One Biodiversity Knowledge Hub to link them all: BiCIKL 2nd General Assembly

The FAIR Data Place – the key and final product of the partnership – is meant to provide scientists with all types of biodiversity data “at their fingertips”

The Horizon 2020 – funded project BiCIKL has reached its halfway stage and the partners gathered in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) from the 22nd to the 25th of October for the Second General Assembly, organised by Pensoft

The BiCIKL project will launch a new European community of key research infrastructures, researchers, citizen scientists and other stakeholders in the biodiversity and life sciences based on open science practices through access to data, tools and services.

BiCIKL’s goal is to create a centralised place to connect all key biodiversity data by interlinking 15 research infrastructures and their databases. The 3-year European Commission-supported initiative kicked off in 2021 and involves 14 key natural history institutions from 10 European countries.

BiCIKL is keeping pace as expected with 16 out of the 48 final deliverables already submitted, another 9 currently in progress/under review and due in a few days. Meanwhile, 21 out of the 48 milestones have been successfully achieved.

Prof. Lyubomir Penev (BiCIKL’s project coordinator Prof. Lyubomir Penev and CEO and founder of Pensoft) opens the 2nd General Assembly of BiCIKL in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

The hybrid format of the meeting enabled a wider range of participants, which resulted in robust discussions on the next steps of the project, such as the implementation of additional technical features of the FAIR Data Place (FAIR being an abbreviation for Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable).

This FAIR Data Place online platform – the key and final product of the partnership and the BiCIKL initiative – is meant to provide scientists with all types of biodiversity data “at their fingertips”.

This data includes biodiversity information, such as detailed images, DNA, physiology and past studies concerning a specific species and its ‘relatives’, to name a few. Currently, the issue is that all those types of biodiversity data have so far been scattered across various databases, which in turn have been missing meaningful and efficient interconnectedness.

Additionally, the FAIR Data Place, developed within the BiCIKL project, is to give researchers access to plenty of training modules to guide them through the different services.

Halfway through the duration of BiCIKL, the project is at a turning point, where crucial discussions between the partners are playing a central role in the refinement of the FAIR Data Place design. Most importantly, they are tasked with ensuring that their technologies work efficiently with each other, in order to seamlessly exchange, update and share the biodiversity data every one of them is collecting and taking care of.

By Year 3 of the BiCIKL project, the partners agree, when those infrastructures and databases become efficiently interconnected to each other, scientists studying the Earth’s biodiversity across the world will be in a much better position to build on existing research and improve the way and the pace at which nature is being explored and understood. At the end of the day, knowledge is the stepping stone for the preservation of biodiversity and humankind itself.


“Needless to say, it’s an honour and a pleasure to be the coordinator of such an amazing team spanning as many as 14 partnering natural history and biodiversity research institutions from across Europe, but also involving many global long-year collaborators and their infrastructures, such as Wikidata, GBIF, TDWG, Catalogue of Life to name a few,”

said BiCIKL’s project coordinator Prof. Lyubomir Penev, CEO and founder of Pensoft.

“I see our meeting in Plovdiv as a practical demonstration of our eagerness and commitment to tackle the long-standing and technically complex challenge of breaking down the silos in the biodiversity data domain. It is time to start building freeways between all biodiversity data, across (digital) space, time and data types. After the last three days that we spent together in inspirational and productive discussions, I am as confident as ever that we are close to providing scientists with much more straightforward routes to not only generate more biodiversity data, but also build on the already existing knowledge to form new hypotheses and information ready to use by decision- and policy-makers. One cannot stress enough how important the role of biodiversity data is in preserving life on Earth. These data are indeed the groundwork for all that we know about the natural world”  

Prof. Lyubomir Penev added.
Christos Arvanitidis (CEO of LifeWatch ERIC) at the 2nd General Assembly of the BiCIKL project.

Christos Arvanitidis, CEO of LifeWatch ERIC, added:

“The point is: do we want an integrated structure or do we prefer federated structures? What are the pros and cons of the two options? It’s essential to keep the community united and allied because we can’t afford any information loss and the stakeholders should feel at home with the Project and the Biodiversity Knowledge Hub.”


Joe Miller, Executive Secretary and Director at GBIF, commented:

“We are a brand new community, and we are in the middle of the growth process. We would like to already have answers, but it’s good to have this kind of robust discussion to build on a good basis. We must find the best solution to have linkages between infrastructures and be able to maintain them in the future because the Biodiversity Knowledge Hub is the location to gather the community around best practices, data and guidelines on how to use the BiCIKL services… In order to engage even more partners to fill the eventual gaps in our knowledge.”


Joana Pauperio (biodiversity curator at EMBL-EBI) at the 2nd General Assembly of the BiCIKL project.

“BiCIKL is leading data infrastructure communities through some exciting and important developments”  

said Dr Guy Cochrane, Team Leader for Data Coordination and Archiving and Head of the European Nucleotide Archive at EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI).

“In an era of biodiversity change and loss, leveraging scientific data fully will allow the world to catalogue what we have now, to track and understand how things are changing and to build the tools that we will use to conserve or remediate. The challenge is that the data come from many streams – molecular biology, taxonomy, natural history collections, biodiversity observation – that need to be connected and intersected to allow scientists and others to ask real questions about the data. In its first year, BiCIKL has made some key advances to rise to this challenge,”

he added.

Deborah Paul, Chair of the Biodiversity Information Standards – TDWG said:

“As a partner, we, at the Biodiversity Information Standards – TDWG, are very enthusiastic that our standards are implemented in BiCIKL and serve to link biodiversity data. We know that joining forces and working together is crucial to building efficient infrastructures and sharing knowledge.”


