Deep in the tropical Andes are hiding plants that were discovered and then forgotten; plants that we knew almost nothing about. Now, thanks to the combined efforts of botanists from Germany, Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica and amateur plant enthusiasts, these plants have been rediscovered, some of them after more than 100 years. The findings were described in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.
The plants belong to Nasa, a genus from the Blazing Star family (Loasaceae) that has long caused headaches to scientists as its delicate but painfully urticant leaves make it difficult to collect. Most of them are rare, highly endemic, and only around for short periods, which makes them even more unlikely to end up in a herbarium collection.
Luckily, today’s scientists don’t have to rely on herbaria as their sole source of material and clues. Thanks to the advent of global networking and the increasing use of free data repositories, there is a lot more biodiversity data now that is available to use and easily accessible, for example as geo-referenced occurrence records and photos. Citizen science platform iNaturalist, where users can, among others, post photographic occurrence records, has turned into a valuable tool for biodiversity scientists, and plays a significant role in the rediscovery of these Andean plants.
One notable species, Nasa colanii, had only been recorded once, in 1978, until the research team came upon a photograph from 2019. This scarcity in records might have to do with the fact that the plant grows in a highly inaccessible region: in a cloud forest in the buffer zone of Peru’s Cordillera de Colán National Sanctuary, at an elevation of 2605 m.
Another species hadn’t been reported for approximately 130 years when iNaturalist users confirmed its existence in 2022 by uploading photographs. Nasa ferox had been known for centuries, but it didn’t get its scientific description until 2000. “Given the location of the park close to the [Ecuadorian] city of Cuenca, and the fact that the important road 582 goes through the park makes it particularly surprising that the species has not been reported in such a long time, even more so if we consider the numerous botanical expeditions that have been carried out in the general region,” the researchers write in their paper. In fact, only a small population of about ten fertile plants of N. ferox has been found, with the plants always growing in sheltered places such as in rock crevices or at the base of shrubs.
Remarkably, the typical form of Nasa humboldtiana called Nasa humboldtiana subspecies humboldtiana was rediscovered after 162 years, when the research team found a specimen in a conserved remnant of montane Andean forest in the province of Chimborazo, Ecuador.
But probably the most exciting discoveries happened when the team found species that have been considered extinct in the wild. Two species of Nasa, namely N. hastata and N. solaria, were believed to share this fate, both from the Peruvian Department of Lima, a comparably well sampled area, given the proximity to the national capital. Until very recently, both species “remained unknown (or almost so) in the wild.” Earlier attempts to recollect these species near their type localities where they have been found some 100 years ago failed and it needed the help of iNaturalist to reveal that they are still present in the area.
Nasa hastata was recently rediscovered, after, for the first time, photos of living plants showed up taken by the sister of one of the authors. Only a handful of plants have since been reported from two sites, some 7 km apart. Similarly, a few dozens of plants have been found so far from N. solaria occurring in four small relict populations in remnants of forest that once covered larger areas in this region.
Observations uploaded to iNaturalist also revealed important information on another species, Nasa ramirezii,providing the first photographs of living plants from Ecuador and the first data on its exact location.
“All these discoveries serve as a reminder that even well-studied regions harbor diversity that can so easily remain overlooked and unexplored, and point to the role of botanists in documenting biodiversity which is an essential prerequisite for any conservation effort.” leading author Tilo Henning from the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) says.
“Hopefully, as more scientists and members of the public contribute to the database, and more professionals get involved in the curation, more undescribed or ‘long lost’ taxa will be found. Our examples of the rediscovery of Nasa ferox after 130 years and Nasa hastata after 100 years, both ‘found’ on iNaturalist underscore this point,” the researchers say in their study.
Henning T, Acuña-Castillo R, Cornejo X, Gonzáles P, Segovia E, Wong Sato AA, Weigend M (2023) When the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence: Nasa (Loasaceae) rediscoveries from Peru and Ecuador, and the contribution of community science networks. PhytoKeys 229: 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.229.100082
One of the most beautiful vanilla orchid species in the Neotropical region grows in one of the most hostile environments in the Brazilian Cerrado, the Brazilian Campos Rupestres of the Espinhaço Range. “The Espinhaço refuges evolved between the Atlantic Forest and Amazonia Biomes as a consequence of extreme environmental conditions and climatic fluctuations during the Tertiary and Quaternary periods,” explains Emerson Ricardo Pansarin, one of the researchers behind the discovery of a new vanilla orchid.
Brazilian Campos Rupestres have many endemic species, and a new study published in the journal PhytoKeys has just added one more.
What makes Vanilla rupicola remarkable is the fact that it grows on rock outcrops. “In this locality, Vanilla rupicola shows a reptant habit on rock outcrops and rooting in rock clefts. The elevation is from 800 to 1300 m a.s.l.,” the researchers write in their paper. Its flowers produce a sweet fragrance that can be noticed during the hottest hours of the day.
“For years we traveled through the mountains of the Espinhaço Range until we found the flowering population,” says Emerson Ricardo Pansarin.
“Vanilla rupicola emerges in an essentially Amazonian clade. It seems plausible that the ancestor of this new taxon derived from an Amazonian taxon adapted to the environmental conditions of the Espinhaço Range and evolved in this particular environment,” he adds.
Vanilla rupicola is a rare species currently known to grow in a mountain-chain of Diamantina, in the ERMG Espinhaço Range, and the researchers tentatively classify it as Endangered.
Pansarin ER, Menezes ELF (2023) A new remarkable Vanilla Mill. (Orchidaceae) species endemic to the Espinhaço Range, Brazil: its phylogenetic position and evolutionary relationships among Neotropical congeners. PhytoKeys 227: 151-165. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.227.101963
Readers at some of the journals published by Pensoft, who have downloaded/printed a publication or ordered a physical copy of a journal issue over the last few weeks, might be in for a surprise concerning the layout of the PDF format of the articles.
