The incredible return of Griffon Vulture to Bulgaria’s Eastern Balkan Mountains

Fifty years after presumably becoming extinct as a breeding species in Bulgaria, the Griffon Vulture, one of the largest birds of prey in Europe, is back in the Eastern Balkan Mountains. Since 2009, three local conservation NGOs – Green Balkans – Stara Zagora, the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna and the Birds of Prey Protection Society, have been working on a long-term restoration programme to bring vultures back to their former breeding range in Bulgaria. The programme is supported by the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the Government of Extremadura, Spain, and EuroNatur. Its results have been described in the open-access, peer-reviewed Biodiversity Data Journal.

Griffon Vultures in Eastern Balkan Mountains. Photo by Hristo Peshev, fwff.org

Two large-scale projects funded by the EU’s LIFE tool, one of them ongoing, facilitate the import of captive-bred or recovered vultures from Spain, France and zoos and rehabilitation centres across Europe. Birds are then accommodated in special acclimatization aviaries, individually tagged and released into the wild from five release sites in Bulgaria. Using this method, a total of 153 Griffon Vultures were released between 2009 and 2020 from two adaptation aviaries in the Kotlenska Planina Special Protection Area and the Sinite Kamani Nature Park in the Eastern Balkan Mountains of Bulgaria.

Griffon Vultures in Eastern Balkan Mountains. Photo by Hristo Peshev, fwff.org

After some 50 years of absence, the very first successful reproduction in the area was reported as early as 2016. Now, as of December 2020, the local population consists of more than 80 permanently present individuals, among them about 25 breeding pairs, and has already produced a total of 31-33 chicks successfully fledged into the wild.

Vulture tagging. Photo by Hristo Peshev, fwff.org

“Why vultures of all creatures? Because they were exterminated, yet provide an amazing service for people and healthy ecosystems”, Elena Kmetova-Biro, initial project manager for the Green Balkans NGO explains.

Vulture tagging. Photo by Green Balkans, www.greenbalkans.org

“We have lost about a third of the vultures set free in that site, mostly due to electrocution shortly after release. The birds predominantly forage on feeding sites, where the team provides dead domestic animals collected from local owners and slaughterhouses,” the researchers say. 

Vulture tagging. Photo by Green Balkans, www.greenbalkans.org

“We, however, consider the establishment phase of the reintroduction of Griffon Vulture in this particular site as successfully completed. The population is still dependent on conservation measures (supplementary feeding, isolation of dangerous power lines and accidental poisoning prevention), but the area of the Eastern Balkan Mountains can currently be regarded as a one of the only seven existing general areas for the species in the mainland Balkan Peninsula and one of the five which serve as population source sites”.

Vulture adaptation aviary. Photo by Green Balkans, www.greenbalkans.org

Original source: Kmetova–Biro E, Stoynov E, Ivanov I, Peshev H, Marin S, Bonchev L, Stoev IP, Stoyanov G, Nikolova Z, Vangelova N, Parvanov D, Grozdanov A (2021) Re-introduction of Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) in the Eastern Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria – completion of the establishment phase 2010-2020. Biodiversity Data Journal 9: e66363. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.9.e66363

When conservation work pays off: After 20 years, the Saker Falcon breeds again in Bulgaria

The Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) is a bird of prey living in plains and forest-steppes in the West and semi-desert montane plateaus and cliffs in the East. The majority of its Central and Eastern European population is migratory and spends winters in the Mediterranean, the Near East and East Africa. With its global population estimated at 6,100-14,900 breeding pairs, the species is considered endangered according to the IUCN Red List.

Saker falcon, Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, the Saker Falcon, considered extinct as a breeding species since the early 2000s, was recovered in 2018 with the discovery of the first active nest from its new history in Bulgaria. The nest is built by two birds that were reintroduced back in 2015 as part of the first ever Saker Falcon reintroduction programme. The results of the 5-year programme are described in detail in the open-access, peer-reviewed Biodiversity Data Journal.