The project will go on with the first Round Table of experts in December and the publications of the projects who participated in the Open Call and will be founded at the beginning of the next year.

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Learn more about BiCIKL on the project’s website at: bicikl-project.eu

Follow BiCIKL Project on Twitter and Facebook. Join the conversation on Twitter at #BiCIKL_H2020.

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All BiCIKL project partners:

#TDWG2022 recap: TDWG and Pensoft welcomed 400 biodiversity information experts from 41 countries in Sofia

For the 37th time, experts from across the world to share and discuss the latest developments surrounding biodiversity data and how they are being gathered, used, shared and integrated across time, space and disciplines.

Between 17th and 21st October, about 400 scientists and experts took part in a hybrid meeting dedicated to the development, use and maintenance of biodiversity data, technologies, and standards across the world.

This year, the conference was hosted by Pensoft in collaboration with the National Museum of Natural History (Bulgaria) and the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Science. It ran under the theme “Stronger Together: Standards for linking biodiversity data”.

For the 37th time, the global scientific and educational association Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) brought together experts from all over the globe to share and discuss the latest developments surrounding biodiversity data and how they are being gathered, used, shared and integrated across time, space and disciplines.

This was the first time the event happened in a hybrid format. It was attended by 160 people on-site, while another 235 people joined online. 

The TDWG 2022 conference saw plenty of networking and engaging discussions with as many as 160 on-site attendees and another 235 people, who joined the event remotely.

The conference abstracts, submitted by the event’s speakers ahead of the meeting, provide a sneak peek into their presentations and are all publicly available in the TDWG journal Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS).

“It’s wonderful to be in the Balkans and Bulgaria for our Biodiversity Information and Standards (TDWG) 2022 conference! Everyone’s been so welcoming and thoughtfully engaged in conversations about biodiversity information and how we can all collaborate, contribute and benefit,”

said Deborah Paul, Chair of TDWG, a biodiversity informatics specialist and community liaison at the University of Illinois, Prairie Research Institute‘s Illinois Natural History Survey and also an active participant in the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), the Entomological Collections Network (ECN), ICEDIG, the Research Data Alliance (RDA), and The Carpentries.

“Our TDWG mission is to create, maintain and promote the use of open, community-driven standards to enable sharing and use of biodiversity data for all,”

she added.
Prof Lyubomir Penev (Pensoft) and Deborah Paul (TDWG) at TDWG 2022.

“We are proud to have been selected to be the hosts of this year’s TDWG annual conference and are definitely happy to have joined and observed so many active experts network and share their know-how and future plans with each other, so that they can collaborate and make further progress in the way scientists and informaticians work with biodiversity information,”  

said Pensoft’s founder and CEO Prof. Lyubomir Penev.

“As a publisher of multiple globally renowned scientific journals and books in the field of biodiversity and ecology, at Pensoft we assume it to be our responsibility to be amongst the first to implement those standards and good practices, and serve as an example in the scholarly publishing world. Let me remind you that it is the scientific publications that present the most reliable knowledge the world and science has, due to the scrutiny and rigour in the review process they undergo before seeing the light of day,”

he added.

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In a nutshell, the main task and dedication of the TDWG association is to develop and maintain standards and data-sharing protocols that support the infrastructures (e.g., The Global Biodiversity Information Facility – GBIF), which aggregate and facilitate use of these data, in order to inform and expand humanity’s knowledge about life on Earth.

It is the goal of everyone at TDWG to let scientists interested in the world’s biodiversity to do their work efficiently and in a manner that can be understood, shared and reused.

It is the goal of everyone volunteering their time and expertise to TDWG to enable the scientists interested in the world’s biodiversity to do their work efficiently and in a manner that can be understood, shared and reused by others. After all, biodiversity data underlie everything we know about the natural world.

If there are optimised and universal standards in the way researchers store and disseminate biodiversity data, all those biodiversity scientists will be able to find, access and use the knowledge in their own work much more easily. As a result, they will be much better positioned to contribute new knowledge that will later be used in nature and ecosystem conservation by key decision-makers.

On Monday, the event opened with welcoming speeches by Deborah Paul and Prof. Lyubomir Penev in their roles of the Chair of TDWG and the main host of this year’s conference, respectively.

The opening ceremony continued with a keynote speech by Prof. Pavel Stoev, Director of the Natural History Museum of Sofia and co-host of TDWG 2022. 

Prof. Pavel Stoev (Natural History Museum of Sofia) with a presentation about the known and unknown biodiversity of Bulgaria during the opening plenary session of TDWG 2022.

He walked the participants through the fascinating biodiversity of Bulgaria, but also the worrying trends in the country associated with declining taxonomic expertise. 

He finished his talk with a beam of hope by sharing about the recently established national unit of DiSSCo, whose aim – even if a tad too optimistic – is to digitise one million natural history items in four years, of which 250,000 with photographs. So far, one year into the project, the Bulgarian team has managed to digitise more than 32,000 specimens and provide images to 10,000 specimens.

The plenary session concluded with a keynote presentation by renowned ichthyologist and biodiversity data manager Dr. Richard L. Pyle, who is also a manager of ZooBank – the key international database for newly described species.

Keynote presentation by Dr Richard L. Pyle (Bishop Museum, USA) at the opening plenary session of TDWG 2022.

In his talk, he highlighted the gaps in the ways taxonomy is being used, thereby impeding biodiversity research and cutting off a lot of opportunities for timely scientific progress.

“There are simple things we can do to change how we use taxonomy as a tool that would dramatically improve our ability to conduct science and understand biodiversity. There is enormous value and utility within existing databases around the world to understand biodiversity, how threatened it is, what impacts human activity has (especially climate change), and how to optimise the protection and preservation of biodiversity,”

he said in an interview for a joint interview by the Bulgarian News Agency and Pensoft.