Even though it’s been years since online publishing has become the norm in how we are consuming information – including scientific publications – we understand that academia is still very much fond of traditional, often paper-based, article layout format: the one you use when accessing a PDF file or a print copy, rather than directly scrolling down through the HTML version of the article.
Even if today large orders of printed volumes from overseas are the exception, rather than the rule, we know we have readers of ours who regularly print manuscripts at home or savе them on their devices. Trends like this have already led to many journals first abandoning the physical- for digital-first, then transitioning to digital-only publication format.
As we speak, readers are accessing PDF files from much higher-quality desktops, in order to skim through as much content as possible.
In the meantime, authors are relying on greater-quality cameras to document their discoveries, while using advanced computational tools capable of generating and analysing extra layers of precise data. While producing more exhaustive research, however, it is also of key importance that their manuscripts are processed and published as rapidly as possible.
So, let’s run through the updates and give you our reasoning for their added value to readers and authors.
Revised opening page
One of the major changes is the one to the format of the first page. By leaving some blank space on the left, we found a dedicated place for important article metadata, i.e. academic editor, date of manuscript submission / acceptance / publication, citation details and licence. As a result, we “cleaned up” the upper part of the page, so that it can better highlight the authors and their affiliations.
Bottom line: The new layout provides a better structure to the opening page to let readers find key article metadata at a glance.
Expand as much – or as little – as comfortable
As you might know, journals published by Pensoft have been coming in different formats and sizes. Now, we have introduced the standard A4 page size, where the text is laid in a single column that has been slightly indented to the right, as seen above. Whenever a figure or a table is used in a manuscript, however, it is expanded onto the whole width of the page.
Before giving our reasons why, let’s see what were the specific problems that we address.
Case study 1
Some of our signature journals, including ZooKeys, PhytoKeys and MycoKeys, have become quite recognisable with their smaller-than-average B5 format, widely appreciated by people who would often be seen carrying around a copy during a conference or an international flight.
However, in recent times, authors began to embrace good practices in research like open sharing of data and code, which resulted in larger and more complex tables. Similarly, their pocket-sized cameras would capture much higher-resolution photos capable of revealing otherwise minute morphological characters. Smaller page size would also mean that often there would be pages between an in-text reference of a figure or a table and the visual itself.
So, here we faced an obvious question: shall we deprive their readers from all those detailed insights into the published studies?
Yet, the A4 format brought up another issue: the lines were too long for the eye comfort of their readers.
What they did was organise their pages into two-column format. While this sounds like a good and quite obvious decision, the format – best known from print newspapers – is pretty inconvenient when accessed digitally. Since the readers would like to zoom in on the PDF page or simply access the article on mobile, they will need to scroll up and down several times per page.
In addition, the production of a two-column text is technologically more challenging, which results in extra production time.
Bottom line: The new layout allows journals to not sacrifice image quality for text readability and vice versa. As a bonus, authors enjoy faster publication for their papers.
If you have a closer look at the PDF file, you would notice that print-ready papers have also switched to a more simplistic – yet easier to the eye – font. Again, the update corresponds to today’s digital-native user behaviour, where readers often access PDF files from devices of various resolutions and skim through the text, as opposed to studying its content in detail.
In fact, the change is hardly new, since the same font has long been utilised for the webpages (HTML format) of the publications across all journals.
Bottom line: The slightly rounder and simplified font prompts readability, thereby allowing for faster and increased consumption of content.
What’s the catch? How about characters and APCs?
While we have been receiving a lot of positive feedback from editors, authors and readers, there has been a concern that the updates would increase the publication charges, wherever these are estimated based on page numbers.
Having calculated the lines and characters in the new layout format, we would like to assure you that there is no increase in the numbers of characters or words between the former and current layout formats. In fact, due to the additional number of lines fitting in an A4 page as opposed to B5, authors might be even up for a deal.
* At the time of the writing, the new paper layout has not been rolled out at all journals published by Pensoft. However, most of the editorial boards have already confirmed they would like to incorporate the update.
I am a retired government bureaucrat who worked for 40 years as an administrator in state and federal taxation. I have absolutely no formal training in botany, but now I find myself as an active participant in a major taxonomic revision and a coauthor in the publication of 18 new species in a plant family called Costaceae. This is the story of how my gardening hobby turned into an avocation and led me to work with some of the premier botanists in the world. It is also the story of how I have met several other plant enthusiasts from countries throughout the tropics who have contributed so very much to our work. I write this story in the hopes of encouraging more professional scientists to incorporate the observations of such “citizen scientists” in their research, and to encourage these enthusiasts to more carefully document their observations and post their photos and notes to resources like Inaturalist.org.
My story started about 30 years ago when my wife gave me a rhizome of the white butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) as a Christmas present. I became interested in gingers, species of the family Zingiberaceae, but soon my interests began to focus almost exclusively on the closely related “spiral gingers” in the family Costaceae. I loved the architecture of the plants with their spiral staircase of leaves leading up to a variety of shapes and colors of bracts and flowers. I started collecting any cultivated Costus plants I could find in nurseries or mail-order catalogues. Soon, I learned that only a few species can survive outdoors in the winter where I live, so built a greenhouse.
My serious interest in Costaceae began after I obtained a copy of the 1972 monograph of New World Costaceae by Dr. Paul Maas. It became my bible.
As I studied his descriptions of the species and applied his identification keys to the cultivated plants, I soon realized that many of the popular Costus species in cultivation had been incorrectly identified. I started doing presentations to garden clubs and posting to online groups. I developed a website called “Gingers ‘R’ Us.”