Saker falcon, Bulgaria

Many factors contributed to the decline of the Saker Falcon in Bulgaria and globally, and most of them are human-caused. Populations lost big parts of their habitat due to changes in land use – the transition from grazing to arable crops led to the diminishing of key food sources. Other reasons include the use of poisonous baits and the accumulation of pesticides in the food chain, illegal trade of nest-poached chicks and eggs, power line electrocution, and lack of suitable nesting places.

Even after European legislation for the protection of wildlife was implemented, and regulations were issued on the use of pesticides in Bulgaria, the Saker Falcon population did not stabilise. Its endangered status further prompted joint conservation efforts between NGOs and national authorities.

As a result, a re-introduction programme for the Saker Falcon in Bulgaria was initiated in 2015, aiming to release a number of birds over a certain period of time using adaptation aviaries, or hacks. The Green Balkans Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre (WRBC) in Stara Zagora facilitated the captive breeding of a group of Saker Falcons imported from Austria, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia and Poland by constructing ten breeding aviaries and two stock cages for juvenile falcons and equipping them with internal surveillance cameras.

Saker falcon fledges, Bulgaria

Between 2015 and 2020, a total of 80 Saker Falcons – 27 females and 53 males, were released via the hacking method from four aviaries near the town of Stara Zagora. Out of them, 64 had been bred and hatched at the WRBC.

Observation records from 2018 confirmed that at least one pair of the falcons released in 2015 was currently breeding in the wild in Bulgaria. This observation proves that with the help of hacking, Sakers can survive in the wild until maturity, return to the region of their release and breed successfully. In 2020, the female bird in the breeding pair was changed with a Saker Falcon released in 2016, and the new pair bred successfully.

In 2020, the programme was restarted for another 5 years, with the aim to release 100 Saker Falcons and have six pairs breeding in the wild. This will help restore the Saker Falcon population in the southern Balkans and facilitate gene flow amongst fragmented populations from Central Europe to Kazakhstan.

Helping this iconic species successfully establish a self-sustaining population in Bulgaria has profound implications for conservation in the country – not only in terms of public awareness of species conservation, but also as an indicator of wider environmental issues.

Original source:

Lazarova I, Petrov R, Andonova Y, Klisurov I, Dixon A (2021) Re-introduction of the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) in Bulgaria – preliminary results from the ongoing establishment phase by 2020. Biodiversity Data Journal 9: e63729. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.9.e63729

Unlocking Australia’s biodiversity, one dataset at a time

Illustration by CSIRO

Australia’s unique and highly endemic flora and fauna are threatened by rapid losses in biodiversity and ecosystem health, caused by human influence and environmental challenges. To monitor and respond to these trends, scientists and policy-makers need reliable data.

Biodiversity researchers and managers often don’t have the necessary information, or access to it, to tackle some of the greatest environmental challenges facing society, such as biodiversity loss or climate change. Data can be a powerful tool for the development of science and decision-making, which is where the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) comes in.

ALA – Australia’s national biodiversity database – uses cutting-edge digital tools which enable  people to share, access and analyse data about local plants, animals and fungi. It brings together millions of sightings as well as environmental data like rainfall and temperature in one place to be searched and analysed. All data are made publicly available – ALA was established in line with open-access principles and uses an open-source code base.

The impressive set of databases on Australia’s biodiversity includes information on species occurrence, animal tracking, specimens, biodiversity projects, and Australia’s Natural History Collections. The ALA also manages a wide range of other data, including information on spatial layers, indigenous ecological knowledge, taxonomic profiles and biodiversity literature. Together with its partner tools, the ALA has radically enhanced ease of access to biodiversity data. A forum paper recently published with the open-access, peer-reviewed Biodiversity Data Journal details its history, current state and future directions.