“But we do not have easy access to much of this information because the different databases are not well integrated. Taxonomy offers us the best opportunity to connect this information together, to answer important questions about biodiversity that we have never been able to answer before. The reason meetings like this are so important is that they bring people together to discuss ways of using modern informatics to greatly increase the power of the data we already have, and prioritise how we fill the gaps in data that exist. Taxonomy, and especially taxonomic data integration, is a very important part of the solution.”

Pyle also commented on the work in progress at ZooBank ten years into the platform’s existence and its role in the next (fifth) edition of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, which is currently being developed by the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). 

“We already know that ZooBank will play a more important role in the next edition of the Code than it has for these past ten years, so this is exactly the right time to be planning new services for ZooBank. Improvements at ZooBank will include things like better user-interfaces on the web to make it easier and faster to use ZooBank, better data services to make it easier for publishers to add content to ZooBank as part of their publication workflow, additional information about nomenclature and taxonomy that will both support the next edition of the Code, and also help taxonomists get their jobs done more efficiently and effectively. Conferences like the TDWG one are critical for helping to define what the next version of ZooBank will look like, and what it will do.”

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During the week, the conference participants had the opportunity to enjoy a total of 140 presentations; as well as multiple social activities, including a field trip to Rila Monastery and a traditional Bulgarian dinner.

TDWG 2022 conference participants document their species observations on their way to Rila Monastery.

While going about the conference venue and field trip localities, the attendees were also actively uploading their species observations made during their stay in Bulgaria on iNaturalist in a TDWG2022-dedicated BioBlitz. The challenge concluded with a total of 635 observations and 228 successfully identified species.

Amongst the social activities going on during TDWG 2022 was a BioBlitz, where the conference participants could uploade their observations made in Bulgaria on iNaturalist and help each other successfully identify the specimens.

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In his interview for the Bulgarian News Agency and Pensoft, Dr Vincent Smith, Head of the Informatics Division at the Natural History Museum, London (United Kingdom), co-founder of DiSSCo, the Distributed System of Scientific Collections, and the Editor-in-Chief of Biodiversity Data Journal, commented: 

“Biodiversity provides the support systems for all life on Earth. Yet the natural world is in peril, and we face biodiversity and climate emergencies. The consequences of these include accelerating extinction, increased risk from zoonotic disease, degradation of natural capital, loss of sustainable livelihoods in many of the poorest yet most biodiverse countries of the world, challenges with food security, water scarcity and natural disasters, and the associated challenges of mass migration and social conflicts.

Solutions to these problems can be found in the data associated with natural science collections. DiSSCo is a partnership of the institutions that digitise their collections to harness their potential. By bringing them together in a distributed, interoperable research infrastructure, we are making them physically and digitally open, accessible, and usable for all forms of research and innovation. 

At present rates, digitising all of the UK collection – which holds more than 130 million specimens collected from across the globe and is being taken care of by over 90 institutions – is likely to take many decades, but new technologies like machine learning and computer vision are dramatically reducing the time it will take, and we are presently exploring how robotics can be applied to accelerate our work.”

Dr Vincent Smith, Head of the Informatics Division at the Natural History Museum, London, co-founder of DiSSCo, and Editor-in-Chief of Biodiversity Data Journal at the TDWG 2022 conference.

In his turn, Dr Donat Agosti, CEO and Managing director at Plazi – a not-for-profit organisation supporting and promoting the development of persistent and openly accessible digital taxonomic literature – said:

“All the data about biodiversity is in our libraries, that include over 500 million pages, and everyday new publications are being added. No person can read all this, but machines allow us to mine this huge, very rich source of data. We do not know how many species we know, because we cannot analyse with all the scientists in this library, nor can we follow new publications. Thus, we do not have the best possible information to explore and protect our biological environment.”

Dr Donat Agosti demonstrating the importance of publishing biodiversity data in a structured and semantically enhanced format in one of his presentations at TDWG 2022.

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At the closing plenary session, Gail Kampmeier – TDWG Executive member and one of the first zoologists to join TDWG in 1996 – joined via Zoom to walk the conference attendees through the 37-year history of the association, originally named the Taxonomic Databases Working Group, but later transformed to Biodiversity Information Standards, as it expanded its activities to the whole range of biodiversity data. 

“While this presentation is about TDWG’s history as an organisation, its focus will be on the heart of TDWG: its people. We would like to show how the organisation has evolved in terms of gender balance, inclusivity actions, and our engagement to promote and enhance diversity at all levels. But more importantly, where do we—as a community—want to go in the future?”,

reads the conference abstract of her colleague at TDWG Dr Visotheary Ung (CNRS-MNHN) and herself.

Then, in the final talk of the session, Deborah Paul took to the stage to present the progress and key achievements by the association from 2022.

She gave a special shout-out to the TDWG journal: Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS), where for the 6th consecutive year, the participants of the annual conference submitted and published their conference abstracts ahead of the event. 

Deborah Paul reminds that – apart from the conference abstracts – the TDWG journal: Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS) also welcomes full-lenght articles that demonstrate the development or application of new methods and approaches in biodiversity informatics.

Launched in 2017 on the Pensoft’s publishing platform ARPHA, the journal provides the quite unique and innovative opportunity to have both abstracts and full-length research papers published in a modern, technologically-advanced scholarly journal. In her speech, Deborah Paul reminded that BISS journal welcomes research articles that demonstrate the development or application of new methods and approaches in biodiversity informatics in the form of case studies.

