Pets or threats? Goldfish might be harmful for biodiversity

Goldfish pose a triple threat: not only are they readily available, but they combine insatiable appetites with bold behaviour

Invasive species are one of the leading causes of global biodiversity loss, and the pet trade is responsible for a third of all aquatic invasive species. Pet owners releasing unwanted pets into the wild is a major problem. Whilst many believe this is a humane option, a new research suggests that attempting to ‘save’ the life of a goldfish could in fact lead to catastrophic outcomes for native biodiversity.

To better understand the ecological risks posed by species within the pet trade, the researchers focused on the two most commonly traded fish species in Northern Ireland: goldfish and the white cloud mountain minnow.

Photo by Jeff-o-matic under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license

The globally popular goldfish was first domesticated over a thousand years ago and has since established non-native populations around the world. The white cloud mountain minnow on the other hand is a species with a limited invasion history to date.

This study, published in NeoBiota, developed a new method for assessing the ecological impacts and risks of potential pet trade invaders, based on availability, feeding rates and behaviour. The research showed goldfish to be voracious, consuming much more than the white cloud mountain minnow or native species. In terms of behaviour patterns, goldfish were also found to be much braver, a trait linked with invasive spread.

Dr James Dickey.

Lead author, Dr James Dickey from Queen’s University Belfast, explains: “Our research suggests that goldfish pose a triple threat. Not only are they readily available, but they combine insatiable appetites with bold behaviour. While northern European climates are often a barrier to non-native species surviving in the wild, goldfish are known to be tolerant to such conditions, and could pose a real threat to native biodiversity in rivers and lakes, eating up the resources that other species depend on.

“Our research highlights that goldfish are high risk, but we hope that the methods developed here can be used to assess others in the pet trade across Ireland and further afield. Readily available species are most likely to be released, so limiting the availability of potentially impactful ones, alongside better education of pet owners, is a solution to preventing damaging invaders establishing in the future.”

The research led by Queen’s University Belfast was funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) NI. The study was presented at the International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species in Oostende, Belgium along with a range of other leading research from Queen’s on alien species.

Research article:

Dickey JWE, Arnott G, McGlade CLO, Moore A, Riddell GE, Dick JTA (2022) Threats at home? Assessing the potential ecological impacts and risks of commonly traded pet fishes. NeoBiota 73: 109–136. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.73.80542

The first cave-bound mollusc species from the Americas

Against the odds, a study by Brazilian researchers describes a new to science species of evidently cave-bound – or troglobitic – clam from northern Brazil.

Exclusively subterranean bivalves – the group of molluscs comprising clams, oysters, mussels, scallops – are considered a rarity. Prior to the present study, there had only been three such species confirmed in the world: all belonging to a small-sized mussel genus known from southeastern Europe. Furthermore, bivalves are not your typical ‘underworld’ dweller, since they are almost immobile and do not tolerate environments low in oxygen. 

Against the odds, a recent study by Dr. Luiz Ricardo L. Simone (Museum of Zoology of the University of São Paulo) and Dr Rodrigo Lopes Ferreira (Federal University of Lavras), published in the open-access scholarly journal Subterranean Biology, describes a new to science species of evidently cave-bound – or troglobitic – clam from northern Brazil. 

Small individuals of the newly described clam species Eupera troglobia sp. n. exposed to the air, next to a harvestman (Eusarcus sp.). Photo by Rodrigo Lopes Ferreira.

Named Eupera troglobia, the mollusk demonstrates features characteristic for organisms not meant to see the daylight, including lack of pigmentation, reduced size, delicate shell and fewer, yet larger eggs.

Curiously, it was back in 2006 when a report presenting a faunal survey of a cave in northern Brazil featured photographs of what was to be described as Eupera troglobia. However, the evidence was quickly dismissed: the clam must have been carried into the cave by water. 

A submerged specimen of the newly described cave-bound clam species Eupera troglobia sp. n.