My “real job” had me traveling to Washington, DC periodically and I always tried to carve out time to visit Mike Bordelon at the Smithsonian Greenhouses in Suitland, Maryland. On one of these trips, I met Dr. Chelsea Specht, who was working at the Smithsonian Institution as a postdoctoral fellow.
She had written what I believe is the first molecular study in Costaceae in 2001.This opened up a whole new world of interest for me as I tried to understand these new-to-me terms, like “clades” and “phylogenetic relationships”. In this paper she introduced the new generic divisions of the family that were solidified five years later in a more complete phylogenetic study . Chelsea very patiently answered my novice questions about phylogenetic trees and how they relate to the taxonomy of the plants.
In 2005 I made my first trip to the New World tropics looking for Costus in its native habitat. On the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, I was incredibly lucky to meet Reinaldo Aguilar, the world-famous “para-taxonomist” who has studied the plants of the Osa for over 30 years. He is is self-taught like me and does not have a botanical degree, but has coauthored many scientific articles. He worked closely with the late Scott Mori of the New York Botanical Garden and was honored in a 2017 article in NYBG Science Talk.
That first trip to Costa Rica had me hooked. I fell in love with tropical forests and over the next few years made trips to several other Latin American countries as well as back to Costa Rica. Always, my focus was on Costus and the other members of its family.
Along the way, I met several “unsung heroes” in the plant world, like Marco Jiménez Villata, whom I met in the town of Zamora in southern Ecuador. Marco specializes in orchids, but he is also a generalist and knows a lot about the plants of southern Ecuador. He (now retired) was a school administrator and had traveled to many remote villages in the province and was always on the lookout for interesting plants. I have traveled with Marco and his son Marco Jiménez León several other times and we have become good friends.
In 2015 we went to the type locality of the species Costus zamoranus and took the first photographs of this species. At that trip, Marco showed me an area of high elevation near the Podocarpus National Park, where I found an unusual-looking Costus that we are now describing as Costus oreophilus. He also showed me unexplored places where I found another new species, Costus convexus. I made sure we credited him with his role in the discovery and documentation of those new species in our publication in PhytoKeys.
I have also traveled several times in Panama and Ecuador with another very well known, but non-doctorate plant enthusiast – Carla Black. Carla is the president of the Heliconia Society International, an organization uniting enthusiasts (scientists and non-scientists) in the order Zingiberales.
In 2015 we searched for the critically endangered Costus vinosus. We found a few plants growing deep in the forest of the Chagres National Park along an old Spanish trail used to transport gold to the Atlantic coast. There is still a mystery regarding the true form of the flower of C. vinosus, and I am in touch with another Inaturalist observer who has found it (not in flower) in the mountains northeast of Panama City. He will let me know when he finds it in flower!
In 2019 Carla and I visited the “Willie Mazu” site in Panama to photograph and study the new species Costus callosus, and in Santa Fé de Veraguas, we looked for a species proposed by Dr. Maas that is now described as Costus alleniopsis.
My serious collaboration with Dr. Maas began in 2017, when I was preparing for a trip to Oaxaca in southern Mexico. He asked me to be on the lookout for two species of Costus from that region that he had identified as new based solely on his examination of herbarium specimens, without any good data on the floral parts.
By that time, I was posting my Costus observations on Inaturalist.org and using that resource to look for interesting plants. I also used it to find plant people to contact for local information. For this Mexico trip I found a huge number of observations posted by Manuel Gutiérrez from Oaxaca City.
I found that he had extensive knowledge of the Chinantla region in the mountains east of Oaxaca City and had worked with the indigenous tribe there. Together, we explored the indigenous lands of Santa Cruz Tepetotutla.
We found many plants in flower of what Dr. Maas wanted to describe as Costus alticolus. We also found the species he planned to describe as Costus oaxacus, but I later found the same species in Guatemala, already described as Costus sepacuitensis.
Later I learned of the plans to prepare a complete revision to the taxonomy of the New World Costaceae. Together with Paul and Hiltje Maas, we spent several days at the Naturalis Herbarium in Leiden, comparing my photos against the hundreds of Costus herbarium specimens there. I had a long list of species that was curious about, and we were able to get through it and figure out what questions remained, even though we had not come up with all the answers.
It was soon apparent that there are major changes needed in the taxonomy and nomenclature of these plants, and that information from the field would be an essential supplement to the observations made from the herbarium specimens.
In 2016 I visited the type locality of Costus laevis in central Peru. I was surprised to find that the plants there are nothing at all like the Costus laevis of Central America, but match perfectly to the herbarium specimen that was deposited in Spain over 230 years ago. It was clear to me that the herbarium specimen designated as the type had been misinterpreted. I wrote an article explaining the problem – but I had no idea what the solution might be.
Dr. Maas agreed that there was a problem with that species that we eventually resolved. This resolution will be a part of the forthcoming revision of the New World Costaceae that is in preparation, nearing completion.
Another major problem involved the Costus guanaiensis complex. Paul and Hiltje, along with Chelsea, had visited the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium, where the holotype of that species is held, and realized that it had been misinterpreted due to the lack of a good flower description. What had been identified as Costus guanaiensis in the herbarium was actually a completely different species that Maas had planned to describe as a new species.
The entire C. guanaiensis complex needed name changes and redefinitions of species boundaries, ultimately resulting in the description of Costus gibbosus that is published in PhytoKeys. The resolution of the other members of that complex will be explained in the forthcoming revision. Over the next several years, Paul and I exchanged 1,626 emails (yes, I counted them – with the help of MS Outlook) pounding out the details of the changes needed in the taxonomy of New World Costaceae. In collaboration with him, I made many more field trips to resolve the remaining questions we had.