Established in 2010 under the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) to support the research sector with trusted biodiversity data, it now delivers data and related services to more than 80,000 users every year, helping scientists, policy makers, environmental planners, industry, and the general public to work more efficiently. It also supports the international community as the Australian node of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and the code base for the successful international Living Atlases community.

With thousands of records being added daily, the ALA currently contains nearly 95 million occurrence records of over 111,000 species, the earliest of them being from the late 1600s. Among them, 1.7 million are observation records harvested by computer algorithms, and the trend is that their share will keep growing.

An ALA staff member. Photo by CSIRO

Recognising the potential of citizen science for contributing valuable information to Australia’s biodiversity, the ALA became a member of the iNaturalist Network in 2019 and established an Australian iNaturalist node to encourage people to submit their species observations. Projects like DigiVol and BioCollect were also born from ALA’s interest in empowering citizen science.

The ALA BioCollect platform supports biodiversity-related projects by capturing both descriptive metadata and raw primary field data. BioCollect has a strong citizen science emphasis, with 524 citizen science projects that are open to involvement by anyone. The platform also provides information on projects related to ecoscience and natural resource management activities.

Hosted by the Australian Museum, DigiVol is a volunteer portal where over 6,000 public volunteers have transcribed over 800,000 specimen labels and 124,000 pages of field notes. Harnessing the power and passion of volunteers, the tool makes more information available to science by digitising specimens, images, field notes and archives from collections all over the world.

Built on a decade of partnerships with biodiversity data partners, government departments, community and citizen science organisations, the ALA provides a robust suite of services, including a range of data systems and software applications that support both the research sector and decision makers. Well regarded both domestically and internationally, it has built a national community that is working to improve the availability and accessibility of biodiversity data.

Original source:

Belbin L, Wallis E, Hobern D, Zerger A (2021) The Atlas of Living Australia: History, current state and future directions. Biodiversity Data Journal 9: e65023. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.9.e65023

Pandemic-inspired discoveries: New insect species from Kosovo named after the Coronavirus

While the new Coronavirus will, hopefully, be effectively controlled sooner rather than later, its latest namesake is here to stay – a small caddisfly endemic to a national park in Kosovo that is new to science.

The new species Potamophylax coronavirus

Potamophylax 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 in the open-access, peer-reviewed Biodiversity Data Journal.

 Male and female of the new species Potamophylax coronavirus, in copulation. Photo by Halil Ibrahimi 

Ironically, the study of this new insect was impacted by the same pandemic that inspired its scientific name. Although it was collected a few years ago, the new species was only described during the global pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2. Its name, P. coronavirus, will be an eternal memory of this difficult period.

The locality where P. coronavirus was discovered. Photo by Halil Ibrahimi and Astrit Bilalli

In a broader sense, the authors 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.

The locality where P. coronavirus was discovered. Photo by Halil Ibrahimi and Astrit Bilalli

The small insect order of Trichoptera, where P. coronavirus belongs, is very sensitive to water pollution and habitat deterioration. The authors of the new species argue that it is a small-scale endemic taxon, very sensitive to the ongoing activities in Lumbardhi i Deçanit river. Failure to understand this may drive this and many other species towards extinction.

Interestingly, in the same paper, the authors also identified a few other new species from isolated habitats in the Balkan Peninsula, which are awaiting description upon collection of further specimens. The Western Balkans and especially Kosovo, have proved to be an important hotspot of freshwater biodiversity. Several new insect species have been discovered there in the past few years, most of them being described by Professor Halil Ibrahimi and his team.

Call for data papers describing datasets from Russia to be published in Biodiversity Data Journal

GBIF partners with FinBIF and Pensoft to support publication of new datasets about biodiversity from across Russia

Original post via GBIF

In collaboration with the Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility (FinBIF) and Pensoft Publishers, GBIF has announced a new call for authors to submit and publish data papers on Russia in a special collection of Biodiversity Data Journal (BDJ). The call extends and expands upon a successful effort in 2020 to mobilize data from European Russia.