In 2010, Dr Rodrigo Lopes Ferreira accessed the report and noticed the depigmentation of the clams. Wondering whether it was indeed possible that he was looking at a troglobite, he searched amongst the collected specimens from that study, but could not find any of the discoloured bivalve.

Ten years later, his team visited the cave to specifically search for depigmented shells. Although the cave was partially flooded, the researchers were able to spot the specimens they needed attached to the walls of the cave.

In conclusion, the scientists highlight that their discovery is the latest reminder about how important the conservation of the fragile subterranean habitats is, given the treasure troves in their holdings. 

Meanwhile, recently amended laws in Brazil put caves at considerably higher risk.

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Research paper: 

Simone LRL, Ferreira RL (2022) Eupera troglobia sp. nov.: the first troglobitic bivalve from the Americas (Mollusca, Bivalvia, Sphaeriidae). Subterranean Biology 42: 165-184. https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.42.78074

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Learning more about bird diversity: What a museum collection in Romania can tell us

“Due to its historical background and the presence of rare species, it is considered to be one of the most important ornithological collections in Eastern Europe,” researcher Gergely Osváth says

Containing specimens from different locations, sometimes spanning across centuries, museum collections can teach us a lot about how some animals are built and how we can protect them. Properly labeled, preserved specimens can show us how the environment and species distribution has changed over extended time periods. Because in many cases these collections remain largely unexplored, a revision can reveal “treasures” that were hidden in plain sight for decades.

The bird skin collection of the Zoological Museum of Babeș Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Photos by Gergely Osváth and Zsolt Kovács

A team of ornithologists and scientists from the Zoological Museum of Babeș-Bolyai University, Milvus Group – Bird and Nature Protection Association and the Romanian Ornithological Society, headed by Gergely Osváth, set out to revise the ornithological collection in the Zoological Museum of Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, checking the species identification of the bird skin specimens to provide an updated catalogue

The collection is unique in the region in many ways: it covers a long time span, it contains a variety of species, belonging to different families and orders, and it is composed of the work of several naturalists and employees of the museum”, Osváth says. “Due to its historical background and the presence of rare species, it is considered to be one of the most important ornithological collections in Eastern Europe.”

First, the researchers examined each bird skin and the data cards documenting the identification, locality, date, sex and catalogue number. Afterwards, they checked the species identification of specimens, determining the sex and age of birds where possible. They also updated the scientific names and taxonomy of birds. In addition, they provide a map representation with new distribution data for bird species, offering valuable information on the status of the avifauna of the Carpathian basin in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Published in the open-access journal ZooKeys, this is the first time that all those specimen data are made public.

The collection includes 925 specimens, belonging to 193 species, that were collected between 1859 and 2021. Perching birds (Passeriformes) were the best represented bird order, with 487 specimens, and 93.6 % of the specimens with known data were collected from Transylvania.

By far, the most interesting specimens were the rare ones, such as specimens of Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus), Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni), all collected between 1903 and 1907 from Transylvania.

With updated information on the taxonomy and morphology of birds in Transylvania, the researchers hope this new catalogue can serve as a basis for valuable ornithological studies.

Research article:

Osváth G, Papp E, Benkő Z, Kovács Z (2022) The ornithological collection of the Zoological Museum of Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania – Part 1: the catalogue of bird skin specimens. ZooKeys 1102: 83-106. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1102.79102

Snake trade in Indonesia is not sustainable enough — but it could be

A substantial part of the trade in blood pythons in Indonesia is illegal and underreported, a new study published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation found.

Wildlife trade is a multi-million dollar industry. While some animals are traded legally, in compliance with legislation that aims to protect populations, wildlife trafficking continues to thrive in many places, threatening precious species with extinction.

Reptiles are exported in large numbers, and snakes are no exception. They are mostly traded for their skins, used in luxury leather products, or as pets. In the case of the blood python, which can reach up to 250 cm in length, there are clear indications of misdeclared, underreported or illegal trading involving tens of thousands of individuals around the world.