My extensive collaboration with Paul Maas has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my lifetime. He has taught me so much about the rules of nomenclature and the process of describing a new species. The one thing he could never teach me was his almost uncanny ability to look at a dried herbarium specimen and make a determination of the species. I suppose that only comes from experience as he has examined over 11,000 specimens of Costaceae that will become our list of exxicatae when the full revision is published.
I should not fail to mention my time working with Dr. Thiago André. In 2014 I flew to Rio de Janeiro and then Thi and I, along with his academic advisor and another student, went to the state of Espirito Santo to look for the endangered species Chamaecostus cuspidatus. Thi has been our expert in that genus and has helped with the review of the new species published in PhytoKeys, Chamaecostus manausensis. In 2014 he was still finishing his doctorate and was in process of preparing a molecular phylogeny and morphological study of the species complex of Chamaecostus subsessilis.
Thi and I have stayed in close contact, and he came to Florida one year to visit in my home and see the Costaceae in my private garden, Le Jardín Ombragé. He is now a professor at the Universidade de Brasília.
Finally, I should discuss my collaboration with Eugenio Valderrama and the other members of the Specht Lab at Cornell University. In 2018 I went to Cornell to visit Eugenio and we discussed the sampling to be used in the molecular phylogeny that will be a very important part of the full revision when it is published.
At Cornell, Eugenio produced a novel baiting schema for extracting specific genes from across all Costus species and in 2020 published a paper. With further sampling, another paper was published in 2022 to reveal interesting data on a whole package of pollination-related characters, and how they show evidence of convergent evolution. Eugenio’s phylogenies very well support the new species we are publishing in PhytoKeys, and the full molecular phylogeny will be included in our full revision when it is published.
Just this past December I went to Colombia to attend the Heliconia Society Conference at Quindío, and Eugenio and I each made presentations there about our work with Costaceae. Then we traveled together to investigate several other interesting species of Costaceae, including the new species Costus antioquiensis, and a strange yellow bracted form of Costus comosus found in the species-rich area of San Juan de Arama in Meta.
How did I know to look there? An observer, a citizen scientist, had posted his records and photos on Inaturalist.org. I have my account set to filter all Costaceae and send me a daily email with all the new postings of the family, and this plant will now be appearing as a sample in a molecular phylogeny and as an observed species in a monograph.
I hope this blog article will provide some background and insight into what I think must be an unusual collaboration between a citizen scientist and the much more qualified lead authors of our PhytoKeys article describing eighteen new species in Costaceae. It has certainly been a rewarding experience for me, and I hope other plant enthusiasts will be encouraged to share their observations on forums like Inaturalist.org, providing detailed and accurate information and photos. At least for the one plant family I have some expertise in, I will continue to monitor and curate those observations on Inaturalist.
André T, Specht CD, Salzman S, Palma-Silva C, Wendt T (2015) Evolution of species diversity in the genus Chamaecostus (Costaceae): Molecular phylogenetics and morphometric approaches. Phytotaxa 204(4): 265-276. https://doi.org/10.11646/phytotaxa.204.4.3
Maas, P. J. M. (1972). Costoideae (Zingiberaceae). Flora Neotropica 8, 1–139. doi: 10.1093/aob/mch177
Salzman S, Driscoll HE, Renner T, André T, Shen S, Specht CD (2015) Spiraling into history: A molecular phylogeny and investigation of biogeographic origins and floral evolution for the genus Costus. Systematic Botany 40(1): 104–115. https://doi.org/10.1600/036364415X686404
Skinner D (2008) Costus of the Golfo Dulce Region. Heliconia Society Bulletin 14(4):1-6
Skinner D and Jiménez M (2015) Costus zamoranus: An endemic species to Zamora-Chinchipe Province in Southeastern Ecuador. Heliconia Society Bulletin 21(3):4-9
Skinner D (2016) Following Ruiz. Heliconia Society Bulletin 22(4): 7–14.
Skinner D and Black C. (2016) Search for the Mysterious Lost Plant (Costus vinosus). Heliconia Society Bulletin 22(3):1-3
Skinner D (2019) A Tale of Two Costus (Costus sepacuitensis) and Costus cupreifolius) Heliconia Society Bulletin 25(1):1-3
Specht CD, Kress WJ, Stevenson DW, DeSalle R (2001) A molecular phylogeny of Costaceae (Zingiberales). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 21(3): 333–345. https://doi.org/10.1006/mpev.2001.1029
Valderrama E, Sass C, Pinilla-Vargas M, Skinner D, Maas PJM, Maas-van de Kamer H, Landis JB, Guan CJ, AlmeidaA., Specht CD (2020) Unraveling the spiraling radiation: A phylogenomic analysis of neotropical Costus L. Frontiers in Plant Science 11: 1195. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2020.01195
Valderrama E, Landis JB, Skinner D, Maas PJM, Maas-van de Kamer H, Sass C, Pinilla-Vargas M, Guan CJ, Phillips R, Almeida A, Specht CD (2022) The genetic mechanisms underlying the convergent evolution of pollination syndromes in the Neotropical radiation of Costus L.Frontiers in Plant Science 13: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2022.874322
“In the present biodiversity crisis scenario, it is critical that we do not neglect basic scientific disciplines like taxonomy, since cataloguing biodiversity is a fundamental step towards its preservation.”
The knowledge of biodiversity in allegedly well-known places is not as complete as one would expect and its detailed study by researchers continues to offer surprises, is what we find out in a new study of the flora of south-central Spain.
Now, Spanish botanists from Pablo de Olavide University (Seville, Spain) have described a new plant species of the papyrus family (Cyperaceae) restricted to the La Mancha region in south-central Spain. This region is in fact well-known for classic literary fans, who might recognise the name as the main setting in Miguel de Cervantes’ (1547–1616) masterpiece Don Quixote.