Amongst the achievements of TDWG and its community, a special place was reserved for the Horizon 2020-funded BiCIKL project (abbreviation for Biodiversity Community Integrated Knowledge Library), involving many of the association’s members. 

Having started in 2021, the 3-year project, coordinated by Pensoft, brings together 14 partnering institutions from 10 countries, and 15 biodiversity under the common goal to create a centralised place to connect all key biodiversity data by interlinking a total of 15 research infrastructures and their databases.

Deborah Paul also reported on the progress of the Horizon 2020-funded project BiCIKL, which involves many of the TDWG members. BiCIKL’s goal is to create a centralised place to connect all key biodiversity data by interlinking 15 key research infrastructures and their databases.

In fact, following the week-long TDWG 2022 conference in Sofia, a good many of the participants set off straight for another Bulgarian city and another event hosted by Pensoft. The Second General Assembly of BiCIKL took place between 22nd and 24th October in Plovdiv.

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You can also explore highlights and live tweets from TDWG 2022 on Twitter via #TDWG2022.
The Pensoft team at TDWG 2022 were happy to become the hosts of the 37th TDWG conference.

Pensoft’s ARPHA Publishing Platform integrates with OA Switchboard to streamline reporting to funders of open research

By the time authors open their inboxes to the message their work is online, a similar notification will have also reached their research funder.

Image credit: OA Switchboard.

By the time authors – who have acknowledged third-party financial support in their research papers submitted to a journal using the Pensoft-developed publishing platform: ARPHA – open their inboxes to the congratulatory message that their work has just been published and made available to the wide world, a similar notification will have also reached their research funder.

This automated workflow is already in effect at all journals (co-)published by Pensoft and those published under their own imprint on the ARPHA Platform, as a result of the new partnership with the OA Switchboard: a community-driven initiative with the mission to serve as a central information exchange hub between stakeholders about open access publications, while making things simpler for everyone involved.

All the submitting author needs to do to ensure that their research funder receives a notification about the publication is to select the supporting agency or the scientific project (e.g. a project supported by Horizon Europe) in the manuscript submission form, using a handy drop-down menu. In either case, the message will be sent to the funding body as soon as the paper is published in the respective journal.

“At Pensoft, we are delighted to announce our integration with the OA Switchboard, as this workflow is yet another excellent practice in scholarly publishing that supports transparency in research. Needless to say, funding and financing are cornerstones in scientific work and scholarship, so it is equally important to ensure funding bodies are provided with full, prompt and convenient reports about their own input.”

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

 

“Research funders are one of the three key stakeholder groups in OA Switchboard and are represented in our founding partners. They seek support in demonstrating the extent and impact of their research funding and delivering on their commitment to OA. It is great to see Pensoft has started their integration with OA Switchboard with a focus on this specific group, fulfilling an important need,”

adds Yvonne Campfens, Executive Director of the OA Switchboard.

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About the OA Switchboard:

A global not-for-profit and independent intermediary established in 2020, the OA Switchboard provides a central hub for research funders, institutions and publishers to exchange OA-related publication-level information. Connecting parties and systems, and streamlining communication and the neutral exchange of metadata, the OA Switchboard provides direct, indirect and community benefits: simplicity and transparency, collaboration and interoperability, and efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

About Pensoft:

Pensoft is an independent academic publishing company, well known worldwide for its novel cutting-edge publishing tools, workflows and methods for text and data publishing of journals, books and conference materials.

All journals (co-)published by Pensoft are hosted on Pensoft’s full-featured ARPHA Publishing Platform and published in a way that ensures their content is as FAIR as possible, meaning that it is effortlessly readable, discoverable, harvestable, citable and reusable by both humans and machines.

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Follow Pensoft on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.
Follow OA Switchboard on Twitter and Linkedin.

Cultivated and wild bananas in northern Viet Nam threatened by а devastating fungal disease

For over 100 years, Fusarium, one of the most important fungal plant pathogens, has affected banana production worldwide.

Fusarium is one of the most important fungal plant pathogens, affecting the cultivation of a wide range of crops. All over the world, thousands of farmers suffer agricultural losses caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (referred to as Foc for short), which directly affects their income, subsistence, and nourishment.

As a soil-borne fungus, Foc invades the root system, from where it moves into the vascular tissue that gradually deteriorates, until eventually the plant dies. What makes it particularly hard to deal with is that, even 20 years after all infected plants and tissue are removed, spores of it still remain in the soil.

One industry significantly affected by Foc is global banana export, largely dependent on the cultivation of members of the Cavendish subgroup, which are highly susceptible to some of the Foc strains.

For over 100 years, the fungus has affected banana production worldwide. Researchers predict it will continue spreading intensively in Asia, affecting important banana-producing countries such as China, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Viet Nam.

For Viet Nam, predictions on the impact of Foc for the future are dramatic: an estimated loss in the banana production area of 8% within the next five years, and up to 71% within the next 25 years. In particular, the recent rise of the novel TR4 strain has resulted in worldwide anxiety about the future of the well-known Cavendish banana and many other cultivars. Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense is, however, not limited to TR4 or other well-known strains, like Race 1 or Race 2; it is a species complex that plant pathologists are yet to fully disentangle. 

In Viet Nam, like in the rest of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, most bananas are consumed and traded locally, supporting rural livelihood. This means that any reduction in crop harvest directly affects local people’s income and nourishment. 

It has thus become necessary to find out what are the individual species causing the Fusarium wilt among Vietnamese bananas. Only by understanding which species are infecting the cultivated bananas can concrete measures be taken to control the future spreading of the disease to other regions.