According to Vincent Nijman, professor in anthropology at Oxford Brookes University in the UK, harvest and trade in certain species of snakes, especially ones that are common and have a high reproductive output, can be sustainable. But how do we make sure it really is?

Blood python in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Thailand. Photo by Tontan Travel

“Sustainability is best assessed by surveying wild populations, but this takes time and effort,” Nijman explains. “An alternative method is to use data from slaughterhouses and compare how certain parameters (number of snakes, size, males vs females) change over time.”

This method has been used by several research groups to assess the sustainability of the harvest and trade in blood pythons in Indonesia. The outcomes of these assessments vary widely, with some researchers claiming the trade is sustainable, and others that it is not and that populations are in decline. 

“A major problem with these assessments is that while they can detect a change in, for instance, the number of blood pythons that arrive in slaughterhouses, it is unclear if this is due to changes in the wild population, changes in harvest areas, methods of harvesting, or changes in the regulations that permit the harvest to take place,” Nijman elaborates.

Blood python in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Thailand. Photo by Tontan Travel

Using publicly available information, and searching for evidence of illicit trade, he set out to establish if there is sufficient data to assess whether blood pythons are indeed exploited sustainably in Indonesia. 

“There is no conclusive data to support that the harvest of blood pythons in North Sumatra is sustainable, but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that a substantial part of this trade is illegal,” he points out in his study, which was published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

He goes on to explain that there is no one-on-one relationship between the sustainability of harvest and trade and its legality: “A species can be legally traded to extinction, or it can be traded illegally in small enough numbers for it to be sustainable.”

Conceptual framework of the relationship between population size, sustainable harvest and global conservation status. The harvest that took place between A and B, C and D, and E and F, could be considered sustainable, whereas it is unsustainable between B and C and D and E. The global threat assessment based on two of the IUCN threat level criteria (population size and declining populations) are not tightly linked to harvest sustainability (modified after Yamaguchi 2014).

A clear trend in the last decade  was a change in the way blood pythons are harvested, compared to previous periods, “from opportunistic capture to, at least in part, targeted collection.”

Blood pythons are not included on Indonesia’s protected species list, but their harvest and trade, both domestically and internationally, is regulated by a quota system. The harvest for domestic trade typically constitutes 10% of what is allowed to be exported.

Nijman’s research identified substantial evidence of underreported and illegal international trade in blood pythons. “Part of any assessment of sustainability of the harvest and trade in blood pythons must address this as a matter of urgency,” he concludes.

Research article:

Nijman V (2022) Harvest quotas, free markets and the sustainable trade in pythons. Nature Conservation 48: 99-121. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.48.80988

Are people swapping their cats and goldfish for praying mantises?

The first overview of the pet mantis market’s dynamics reports a lack of regulations, but also the potential of a stronger collaboration between hobbyists and scientists for biodiversity conservation.

New research sheds light on the pet insect market and its implications on biodiversity conservation

Rearing insects at home as pets may sound strange and a bit nerdy, but thousands of people all over the world have already swapped their hamsters for praying mantises or stick insects.

These insects, sold at fairs and pet markets, or collected in the wild and then reared by amateurs or professionals, are gaining increased popularity and fueling a largely unknown market. Not all of them are small, crawling monsters. Some are elegant, with flower-like coloration (the Orchid Mantis, Hymenopus coronatus), and some are funny-looking like Pokémons (e.g. the Jeweled Flower Mantis, Creobroter wahlbergii). Many can be safely manipulated and cuddled as they look at you with big, cute kitty-eyes (the Giant Shield Mantis Rhombodera basalis).