The epic novel, which tells the story of the life and journeys of Alonso Quijano, a Spanish hidalgo (nobleman), who becomes the knight-errant Don Quixote de la Mancha, is commonly considered to be one of the greatest literary works ever written, with its number of editions and translations thought to be only surpassed by those of the Bible.
The new species, now scientifically known as Carex quixotiana, belongs to sedges of the genus Carex, a group of herbs included in the papyrus family (Cyperaceae). The classification (taxonomy) of these plants is difficult, as it is a highly diverse and widely distributed genus, whose species are frequently hard to tell apart. In fact, C. quixotiana has itself evaded the eyes of expert botanists for decades, because of its close resemblance to related species.
“Cryptic species are frequent in complex plant groups, such as sedges, and integrative studies encompassing different data sources (e.g. morphology, molecular phylogeny, chromosome number, ecological requirements) are needed to unravel systematic relationships and accurately describe biodiversity patterns,”
says Dr. Martín-Bravo, senior author of the paper.
After a preliminary genetic study pointed to something odd about specimens of what was later to be known as Carex quixotiana, the authors set off on exhaustive field collecting campaigns across La Mancha. As they studied additional populations of the plant in further detail, using morphology, phylogenetics, and chromosome number, the scientists confirmed that they were looking at a species previously unknown to science. Understandably, the distribution range of the newly discovered species, restricted to the mountain ranges surrounding La Mancha (Sierra Madrona and Montes de Toledo), made the authors think about Cervantes’ masterpiece.
So far only known from 16 populations, Carex quixotiana prefers habitats with high water availability, such as small streams, wet meadows and riverside (riparian) forests.
Since little is known about the species’ demographics, including the number of mature individuals in the wild, further investigation is required to determine its conservation status. However, based on what they have learnt so far about the species, the authors of the present study assume that:
In conclusion, the scientists point to their results as yet another proof of how much there is still to learn about Earth’s biodiversity, even when it comes to supposedly well-known organisms, such as flowering plants, and countries, whose flora is presumed to be fully documented. The “Flora Iberica”, for example, which covers Spain and Portugal, has only recently been finalised, the team reminds us.
Benítez-Benítez C, Jiménez-Mejías P, Luceño M, Martín-Bravo S (2023) Carex quixotiana (Cyperaceae), a new Iberian endemic from Don Quixote’s land (La Mancha, S Spain). PhytoKeys 221: 161-186. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.221.99234
A team of botanists from Ecuador, Germany, and the United States has described two new species of carnivorous plants with striking appearance. They are part of the butterworts (genus Pinguicula), a group of flowering plants with about 115 species that can catch and digest small insects with their sticky leaves. Whereas the majority of butterwort species is distributed in the northern hemisphere, these new species were discovered in the high Andes of southern Ecuador, close to the border with Peru.
Carnivorous plants use animals (usually small insects) as an additional source of nutrients to compensate the nutrient deficiency of the substrate they’re growing in. This gives them a competitive advantage over other plants and enables them to thrive in challenging habitats. The tropical high Andes have a variety of such habitats, for example marshland and rocky slopes covered in constant rain and clouds.
The two new species described in the study, Pinguicula jimburensis and Pinguicula ombrophila, were found on the shore of a highland lagoon at 3400 m and on a nearly vertical rock face at 2900 m, respectively. Their small-scale habitats lie within the so-called Amotape-Huancabamba zone, which encompasses large portions of southern Ecuador and northern Peru. This area is characterized by exceptional biodiversity, due in part to the fact that the rugged terrain and varied climate of the Andes provide so many microhabitats.
“And as small and scattered as the species’ suitable habitats are, so is the species composition,”
“Both of these new species are only known from a single location, where only a few dozens of plant individuals occur in each case.”
For one of them, only one population with about 15 mature individuals was discovered, making it vulnerable even if it is hidden in an isolated, difficult-to-access area. This narrow endemism (limited distribution in a particular area) is typical of the Amotape-Huancabamba zone, and there are many more new plant and animal species awaiting discovery, Henning says.
With the description of these two new species, the number of Pinguicula species recorded in Ecuador has tripled, as previously only P. calyptrata was known, discovered by none other than Alexander von Humboldt. The authors are convinced that there are many more new species awaiting formal scientific recognition, but admit that lately it has been a race against time.
“The results presented in this study show that the assessment of the Neotropical biodiversity is far from complete. Even in well-known groups such as the carnivorous plants, new taxa are continuously discovered and described, in particular from remote areas that become accessible in the course of the unlimited urban sprawl,” Henning, Pérez, and their colleagues write in a scientific article dedicated to the new plants that was published in the peer-reviewed journal PhytoKeys. “This is both encouraging and worrying at the same time“.
“Relentless urban sprawl and the accompanying destruction of habitats pose a massive threat to biodiversity in general, and to the tightly-knit and specialized organisms that depend on their fragile microhabitats in particular,”
Henning points out.
Although the two new species are relatively safe from direct human interference – as they both occur within protected areas – human-induced climate change is increasingly affecting ecosystems regardless of location, especially those that rely on regular precipitation, such as mountain wetlands.
The dependence on a constant climate is even reflected in the name of one of the two new species: Pinguicula ombrophila means “rain-loving butterwort”, as the plant prefers very wet conditions, receiving moisture from the waterlogged paramo-soil and enjoying the frequent rain and fog typical for this area.
The expedition to Cerro Plateado in 2016 was supported by Secretaría de Educación Superior, Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación de la República del Ecuador (SENESCYT, Arca de Noé Initiative; S. R. Ron and O.Torres–Carvajal, Principal Investigators) and in 2021 by the International Palm Society (IPS) Endowment Fund and by Claes Persson (University of Gothenburg), the expedition also received partial funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement No. 865787, GLOBAL project). The Open Access Fund of the Leibniz Association covered the publication costs for the article.