Using DNA analyses and morphological characterization, an international team of researchers from Viet Nam (Plant Resources Center, Vietnam National University of Agriculture), Belgium (Meise Botanic Garden, KU Leuven, Bioversity Leuven, MUCL) and the Netherlands (Naturalis Biodiversity Center) investigated the identity of the Fusarium wilt infections. They recently published their joint research in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal MycoKeys.

The study shows that approximately 3 out of 4 Fusarium infections of the northern Vietnamese bananas are caused by the species F. tardichlamydosporum, which can be regarded as the typical Race 1 infections. Interestingly, Foc TR4 is not yet a dominant strain in northern Viet Nam, as the species causing the disease – F. odoratissimum – only accounts for 10% of the Fusarium infections. A similar proportion of Fusarium infections is caused by the species Fusarium cugenangense – considered to cause Race 2 infections among bananas.More importantly, Fusarium wilt was not only found in cultivated bananas: the disease seemed to also affect wild bananas. This finding indicates that wild bananas might function as a sink for Fusarium wilt from where reinfections towards cultivars could take place.

Research article:

Le Thi L, Mertens A, Vu DT, Vu TD, Anh Minh PL, Duc HN, de Backer S, Swennen R, Vandelook F, Panis B, Amalfi M, Decock C, Gomes SIF, Merckx VSFT, Janssens SB (2022) Diversity of Fusarium associated banana wilt in northern Viet Nam. MycoKeys 87: 53-76. https://doi.org/10.3897/mycokeys.87.72941

A year of biodiversity: Top 10 new species of 2021 from Pensoft journals, Part 1

With 2022 round the corner, we thought we’d start off the celebrations by looking back to some the most memorable discoveries of 2021. And what a year it has been! Many new species made their debuts on the pages of Pensoft journals – here’s our selection of the most exciting animals, plants and fungi that we published in 2021.

With 2022 round the corner, we thought we’d start off the celebrations by looking back to some the most memorable discoveries of 2021. And what a year it has been! Many new species made their debuts on the pages of Pensoft journals – here’s our selection of the most exciting animals, plants and fungi that we published in 2021.

10. The delicious wild oak mushroom

It’s amazing that edible species, long known to local communities, can still present a novelty for science. This was the case with Cantharellus veraecrucis, a chanterelle from – that’s right, Veracruz, Mexico.

During the rainy season, locals harvest this mushroom from tropical oak forests to sell it or enjoy it as a delicacy; this is probably why they’ve dubbed it “Oak mushroom”.

Published in: MycoKeys

9. The master of disguise

If you ever see a leaf insect, there’s a good chance you won’t notice it – these little critters are masters of camouflaging.

This picture was taken in 2014, when Jérôme Constant and Joachim Bresseel from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences were enjoying a night walk in Vietnam’s Nui Chua National Park. It wasn’t until this year, though, that this beauty got its own scientific name: Cryptophyllium nuichuaense. Named after the park where it was found, it is one of 13 new species of leaf insects described in our journal ZooKeys this February.

This leaf insect, like many others, is endemic to Vietnam. This is why the researchers who found itcall for the creation of more protected areas in order to keep this precious biodiversity intact.

Published in: ZooKeys

8. The Neil Gaiman spider

Unlike most spiders, trapdoor spiders don’t use silk to make a web. Instead, they live in burrows lined with silk that they cover with a “trapdoor”. They are relatively widely spread, but you’d rarely encounter one out in the open, because they spend most of their lives underground.

This is probably why arachnologists and spider lovers the world over got so excited when Dr. Rebecca Godwin (Piedmont University, GA) and Dr. Jason Bond (University of California, Davis, CA) described 33 new species of trapdoor spiders from the genus Ummidia – in addition to the 27 already known.

Dr. Rebecca Godwin talks to L. Brian Patrick about her discovery of 33 new species of trapdoor spiders on his podcast New Species.

One of the 33 is Ummidia neilgaimani, named after fantasy and horror writer Neil Gaiman. A particular favorite of Dr. Godwin, Gaiman is the author of a number of books with spider-based characters. His novel American Gods features a character based on the West African spider god Anansi and a World Tree “one hour south of Blacksburg,” not far from the type locality of this species. He’s also part of the documentary Sixteen Legs, in his own words “An amazing film about Tasmanian cave spider sex.”

“I think anything we can do to increase people’s interest in the diversity around them is worthwhile and giving species names that people recognize but that still have relevant meaning is one way to do that,” says Dr. Godwin.

Published in: ZooKeys

7. The deadly Chinese-goddess snake

Bungarus suzhenae was only described as a new species this year, but its reputation preceded it – in a bad way. Researchers were already familiar with a notorious black-and-white banded krait that bit herpetologists on expeditions in Myanmar and China – in one infamous case, to death. After extensive morphological and phylogenetical analysis, the researchers were finally able to confirm it as new to science.

The story behind B. suzhenae’s name is interesting, too: it was named after a character from the traditional Chinese myth ‘Legend of White Snake’. The powerful snake goddess Bai Su Zhen is to this day regarded as a symbol of true love and good-heartedness in China. 

Snakebites from kraits – including this one – are known to have a high mortality. This is why the new knowledge on B. suzhenae and its description as a new species are essential to the research on its venom and an important step in the development of antivenom and improved snakebite treatment.

Published in: ZooKeys

6. The ephemeral fairy lanterns

Commonly known as “fairy lanterns”, plants of the genus Thismia are very rare and small in size. They are mycoheterotrophic, which means they live in close association with fungi from which they acquire most of their nutrition. They’re also very elusive, growing in dark, remote rainforests, and visible only when they emerge to flower and set seed after heavy rain.