Between now and 15 September 2021, the article processing fee (normally €550) will be waived for the first 36 papers, provided that the publications are accepted and meet the following criteria that the data paper describes a dataset:

The manuscript must be prepared in English and is submitted in accordance with BDJ’s instructions to authors by 15 September 2021. Late submissions will not be eligible for APC waivers.

Sponsorship is limited to the first 36 accepted submissions meeting these criteria on a first-come, first-served basis. The call for submissions can therefore close prior to the stated deadline of 15 September 2021. Authors may contribute to more than one manuscript, but artificial division of the logically uniform data and data stories, or “salami publishing”, is not allowed.

BDJ will publish a special issue including the selected papers by the end of 2021. The journal is indexed by Web of Science (Impact Factor 1.331), Scopus (CiteScore: 2.1) and listed in РИНЦ / eLibrary.ru.

For non-native speakers, please ensure that your English is checked either by native speakers or by professional English-language editors prior to submission. You may credit these individuals as a “Contributor” through the AWT interface. Contributors are not listed as co-authors but can help you improve your manuscripts.

In addition to the BDJ instruction to authors, it is required that datasets referenced from the data paper a) cite the dataset’s DOI, b) appear in the paper’s list of references, and c) has “Russia 2021” in Project Data: Title and “N-Eurasia-Russia2021“ in Project Data: Identifier in the dataset’s metadata.

Authors should explore the GBIF.org section on data papers and Strategies and guidelines for scholarly publishing of biodiversity data. Manuscripts and datasets will go through a standard peer-review process. When submitting a manuscript to BDJ, authors are requested to select the Biota of Russia collection.

To see an example, view this dataset on GBIF.org and the corresponding data paper published by BDJ.

Questions may be directed either to Dmitry Schigel, GBIF scientific officer, or Yasen Mutafchiev, managing editor of Biodiversity Data Journal.

The 2021 extension of the collection of data papers will be edited by Vladimir Blagoderov, Pedro Cardoso, Ivan Chadin, Nina Filippova, Alexander Sennikov, Alexey Seregin, and Dmitry Schigel.

This project is a continuation of the successful call for data papers from European Russia in 2020. The funded papers are available in the Biota of Russia special collection and the datasets are shown on the project page.

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Definition of terms

Datasets with more than 5,000 records that are new to GBIF.org

Datasets should contain at a minimum 5,000 new records that are new to GBIF.org. While the focus is on additional records for the region, records already published in GBIF may meet the criteria of ‘new’ if they are substantially improved, particularly through the addition of georeferenced locations.” Artificial reduction of records from otherwise uniform datasets to the necessary minimum (“salami publishing”) is discouraged and may result in rejection of the manuscript. New submissions describing updates of datasets, already presented in earlier published data papers will not be sponsored.

Justification for publishing datasets with fewer records (e.g. sampling-event datasets, sequence-based data, checklists with endemics etc.) will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Datasets with high-quality data and metadata

Authors should start by publishing a dataset comprised of data and metadata that meets GBIF’s stated data quality requirement. This effort will involve work on an installation of the GBIF Integrated Publishing Toolkit.

Only when the dataset is prepared should authors then turn to working on the manuscript text. The extended metadata you enter in the IPT while describing your dataset can be converted into manuscript with a single-click of a button in the ARPHA Writing Tool (see also Creation and Publication of Data Papers from Ecological Metadata Language (EML) Metadata. Authors can then complete, edit and submit manuscripts to BDJ for review.

Datasets with geographic coverage in Russia

In correspondence with the funding priorities of this programme, at least 80% of the records in a dataset should have coordinates that fall within the priority area of Russia. However, authors of the paper may be affiliated with institutions anywhere in the world.

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Check out the Biota of Russia dynamic data paper collection so far.

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New DNA barcoding project aims at tracking down the “dark taxa” of Germany’s insect fauna

New dynamic article collection at Biodiversity Data Journal is already accumulating the project’s findings

About 1.4 million species of animals are currently known, but it is generally accepted that this figure grossly underestimates the actual number of species in existence, which likely ranges between five and thirty million species, or even 100 million. 