Pérez ÁJ, Tobar F, Burgess KS, Henning T (2023) Contributions to Ecuadorian butterworts (Lentibulariaceae, Pinguicula): two new species and a re-evaluation of Pinguicula calyptrata. PhytoKeys 222: 153-171. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.222.98139
Apart from coordinating the Horizon 2020-funded project BiCIKL, scholarly publisher and technology provider Pensoft has been the engine behind what is likely to be the first production-stage semantic system to run on top of a reasonably-sized biodiversity knowledge graph.
OpenBiodiv is a biodiversity database containing knowledge extracted from scientific literature, built as an Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management System.
As of February 2023, OpenBiodiv contains 36,308 processed articles; 69,596 taxon treatments; 1,131 institutions; 460,475 taxon names; 87,876 sequences; 247,023 bibliographic references; 341,594 author names; and 2,770,357 article sections and subsections.
In fact, OpenBiodiv is a whole ecosystem comprising tools and services that enable biodiversity data to be extracted from the text of biodiversity articles published in data-minable XML format, as in the journals published by Pensoft (e.g. ZooKeys, PhytoKeys, MycoKeys, Biodiversity Data Journal), and other taxonomic treatments – available from Plazi and Plazi’s specialised extraction workflow – into Linked Open Data.
“The basics of what was to become the OpenBiodiv database began to come together back in 2015 within the EU-funded BIG4 PhD project of Victor Senderov, later succeeded by another PhD project by Mariya Dimitrova within IGNITE. It was during those two projects that the backend Ontology-O, the first versions of RDF converters and the basic website functionalities were created,”
At the time OpenBiodiv became one of the nine research infrastructures within BiCIKL tasked with the provision of virtual access to open FAIR data, tools and services, it had already evolved into a RDF-based biodiversity knowledge graph, equipped with a fully automated extraction and indexing workflow and user apps.
Currently, Pensoft is working at full speed on new user apps in OpenBiodiv, as the team is continuously bringing into play invaluable feedback and recommendation from end-users and partners at BiCIKL.
As a result, OpenBiodiv is already capable of answering open-ended queries based on the available data. To do this, OpenBiodiv discovers ‘hidden’ links between data classes, i.e. taxon names, taxon treatments, specimens, sequences, persons/authors and collections/institutions.
Thus, the system generates new knowledge about taxa, scientific articles and their subsections, the examined materials and their metadata, localities and sequences, amongst others. Additionally, it is able to return information with a relevant visual representation about any one or a combination of those major data classes within a certain scope and semantic context.
Users can explore the database by either typing in any term (even if misspelt!) in the search engine available from the OpenBiodiv homepage; or integrating an Application Programming Interface (API); as well as by using SPARQL queries.
On the OpenBiodiv website, there is also a list of predefined SPARQL queries, which is continuously being expanded.
“OpenBiodiv is an ambitious project of ours, and it’s surely one close to Pensoft’s heart, given our decades-long dedication to biodiversity science and knowledge sharing. Our previous fruitful partnerships with Plazi, BIG4 and IGNITE, as well as the current exciting and inspirational network of BiCIKL are wonderful examples of how far we can go with the right collaborators,”
Another year rolled by and we at Pensoft have a lot to celebrate! This year, we marked our 30th birthday, and what a ride it’s been! We thank all of you for sticking around and helping us put biodiversity science in the spotlight where it deserves to be.
The holiday season is always great fun, but for us, every biodiversity or conservation win is reason enough to celebrate. And we’ve had so many this year! We already showed you our top species for the first half of 2022. Here’s an update for the second half with the most exciting new species that we’ve published across our journals:
The elusive owl from a remote island
The Principe scops-owl (Otus bikegila) was discovered on the small island of Príncipe, just off Africa’s western coast. Its existence had been suspected since 1998, but locals said its presence on the island could be traced back to 1928.
The bird is endemic to the island of Príncipe. Furthermore, the research team behind its discovery noted that it can be found only in the remaining old-growth native forest on the island, in an area that largely remains uninhabited.
Otus is the generic name given to a group of small owls sharing a common history, commonly called scops-owls. They are found across Eurasia and Africa, and include such widespread species as the Eurasian scops-owl (Otus scops) and the African scops-owl (Otus senegalensis).
The species epithet “bikegila”, in turn, was chosen in homage of Ceciliano do Bom Jesus, nicknamed Bikegila – a former parrot harvester from Príncipe Island and now a park ranger on the island.The new species quickly became insanely popular, generating memes (a true sign of its popularity!). One website even described it as “a flying meme-generator that sounds like a newborn puppy.”
Nepenthes pudicais a carnivorous plant that grows prey-trapping contraptions underground, feeding off subterranean creatures such as worms, larvae and beetles.
It belongs to pitcher plants – a group of carnivorous plants with modified leaves (called pitfall traps or pitchers) that help them catch their prey.
Pitcher plants usually produce pitfall traps above ground at the surface of the soil or on trees. N. pudica is the first pitcher plant known to catch its prey underground.
At first, the researchers thought the deformed pitcher protruding from the soil that they saw had accidentally been buried. Only later, when they found additional pitcherless plants, did they consider the possibility that the pitchers might be buried in the soil.
Then, as one of the researchers was taking photos, he tore some moss off the base of a tree and found a handful of pitchers.
The unique plant, however, could already be under threat. As it only lives in one small area of Indonesia, scientists believe it should be classed as Critically Endangered.
In November 2021, biologist Alejandro Arteaga and his colleagues were traveling through the cloud forests of Ecuador looking for toads, when a local woman told them she had seen odd snakes slithering around a graveyard. Based on her description, the team suspected they might be ground snakes from the genus Atractus, which had never been scientifically recorded in that area of Ecuador.