In fact, researchers were only able to find one specimen of the new T. sitimeriamiae, which they discovered in the Terengganu State of Malaysia – the rest of the population had been destroyed by wild boars.

Just discovered, T. sitimeriamiae may already be threatened by extinction – which is why the research team that discovered it suggest that this exceptionally rare plant is classified as Critically Endangered.

Published in: PhytoKeys

Part 2 coming soon – stay tuned!

Lifting the veil over mysterious desert truffles: Terfezia’s ecology and diversity towards cultivation

Developing below the soil surface, desert truffles are hard to find. Recently, researchers of the University of Évora updated the number of known species of the desert truffle genus Terfezia occurring in Portugal from three to ten species. They thoroughly characterized their ecological preferences, adding new knowledge on Terfezia’s cryptic lifestyle. These findings are of major importance, as desert truffles have a high economic value. The study was published in the open-access journal MycoKeys.

In a caring, symbiotic relationship, mycorrhizal fungi live and feed in the roots of specific plants, while providing water and nutrients to their ‘companion’. In arid and semi-arid environments, mycorrhization processes are essential to the survival of both plants and fungi. Moreover, the fungus’ hyphal network, which spreads within the soil connecting several plant individuals, is of utmost importance to enhancing soil quality and fertility.

Researchers of the University of Évora in Portugal, led by biologist Celeste Santos e Silva, worked on Terfezia fungi, the most diverse and species-rich genus among desert truffles. Their study, published in the open-access journal MycoKeys, might prove particularly valuable to rural populations in the Mediterranean basin, where desert truffles, highly valued in local markets, are an important food source. Increasingly turning into an exquisite component of the Mediterranean diet, Terfezia products can also be very profitable. Furthermore, these fungi are essential for soil conservation, preventing erosion and desertification.

Desert truffles.

After 8 years of exhaustive field exploration in search of desert truffles and many hours in the molecular biology lab, the researchers noted some previously unknown trends in the ecology of Terfezia species. They recorded seven species that were new to Portugal, including two that are new to science – Terfezia lusitanica and Terfezia solaris-libera. This brings the number of Terfezia species known to be growing in the country to ten. Particularly important was the discovery of a broader ecological range for many of the studied species (e.g. Terfezia grisea). Adding valuable information about their possible hosts, symbionts and ecological constraints, these findings help open new opportunities for truffle cultivation.

“It is very difficult to identify all specimens given that the Terfezia species look so much alike, and molecular biology was absolutely fundamental here”, explains the researcher. “The technique was essential to update and solve problems about their taxonomy and the relationship between the species in the genus.”

Furthermore, the discoveries are also expected to positively impact the local communities by stimulating agriculture produce, business and even employment. 

Desert truffle production explained. Video by University of Évora

Knowledge gained in this research about the conditions in which different Terfezia species grow is an important step to desert truffle cultivation: the fungi are hard to find in the wild, which is why it would make a big difference – including financially – for local communities if they figure out a way to grow truffles themselves.

Within the project “Mycorrhization of Cistus spp with Terfezia arenaria (Moris) Trappe and its application in the production of desert truffles” (ALT20-03-0145-FEDER-000006), the researchers took a step forward towards achieving mycorrhizal association of desert truffles with perennial plants (rock roses), which would allow their mass production for various sectors such as food, medicine and soil recovery. This new form of production, assures the MED researcher and leader of the project, “will make it possible to create more jobs, reversing the current trend towards desertification in rural areas, while being a great tool for ecosystem recovery and restoration”.

Research article:


Santos-Silva C, Louro R, Natário B, Nobre T (2021) Lack of knowledge on ecological determinants and cryptic lifestyles hinder our understanding of Terfezia diversity. MycoKeys 84: 1-14. https://doi.org/10.3897/mycokeys.84.71372

New species of fungus sticking out of beetles named after the COVID-19 quarantine

A major comprehensive study on Herpomycetales and Laboulbeniales, two orders of unique ectoparasitic fungi associated with insects and other arthropods (class Laboulbeniomycetes) in Belgium and the Netherlands was published in the open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal MycoKeys.

A major comprehensive study on Herpomycetales and Laboulbeniales, two orders of unique ectoparasitic fungi associated with insects and other arthropods (class Laboulbeniomycetes) in Belgium and the Netherlands was published in the open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal MycoKeys.

Having surveyed arthropod fauna using pitfall traps and an illuminated white screen at night, and with the help of a network of entomologists, Dr. Danny Haelewaters (Purdue UniversityUniversity of South Bohemia and Ghent University) and Dr. André De Kesel (Botanic Garden Meise) provide identification details about a total of 140 fungal species. The list includes nine species that are reported for the first time for either of the two countries and two newly described species.

Interestingly, one of the novel fungi was described during the 2020 global quarantine period, imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. This prompted the researchers to dedicate the newly discovered species to this extraordinary time. In the annals of science, the species will be going by the name of Laboulbenia quarantenae.

Laboulbenia quarantenae grows externally on the body of ground beetles belonging to the species Bembidion biguttatum and is thus far only found at the Botanic Garden Meise in Belgium. This new fungus is considered to be very rare compared to Laboulbenia vulgaris, another, well-documented species that is more commonly found on the same host. So far, there has been no evidence that L. quarantenae parasitizes other host species.

Extreme close-up of the thalli of a fungus in the genus Hesperomyces (H. virescens sensu lato) parasitizing a harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis).
Image by Gilles San. Drawing by André De Kesel.

