images in our guide cannot do justice to the beauty of these habitats, and more than one tear was shed encountering these intact ecosystems teeming with life. Especially in times of increasingly frequent disturbance events and quickly shifting baselines (i.e., what we would see as a pristine, healthy reef in the 21st century), intact reef systems become increasingly rare. So much so that they are often confined to extremely remote and/or long and heavily protected areas. Finding these deeper reefs intact and with little to no signs of anthropogenic disturbance means hope – hope that there are yet undiscovered and unexplored reefs in the Western Indian Ocean region that show similar traits; and hope that we will discover even more novel habitats worth protecting.
We hope that this guide will help the public to discover the beauty of Seychelles’ deeper reefs and aid current and future monitoring and research activities in Seychelles and the Western Indian Ocean region.
Currently, there are few formalised training materials available to new marine researchers working in mesophotic and deeper reef habitats, especially for the Indian Ocean. The present benthic field ID guide will hopefully be of use to marine researchers, managers, divers and naturalists with the identification of organisms as seen in marine imagery or live in the field.
Paris Stefanoudis – University of Oxford, and Nekton
Fassbender N, Stefanoudis PV, Filander ZN, Gendron G, Mah CL, Mattio L, Mortimer JA, Moura CJ, Samaai T, Samimi-Namin K, Wagner D, Walton R, Woodall LC (2021) Reef benthos of Seychelles – A field guide. Biodiversity Data Journal 9: e65970. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.9.e65970
Sometimes research emerges from the strangest turns of events. In this case, an online video created by an amateur videographer on life under the sea ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, resulted in a unique taxonomic study on Antarctic jellyfish and an image-based training set for machine learning. This study was published in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal.
Sometimes, scientific discoveries emerge from the strangest turns of events.
It all started in 2018, when Dr. Emiliano Cimoli, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tasmania, joined a field campaign to McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea, Antarctica – to study not jellyfish, but rather the algal communities that thrive beneath the ice.
“These algae are like the plants of the under-ice world and are very important for the Antarctic food chain,” Dr. Cimoli says. The research team he was part of focused on the development of new sensing technologies to monitor these algal communities (e.g. optical techniques and chemical microsensors).
“We usually have a nice large tent to be able to work and operate such instruments in the harsh Antarctic environment. The cool part is that inside this tent, we have a massive 2 x 2 m hole in the sea ice that allows us to deploy these instruments to the under-ice world.”
It’s kind of like a magic portal to another world filled with mysterious and wondrous jellyfish-like creatures that live down there.
Besides working as an engineer and remote sensing scientist, Dr. Cimoli is also a passionate amateur nature and wildlife photographer and videographer, and in his free time he decided to document all sightings of these creatures with his camera. The researcher used a combination of macro photography equipment and a set of light sources, along with underwater robots for filming underwater.
“Finally, I ended up having a massive amount of jellyfish footage, did not know what to do with it, then lockdown hit and suddenly I found myself working on a trippy video composition of all these creatures,” he adds.
“When I came across Emiliano’s video, I was amazed by the image quality of his underwater footage. You could clearly distinguish some key morphological features.” Unlike hard-bodied animals, the fragile body of jellyfishes and comb jellies (i.e. “sea gooseberries”) are easily destroyed when sampled with nets, which is why photography and videography of specimens are crucial to describing them taxonomically.
The two postdocs soon joined forces to produce a collaborative study.
“I think I underestimated the time needed to produce a jellyfish taxonomic paper,” laughs Dr. Verhaegen. “Most of the original descriptions of Antarctic jellies date back to the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration in the early 20th century, and are written in English, French, and German. Furthermore, due to the high-water content of jellies, it is extremely difficult to fix and preserve them in formalin or ethanol. We therefore could not compare our specimens to physical specimens preserved in museums but had to rely on the century old descriptions and drawings. Luckily, we were in good hands with my project host, Dr. Dhugal Lindsay, senior scientist at JAMSTEC, a jellyfish taxonomist expert, and last author of our paper”.
Despite the small geographical and temporal scale of this study, which was published in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal, a total of 12 species were reported, with two jellyfish and three comb jellies likely representing undescribed species.