Indeed, they were able to discover three new snake species living beneath graves and churches in remote towns in the Andes mountains.
The “small, cylindrical, and rather archaic-looking” snakes all belong to a group called ground snakes. In general, not a lot of people are familiar with ground snakes, as they usually remain hidden underground.
All three snakes were named in honor of institutions or people supporting the exploration and conservation of remote cloud forests in the tropics. Atractus zgap, pictured here, was named in honor of theZoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations (ZGAP), a program seeking to conserve unknown but highly endangered species and their natural habitats throughout the world.
However, the majority of the native habitat of these new snakes has already been destroyed. As a result of the retreating forest line, the ground snakes find themselves in the need to take refuge in spaces used by humans (both dead and alive), where they usually end up being killed on sight.
Unlike some other participants in this list, this one took a while before it was confirmed as a new species: “We did not discover that it was a new species overnight,” says Oscar Lasso-Alcalá, one of the people behind its discovery.
A. mikoljii is a new species for science, but it is not a “new species” for people who already knew it locally under the name of Pavona, Vieja, or Cupaneca in Venezuela or Pavo Real, Carabazú, Mojarra and Mojarra Negra in Colombia. Nor for the aquarium trade, where it is highly appreciated and has been known by the common name of Oscar.
Moreover, the species has been of great food importance for thousands of years for at least nine indigenous ethnic groups, and for more than 500 years to the hundreds of human communities of locals who inhabit the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela and Colombia. In the plains of Orinoco, it is considered a delicacy “due to its pleasant taste and enhanced texture”.
Oscar Lasso-Alcalá has a special relationship with this fish. “It is more than just a fish in an aquarium since it is considered a true pet,” he says.
Recently, Javier Lobon-Rovira, one of the people behind the discovery of this new gecko, told us what it was like to find this exciting new species: “That night we were tired, so we decided to have a short walk around the camp. And… there it was…! Like a ghost, this small, cryptic, and elusive gecko started showing up in every big rock boulder.”
Kolekanos spinicaudusis part of Kolekanos, a unique and iconic gecko genus that is only known from southwestern Angola.
Until this discovery, Kolekanos only had one species in the genus, known only from ~200km south of the new discovery, but that species had feathers on its tail, not spines like K. spinicaudus. Immediately, the researchers knew they were dealing with a Kolekanos… but they were astonished to see the spines.
The scientific name “spinicaudus” refers to the unique appearance of the tail of this new species.
K. spinicaudus’s home in southern Angola remains poorly explored, even as it has been considered as an important source of diversification and endemism in West Africa.
“Insects in general are so diverse and so important, yet we don’t have scientific descriptions or names for so many of them,” says Dr Kit Prendergast, from the Curtin School of Molecular and Life Sciences.
The new bee species she discovered, Leioproctus zephyris excellent proof that we still have a lot to learn about bee biodiversity.
The story behind L. zephyr’s name is quite interesting – it was named after Zephyr the Maremma dog, Dr Prendergast’s fellow companion. The researcher says Zephyr played an important role in providing emotional support during her PhD. The name also references the dog-like “snout” in the bee’s anatomy that she found rather unusual.
The bee species was in fact first collected in 1979, but it had to wait until 2022 to be officially described.
However, Dr Prendergast says its future remains uncertain, as it is highly specialised, and has a very restricted, fragmented distribution.
“The Leioproctus zephyr has a highly restricted distribution, only occurring in seven locations across the southwest WA to date, and have not been collected from their original location. They were entirely absent from residential gardens and only present at five urban bushland remnants that I surveyed, where they foraged on two plant species of Jacksonia.”
Honorable mention: Two scorpion species described by high-school citizen scientists
In 2019, California teenagers Harper Forbes and Prakrit Jain were looking at entries on the naturalist social network iNaturalist, when they noticed a mysterious scorpion that a citizen scientist had encountered near a lake in theMojave Desert. The species had remained unidentified since it was uploaded six years earlier.
The entry that they were looking at was a yet undescribed scorpion species whose name they would add to the fauna of California. Shortly after, they found another entry on iNaturalist that also appeared to be an unknown scorpion species.
The new species, Paruroctonus soda and Paruroctonus conclusus, are playa scorpions, meaning they can only be found around dry lake beds, or playas, from the deserts of Central and Southern California.
“These kids can find anything,” Dr Esposito told The Guardian. “You set them out in a landscape and they’re like: ‘Here’s every species of snake, here’s every scorpion, every butterfly,’ and it’s kind of incredible.”
Forbes and Jain were still in high school when they made their groundbreaking discoveries. Now they are in college: Forbes at the University of Arizona studying evolutionary biology and Jain at the University of California, Berkeley, for integrative biology.
A new species of Australian bush tomato described from the Garrarnawun Lookout in Judbarra National Park provides a compelling example of the need to provide equal and safe access to natural places. Bucknell University postdoctoral fellow Tanisha Williams and biology professor Chris Martine led the study following a chance encounter with an unusual population of plants during a 2019 research expedition to the Northern Territory.
Martine, who has studied northern Australia’s bush tomatoes for more than 20 years, immediately sensed that the plants were representative of a not-yet-described species, so he, Angela McDonnell (St. Cloud State University), Jason Cantley (San Francisco State University), and Peter Jobson (Northern Territory Herbarium in Alice Springs) combed the local area for plants to closely study and make research collections from. The task was made easier by the fact that the Garrarnawun Lookout is accessible by a set of dozens of human-made stone steps running directly from the unpaved parking area to the peak of the sandstone outcrop – without which the new species might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
The botanists were able to collect numerous new specimens and have now published the new species description in the open-access journal PhytoKeys, choosing the name Solanum scalarium as a nod to the steps leading to the plant and the unusual ladder-like prickles that adorn the flowering stems. The Latin “scalarium” translates to “ladder”, “staircase” or “stairs.”