Herpomycetales and Laboulbeniales–unlike common mushrooms–do not form branching thread-like hyphae, nor a mycelium. Rather, they grow a single three-dimensional thallus of a few thousand cells sticking out of the body of the host organism. While some species of Laboulbeniales, like Laboulbenia quarantenae, are superficially attached to their host, others are more invasive, such as Hesperomyces halyziae, the second fungus newly described in this study. These fungi produce a haustorium, which is a hyphal outgrowth used to penetrate the tissues of their arthropod hosts, so that they can reach to the primary body cavity and the circulatory fluid in there. By doing so, it is thought that the parasites can both increase surface area for nutrient uptake and tighten their grip on their host.

In their study, the scientists hypothesize that, because of their invasive nature, these haustorial parasites maintain close interactions with their hosts in a process referred to as an “evolutionary arms race”. This means that whenever the host evolves a defence mechanism against the fungus, the parasite promptly evolves in its own turn, and adapts accordingly. Eventually, specialization leads to the evolution of new species.

The present study compiles all available data from Belgium and the Netherlands and serves as an appropriate starting point for an updated checklist of thallus-forming fungi in the class Laboulbeniomycetes found across Europe. Such a checklist is an ongoing project meant to summarize decades of research and will undoubtedly continue to uncover significant fungal diversity. The last update of this piece of knowledge dates back to 1991.

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Original source:

Haelewaters D, De Kesel A (2020) Checklist of thallus-forming Laboulbeniomycetes from Belgium and the Netherlands, including Hesperomyces halyziae and Laboulbenia quarantenae spp. nov. MycoKeys 71: 23-86. https://doi.org/10.3897/mycokeys.71.53421

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Follow lead author Dr. Danny Haelewaters on Twitter (@dhaelewa) and visit his website at: https://www.dannyhaelewaters.com/.

New pathogen threatens fennel yield in Italy

A new fungal genus and species Ochraceocephala foeniculi causes fennel yield losses of about 20-30% for three different cultivars. It damages the crops with necrotic lesions on the crown, root and stem.
International research group makes the first step in handling the new fennel disease by publishing their paper in the open-access journal Mycokeys.

A new fennel fungal disease caused by a new genus and species – Ochraceocephala foeniculi, was observed for the first time in 2017 on 5% of the “Apollo” fennel cultivar grown in the sampled localities in Catania province, Italy. Now, it has spread to 2 more cultivars: “Narciso” and “Pompeo”, causing crop losses of around 20-30%. The new pathogen damages the fennel with necrotic lesions on the crown, root and stem.

Fennel, a crop native in arid and semi-arid regions of southern Europe and the Mediterranean area is massively used as a vegetable, herb and seed spice in food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and healthcare industries with Italy taking the world-leading production. It is an important and widely cultivated crop in Sicily (southern Italy).

Symptoms caused by Ochraceocephala foeniculi on fennel plants
Symptoms caused by Ochraceocephala foeniculi on fennel plants
Credits: Dalia Aiello
License: CC-BY 4.0

Worldwide, fennel crops are affected by several fungal diseases. In Italy, amongst soilborne diseases, there have been reports of brown rot and wilt caused by Phytophthora megasperma and crown rot caused by Didymella glomerata.

International research group, led by Ms. Dalia Aiello from the University of Catania, made the first step in handling the new fennel disease by identifying the causal agent obtained from symptomatic plants and publishing the results of their research in the open-access journal Mycokeys.

In order to understand the origin of the causal agent, scientists collected 30 samples during several surveys in the affected areas in Sicily, and studied the consistently grown fungal colonies from symptomatic tissues.

“The fungal species obtained from symptomatic tissues was identified based on morphological characters and molecular phylogenetic analyses of an ITS-LSU-SSU rDNA matrix, resulting in the description of the fennel pathogen as a new genus and species, Ochraceocephala
foeniculi,”

shares Dr. Dalia Aiello.

According to the pathogenicity tests, O. foeniculi causes symptoms on artificially inoculated plants of the same cultivar. Preliminary evaluation of fennel germplasm, according to the susceptibility to the new disease, shows that some cultivars (“Narciso”, “Apollo” and “Pompeo”) are more susceptible and some are less susceptible (“Aurelio”, “Archimede” and “Pegaso”), but this is a subject yet to be confirmed by additional investigations. More studies are required in order to plan further effective disease management strategies.

Holotype of Ochraceocephala foeniculi
Credits: Mr. Hermann Voglmayr
License: CC-BY 4.0

“On the basis of the disease incidence and severity observed in the field, we believe that this disease represents a serious threat to fennel crop in Sicily and may become a major problem also to other areas of fennel production if accidentally introduced,”

concludes Dr. Dalia Aiello.
***

Original source: Aiello D, Vitale A, Polizzi G, Voglmayr H (2020) Ochraceocephala foeniculi gen. et sp. nov., a new pathogen causing crown rot of fennel in Italy. MycoKeys 66: 1-22. https://doi.org/10.3897/mycokeys.66.48389

Data mining applied to scholarly publications to finally reveal Earth’s biodiversity

At a time when a million species are at risk of extinction, according to a recent UN report, ironically, we don’t know how many species there are on Earth, nor have we noted down all those that we have come to know on a single list. In fact, we don’t even know how many species we would have put on such a list.

The combined research including over 2,000 natural history institutions worldwide, produced an estimated ~500 million pages of scholarly publications and tens of millions of illustrations and species descriptions, comprising all we currently know about the diversity of life. However, most of it isn’t digitally accessible. Even if it were digital, our current publishing systems wouldn’t be able to keep up, given that there are about 50 species described as new to science every day, with all of these published in plain text and PDF format, where the data cannot be mined by machines, thereby requiring a human to extract them. Furthermore, those publications would often appear in subscription (closed access) journals.