Meanwhile, a far less well-known fact is that even in countries with a long history of taxonomic research, such as Germany, which is currently known to be inhabited by about 48,000 animal species, there are thousands of insect species still awaiting discovery. In particular, the orders Diptera (flies) and Hymenoptera (especially the parasitoid wasps) are insect groups suspected to contain a strikingly large number of undescribed species. With almost 10,000 known species each, these two insect orders account for approximately two-thirds of Germany’s insect fauna, underlining the importance of these insects in many ways.

The conclusion that there are not only a few, but so many unknown species in Germany is a result of the earlier German Barcode of Life projects: GBOL I and GBOL II, both supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) and the Bavarian Ministry of Science under the project Barcoding Fauna Bavarica. 

In its previous phases, GBOL aimed to identify all German species reliably, quickly and inexpensively using DNA barcodes. Since the first project was launched twelve years ago, more than 25,000 German animal species have been barcoded. Among them, the comparatively well-known groups, such as butterflies, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, bees and wasps, showed an almost complete coverage of the species inventory.

In 2020, another BMBF-funded DNA barcoding project, titled GBOL III: Dark Taxa, was launched, in order to focus on the lesser-known groups of Diptera and parasitoid Hymenoptera, which are often referred to as “dark taxa”. The new project commenced at three major German natural history institutions: the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (Bonn), the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology (SNSB, Munich) and the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, in collaboration with the University of Würzburg and the Entomological Society Krefeld. Together, the project partners are to join efforts and skills to address a range of questions related to the taxonomy of the “dark taxa” in Germany.

As part of the initiative, the project partners are invited to submit their results and outcomes in the dedicated GBOL III: Dark Taxa article collection in the peer-reviewed, open-access Biodiversity Data Journal. There, the contributions will be published dynamically, as soon as approved and ready for publication. The articles will include taxonomic revisions, checklists, data papers, contributions to methods and protocols, employed in DNA barcoding studies with a focus on the target taxa of the project.

“The collection of articles published in the Biodiversity Data Journal is an excellent approach to achieving the consortium’s goals and project partners are encouraged to take advantage of the journal’s streamlined publication workflows to publish and disseminate data and results that were generated during the project,”

says the collection’s editor Dr Stefan Schmidt of the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology.

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Find and follow the dynamic article collection GBOL III: Dark Taxa in Biodiversity Data Journal.

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Pensoft partners with ReviewerCredit to certify and reward peer review

Following recent API integration with ReviewerCredits, Pensoft – the scholarly publisher and technology provider – has launched a pilot phase with one of its peer-reviewed, open-access journal: Biodiversity Data Journal (BDJ). Reviewers, who create an account on ReviewerCredits, will automatically record their peer review contributions, which will be certified via the platform and receive rewards and recognition within the scholarly community and fellow scientists.

Following recent API integration with ReviewerCredits, Pensoft – the scholarly publisher and technology provider – has launched a pilot phase with one of its peer-reviewed, open-access journal: Biodiversity Data Journal (BDJ). Reviewers, who create an account on ReviewerCredits, will automatically record their peer review contributions, which will be certified via the platform and receive rewards and recognition within the scholarly community and fellow scientists. 

Apart from a seamless system to showcase their peer review activity, reviewers will also be assigned virtual credits, which can be redeemed for benefits provided by selected partners, including discounted APCs. 

The registration on ReviewerCredits is free. While a reviewer can register any of his/her peer reviews on the platform, reviews for journals partnering with ReviewerCredits earn additional redeemable credits.

Once a reviewer signs in BDJ using their own reviewer account, a pop-up window will recommend that an account on ReviewerCredits is created by using an ORCID ID or an email address. Once the registration is complete, each completed peer review contribution will automatically appear as certified on ReviewerCredits, as soon as the editor submits a final decision on the reviewed manuscript. In line with peer-review confidentiality, the entry displayed on ReviewerCredits will not contain the content of the review, nor the particular paper it is associated with.