“This Latin name does relate to the appearance of this species, how it looks,” says first-author Williams. “But it is also a way for us to acknowledge how important it is to create ways for people to interact with nature; not just scientists like us, but everyone.”
According to the authors, a recent study done by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries in Western Australia found that 8 in 10 people felt it is important to have access to natural spaces, both locally and outside of their current jurisdictions. However, one in three persons felt dissatisfied with the current outdoor spaces available to them and many identified barriers to access and participation in outdoor activities that include urbanization – which is especially credited for the growing number of Australians that lack outdoor experiences.
Importantly, the awareness of who has access and feels safe to participate in outdoor activities is being recognized throughout Australia and the lack of diversity in participation from culturally diverse and marginalized populations has been identified as an issue. Key indices such as ethnic background, socio-economic status, physical abilities and gender, are indicators of low outdoor recreation participation.
“These disparities of who are and are not participating and who feels safe and welcomed are artifacts of historic and current environmental and social injustices,” notes Williams. “To overcome these injustices and increase access and participation from diverse groups, intentional and targeted efforts are needed to provide a range of outdoor experiences that attract people from all of the 270 plus ancestries with which Australians identify with and special attention should be placed on groups historically excluded from outdoor spaces.”
Also now known as the Garrarnawun Bush Tomato, Solanum scalarium is a distant cousin of the cultivated eggplant and a close relative to a number of other Australian species recently discovered by Martine and colleagues that were also published in PhytoKeys including Solanum plastisexum, named to reflect the diversity of sex forms across Earth’s organisms; and Solanum watneyi, named for the space botanist of the book/film The Martian.
The scientists hope that the naming of this latest new species highlights the importance of building community around natural spaces.
“We suggest the use of Garrarnawun Bush Tomato for the English-language common name of the species,” the authors write, “In recognition of the Garrarnawun Lookout near where the type collection was made, a traditional meeting place of the Wardaman and Nungali-Ngaliwurru peoples whose lands overlap in this area.”
Access to nature is not just a concern in Australia.
“In the United States, where most of the authors of this paper are located, “access” is one thing but safety and equitability are another,” says Martine, “The U.S. National Parks Service reports that around 95% of those who visit federal parks are white. Meanwhile, African Americans, Latinos, women, and members of the LGBTQIA+ communities often report feeling unwelcome or unsafe in outdoor spaces.”
“If African Americans, for example, are already apprehensive in a country where they make up 13% of the population, it should be understandable that they are hesitant to be part of a community where they represent as little as 1% of participants.”
Williams suggests that James Edward Mills, author of The Adventure Gap (2014) put it best:
“It’s not enough to say that the outdoors is free and open for everyone to enjoy. Of course it is! But after four centuries of racial oppression and discrimination that systematically made Black Americans fear for their physical safety, we must also make sure that we create a natural environment where people of color can not only feel welcome but encouraged to become active participants as outdoor enthusiasts and stewards dedicated to the protection of the land.”
Recent Bucknell graduate Jonathan Hayes, who measured and analyzed the physical characters of the new species using plants grown from seed in a campus greenhouse, joins Williams, McDonnell, Cantley, Jobson, and Martine as a co-author on the publication.
Williams TM, Hayes J, McDonnell AJ, Cantley JT, Jobson P, Martine CT (2022) Solanum scalarium (Solanaceae), a newly-described dioecious bush tomato from Judbarra/Gregory National Park, Northern Territory, Australia. PhytoKeys 216: 103-116. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.216.85972
All journals published by Pensoft – each using the publisher’s self-developed ARPHA Platform – provide extensive and transparent information about their costs and services in line with the Plan S principles.
In support of transparency and openness in scholarly publishing and academia, the scientific publisher and technology provider Pensoft joined the Journal Comparison Service (JCS) initiative by cOAlition S, an alliance of national funders and charitable bodies working to increase the volume of free-to-read research.
As a result, all journals published by Pensoft – each using the publisher’s self-developed ARPHA Platform – provide extensive and transparent information about their costs and services in line with the Plan S principles.
The JCS was launched to aid libraries and library consortia – the ones negotiating and participating in Open Access agreements with publishers – by providing them with everything they need to know in order to determine whether the prices charged by a certain journal are fair and corresponding to the quality of the service.
According to cOAlition S, an increasing number of libraries and library consortia from Europe, Africa, North America, and Australia have registered with the JCS over the past year since the launch of the portal in September 2021.
While access to the JCS is only open to librarians, individual researchers may also make use of the data provided by the participating publishers and their journals.
This is possible through an integration with the Journal Checker Tool, where researchers can simply enter the name of the journal of interest, their funder and affiliation (if applicable) to check whether the scholarly outlet complies with the Open Access policy of the author’s funder. A full list of all academic titles that provide data to the JCS is also publicly available. By being on the list means a journal and its publisher do not only support cOAlition S, but they also demonstrate that they stand for openness and transparency in scholarly publishing.
“We are delighted that Pensoft, along with a number of other publishers, have shared their price and service data through the Journal Comparison Service. Not only are such publishers demonstrating their commitment to open business models and cultures but are also helping to build understanding and trust within the research community.”
said Robert Kiley, Head of Strategy at cOAlition S.
About cOAlition S:
On 4 September 2018, a group of national research funding organisations, with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC), announced the launch of cOAlition S, an initiative to make full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality. It is built around Plan S, which consists of one target and 10 principles. Read more on the cOAlition S website.
About Plan S:
Plan S is an initiative for Open Access publishing that was launched in September 2018. The plan is supported by cOAlition S, an international consortium of research funding and performing organisations. Plan S requires that, from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms. Read more on the cOAlition S website.