The Biodiversity Literature Repository (BLR), a joint project ofPlaziPensoft and Zenodo at CERN, takes on the challenge to open up the access to the data trapped in scientific publications, and find out how many species we know so far, what are their most important characteristics (also referred to as descriptions or taxonomic treatments), and how they look on various images. To do so, BLR uses highly standardised formats and terminology, typical for scientific publications, to discover and extract data from text written primarily for human consumption.

By relying on state-of-the-art data mining algorithms, BLR allows for the detection, extraction and enrichment of data, including DNA sequences, specimen collecting data or related descriptions, as well as providing implicit links to their sources: collections, repositories etc. As a result, BLR is the world’s largest public domain database of taxonomic treatments, images and associated original publications.

Once the data are available, they are immediately distributed to global biodiversity platforms, such as GBIF–the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. As of now, there are about 42,000 species, whose original scientific descriptions are only accessible because of BLR.

The very basic principle in science to cite previous information allows us to trace back the history of a particular species, to understand how the knowledge about it grew over time, and even whether and how its name has changed through the years. As a result, this service is one avenue to uncover the catalogue of life by means of simple lookups.

So far, the lessons learned have led to the development of TaxPub, an extension of the United States National Library of Medicine Journal Tag Suite and its application in a new class of 26 scientific journals. As a result, the data associated with articles in these journals are machine-accessible from the beginning of the publishing process. Thus, as soon as the paper comes out, the data are automatically added to GBIF.

While BLR is expected to open up millions of scientific illustrations and descriptions, the system is unique in that it makes all the extracted data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR), as well as open to anybody, anywhere, at any time. Most of all, its purpose is to create a novel way to access scientific literature.

To date, BLR has extracted ~350,000 taxonomic treatments and ~200,000 figures from over 38,000 publications. This includes the descriptions of 55,800 new species, 3,744 new genera, and 28 new families. BLR has contributed to the discovery of over 30% of the ~17,000 species described annually.

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

“It is such a great satisfaction to see how the development process of the TaxPub standard, started by Plazi some 15 years ago and implemented as a routine publishing workflow at Pensoft’s journals in 2010, has now resulted in an entire infrastructure that allows automated extraction and distribution of biodiversity data from various journals across the globe. With the recent announcement from the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF) that their European Journal of Taxonomy is joining the TaxPub club, we are even more confident that we are paving the right way to fully grasping the dimensions of the world’s biodiversity.”

Dr Donat Agosti, co-founder and president of Plazi, adds:

“Finally, information technology allows us to create a comprehensive, extended catalogue of life and bring to light this huge corpus of cultural and scientific heritage – the description of life on Earth – for everybody. The nature of taxonomic treatments as a network of citations and syntheses of what scientists have discovered about a species allows us to link distinct fields such as genomics and taxonomy to specimens in natural history museums.”

Dr Tim Smith, Head of Collaboration, Devices and Applications Group at CERN, comments:

“Moving the focus away from the papers, where concepts are communicated, to the concepts themselves is a hugely significant step. It enables BLR to offer a unique new interconnected view of the species of our world, where the taxonomic treatments, their provenance, histories and their illustrations are all linked, accessible and findable. This is inspirational for the digital liberation of other fields of study!”

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Additional information:

BLR is a joint project led by Plazi in partnership with Pensoft and Zenodo at CERN.

Currently, BLR is supported by a grant from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

Medicinal mushroom newly reported from Thailand helps reveal optimum growth conditions

Globally recognised medicinal mushroom is reported for the first time in Thailand. The study also presents the first assessment of the optimum growth conditions for the species.

A species of globally recognised medicinal mushroom was recorded for the first time in Thailand. Commonly referred to as lingzhi, the fungus (Ganoderma tropicum) was collected from the base of a living tree in Chiang Rai Province, Northern Thailand. Additionally, the study reports the first assessment of the optimum conditions needed for the species to grow its mycelia (the vegetative part of a fungus consisting of a branching network of fine, thread-like structures) and spread its colony.

The discoveries are published in the open-access journal MycoKeys by a research team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, University of Chinese Academy of SciencesWorld Agroforestry CentreKunming Institute of Botany (China) and Center of Excellence in Fungal ResearchMae Fah Luang University (Thailand), led by Thatsanee Luangharn.

Over the last centuries, the studied mushroom and its related species in the genus Ganoderma have been used extensively in traditional Asian medicines due to their natural bioactive compounds, including polysaccharides, triterpenoids, sterols, and secondary metabolites, which are used in the treatment of various diseases. Other compounds derived from lingzhi, such as the studied species, also demonstrate antimicrobial activities. The medicinal use of these mushrooms is recognised by the World Health Organization and they are featured in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia.

The studied mushroom belongs to a group known to be parasitic or pathogenic on a wide range of tree species. The species is characterised with strongly laccate fruiting bodies and a cap with distinctly dark brown base colour and reddish shades. It grows to up to 7-12 cm in length, 4-8 cm in width and is up to 1.5 cm thick. While the mushroom has so far been widely reported from tropical areas, including mainland China, Taiwan and South America, it had never been recorded from Thailand.

During their research, the scientists found that mycelial production for Ganoderma tropicum is most successful on Potato Dextrose Agar, Malt Extract Agar, and Yeast extract Peptose Dextrose Agar, at a temperature of 25-28 °C and 7-8 pH. Unfortunately, mushroom fruiting was not achieved in the experiment.

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Original source:

Luangharn T, Karunarathna SC, Mortimer PE, Hyde KD, Thongklang N, Xu J (2019) A new record of Ganoderma tropicum (Basidiomycota, Polyporales) for Thailand and first assessment of optimum conditions for mycelia production. MycoKeys 51: 65-83. https://doi.org/10.3897/mycokeys.51.33513