“We are happy to partner with ReviewerCredits to further recognise, encourage and reward the contribution of reviewers in BDJ. No one should forget that, at the end of the day, it is up to reviewers to ensure that only good and quality science makes its way in the world. Unfortunately, though, their role in scholarship has traditionally been overlooked and we all need to put in effort to change the status quo,”

comments Prof. Lyubomir Penev, founder and CEO of Pensoft.

“We are excited by the collaboration with Pensoft on this project and to acknowledge BDJ among our prestigious partner journals. Pensoft has proved an extremely competent partner, well aware of the importance for journals to state the value of their peer review process. We work together to strengthen the collaboration between journals and reviewers and we are looking forward to a growing collaboration with Pensoft publications,”

Prof. Giacomo Bellani, co-founder and president of ReviewerCredits, underlines the value and enthusiasm for this new partnership.

About ReviewerCredits:

ReviewerCredits is a startup company, accredited to the University of Milan Bicocca, launched in 2017 by enthusiastic active researchers and scientists. ReviewerCredits is an independent platform dedicated to scientists, Journals and Publishers addressing the peer review process.

Citizen scientists discover a new snail and name it after Greta Thunberg

A new to science species of land snail was discovered by a group of citizen scientists working together with scientists from Taxon Expeditions, a company that organises scientific field trips for teams consisting of both scientists and laypeople. Having conducted a vote on how to name the species, the expedition participants and the local staff of the National Park together decided to name the mollusc Craspedotropis gretathunbergae. The species name honors the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg for her efforts to raise awareness about climate change. The study is published in the open-access journal Biodiversity Data Journal.

“The newly described snail belongs to the so-called caenogastropods, a group of land snails known to be sensitive to drought, temperature extremes and forest degradation”,

says snail expert and co-founder of Taxon Expeditions, Dr. Menno Schilthuizen.

All individuals were found very close to the research field station (Kuala Belalong Field Studies Centre) at the foot of a steep hill-slope, next to a river bank, while foraging at night on the green leaves of understorey plants.

Citizen scientist J.P. Lim, who found the first specimen of Greta Thunberg’s snail says:

“Naming this snail after Greta Thunberg is our way of acknowledging that her generation will be responsible for fixing problems that they did not create. And it’s a promise that people from all generations will join her to help”.


Taxon Expeditions participant J.P. Lim collecting snails.
Credit: Taxon Expeditions – Pierre Escoubas
License: CC-BY 4.0

The expedition team approached Ms. Thunberg who said that she would be “delighted” to have this species named after her. 

Video about Taxon Expeditions & Greta Thunberg snail
Credit: Taxon Expeditions

However, this is not the first time that Taxon Expeditions team names a species in honour of an environmental advocate. In 2018, they named a new species of beetle after famous actor and climate activist Leonardo DiCaprio. Mr. DiCaprio temporarily changed his profile photo on Facebook to the photo of “his” beetle to acknowledge this honour.


View of the Ulu Temburong National Park in Brunei from the canopy bridge.
Credit: Taxon Expeditions – Pierre Escoubas
License: CC-BY 4.0

Original source:

Schilthuizen M, Lim JP, van Peursen ADP, Alfano M, Jenging AB, Cicuzza D, Escoubas A, Escoubas P, Grafe U, Ja J, Koomen P, Krotoski A, Lavezzari D, Lim L, Maarschall R, Slik F, Steele D, Ting Teck Wah D, van Zeeland I, Njunjić I (2020) Craspedotropis gretathunbergae, a new species of Cyclophoridae (Gastropoda: Caenogastropoda), discovered and described on a field course to Kuala Belalong rainforest, Brunei. Biodiversity Data Journal 8: e47484. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.8.e47484