Besides revealing new morphological traits for every species, including some behavior and trophic traits, this study was also the first to include a training image set for video annotation of Antarctic jellyfish through machine learning.
“Machine learning is being applied to numerous fields nowadays, from voice recognition software and translation through to detection of typhoon formation,” comments Dr. Lindsay.
“In marine biology, annotating species from underwater videos can be both time-consuming and financially costly, with very few experts able to give names to the high diversity of species invariably encountered. Machine learning techniques could help solve these issues by enabling automatic first-pass annotation of videos. However, taxonomically accurate image-based datasets are needed to train these learning algorithms, and this study is a valuable first step.”
Watch the video “Life Beneath the Ice” by Dr. Emiliano Cimoli on YouTube and Vimeo.
Verhaegen, G., Cimoli, E., & Lindsay, D. J. (2021). Life beneath the ice: jellyfish and ctenophores from the Ross Sea, Antarctica, with an image- based training set for machine learning. Biodiversity Data Journal, 9, e69374.https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.9.e69374
From 1973 to 2020, Australian zoologist Dr Robert Mesibov kept careful records of the “where” and “when” of his plant and invertebrate collecting trips. Now, he has made those valuable biodiversity data freely and easily accessible via the Zenodo open-data repository, so that future researchers can rely on this “authority file” when using museum specimens collected from those events in their own studies. The new dataset is described in the open-access, peer-reviewed Biodiversity Data Journal.
While checking museum records, Dr Robert Mesibov found there were occasional errors in the dates and places for specimens he had collected many years before. He was not surprised.
One solution to this problem was what librarians and others have long called an “authority file”.
“It’s an authoritative reference, in this case with the correct details of where I collected and when”, he explained.
“I kept records of almost all my collecting trips from 1973 until I retired from field work in 2020. The earliest records were on paper, but I began storing the key details in digital form in the 1990s.”
The 48-year record has now been made publicly available via the Zenodo open-data repository after conversion to the Darwin Core data format, which is widely used for sharing biodiversity information. With this “authority file”, described in detail in the open-access, peer-reviewed Biodiversity Data Journal, future researchers will be able to rely on sound, interoperable and easy to access data, when using those museum specimens in their own studies, instead of repeating and further spreading unintentional errors.
“There are 3829 collecting events in the authority file”, said Mesibov, “from six Australian states and territories. For each collecting event there are geospatial and date details, plus notes on the collection.”
Mesibov hopes the authority file will be used by museums to correct errors in their catalogues.
“It should also save museums a fair bit of work in future”, he explained. “No need to transcribe details on specimen labels into digital form in a database, because the details are already in digital form in the authority file.”
Mesibov points out that in the 19th and 20th centuries, lists of collecting events were often included in the reports of major scientific expeditions.
“Those lists were authority files, but in the pre-digital days it was probably just as easy to copy collection data from specimen labels.”
“Authority files for collecting events are the next logical step,” said Mesibov. “They can be used as lookup tables for all the important details of individual collections: where, when, by whom and how.”
The Red List of Taxonomists portal, where taxonomy experts in the field of entomology can register to help map and assess expertise across Europe, in order to provide action points necessary to overcome the risks, preserve and support this important scientific community, will remain open until 31st October 2021.
Within the one-year project, the partners are to build a database of European taxonomy experts in the field of entomology and analyse the collected data to shed light on the trends in available expertise, including best or least studied insect taxa and geographic distribution of the scientists who are working on those groups. Then, they will present them to policy makers at the European Commission.
By recruiting as many as possible insect taxonomists from across Europe, the Red List of Taxonomists initiative will not only be able to identify taxa and countries, where the “extinction” of insect taxonomists has reached a critical point, but also create a robust knowledge base on taxonomic expertise across the European region to prompt further support and funding for taxonomy in the Old Continent.
On behalf of the project partners, we would like to express our immense gratitude to everyone who has self-declared as an insect taxonomist on the Red List of Taxonomists registration portal. Please feel welcome to share our call for participation with colleagues and social networks to achieve maximum engagement from everyone concerned about the future of taxonomy!
Read more about the rationale of the Red List of Taxonomists project.