 The beautiful orchid mantis Hymenopus coronatus, one of the most priced and requested mantis species on the market. Photo by William Di Pietro

When choosing a pet insect, “customers” consider things such as shape, size, colors, and behaviors. They might also take into account how rare a certain species is, or how easy it is to look after. Looking at these preferences, Roberto Battiston of Museo di Archeologia e Scienze Naturali G. Zannato (Italy), William di Pietro of the World Biodiversity Association (Italy) and entomologist Kris Anderson (USA) published the first overview of the mantis pet market. Understanding how this market, still mostly unregulated, is changing, may be crucial to the conservation of rare species and promoting awareness of their habitat and place in the ecosystem.

A survey among almost 200 hobbyists, enthusiasts and professional sellers in the mantis community from 28 different countries showed that the targets of this market are indeed predictable. The typical mantis breeder or enthusiast, the study found, is 19 to 30 years old and buys mantises mostly out of personal curiosity or scientific interest. Willing to spend over $30 for a single individual, most people will prefer beautiful looking species over rare ones.

A cute nymph of the Jeweled Flower Mantis Creobroter wahlbergii resting on the tip of a finger. Photo by William Di Pietro

The research, published in the open-access Journal of Orthoptera Research, identified buyers as “mostly curious enthusiasts with poor knowledge of the market dynamics and the laws behind it, even if they seem to generally care about their pet.”

But the data also suggests the trade might not always be on the legal side, as “about one time out of four the lack of permits or transparency from the seller is perceived from the buyer.”

A good collaboration between science and this large community may play a crucial role in the conservation of mantises in nature, the researchers point out.

The Giant Shield Mantis Rhombodera basalis looking for a friend. Photo by William Di Pietro

Mantises and, in general, insects, are poorly known in terms of biology, distribution, and threats, with many species still unknown and waiting to be discovered. This is a big limit to their protection and conservation, since you cannot protect what you don’t know.

“Hobbyists and pet insect enthusiasts are producing and sharing a huge quantity of observations on the biology and ecology of hundreds of species, even rare or still undescribed ones, a priceless heritage for the scientific community,” the researchers conclude. 

“Strengthening the dialogue between them, promoting a white market over a black one, may be a crucial help for the conservation of these insects, fundamental parts of the biodiversity of our planet, that are replacing our traditional pets at home.”

Research article:

Battiston R, Di Pietro W, Anderson K (2022) The pet mantis market: a first overview on the praying mantis international trade (Insecta, Mantodea). Journal of Orthoptera Research 31(1): 63-68. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.31.71458

Striking new snake species discovered in Paraguay

Only known from three individuals, Phalotris shawnella is endemic to the Cerrado forests of the department of San Pedro in east Paraguay.

Distribution map.

A beautiful non-venomous snake, previously unknown to science, was discovered in Paraguay and described by researchers of the Paraguayan NGO Para La Tierra with the collaboration of Guyra Paraguay and the Instituto de Investigación Biológica del Paraguay. It belongs to the genus Phalotris, which features 15 semi-subterranean species distributed in central South America. This group of snakes is noted for its striking colouration with red, black, and yellow patterns.

Jean-Paul Brouard, one of the involved researchers, came across an individual of the new species by chance while digging a hole at Rancho Laguna Blanca in 2014. Together with his colleagues Paul Smith and Pier Cacciali, he described the discovery in the open-access scientific journal Zoosystematics and Evolution. The authors named it Phalotris shawnella, in honour of two children – Shawn Ariel Smith Fernández and Ella Bethany Atkinson – who were born in the same year as the Fundación Para La Tierra (2008). They inspired the founders of the NGO to work for the conservation of Paraguayan wildlife, in the hope that their children can inherit a better world.

Phalotris shawnella. Photo by Jean-Paul Brouard

The new Phalotris snake is particularly attractive and can be distinguished from other related species in its genus by its red head in combination with a yellow collar, a black lateral band and orange ventral scales with irregular black spots. Only known from three individuals, it is endemic to the Cerrado forests of the department of San Pedro in east Paraguay. Its known distribution consists of two spots with sandy soils in that department – Colonia Volendam and Laguna Blanca – which are 90 km apart. 

Phalotris shawnella. Photo by Jean-Paul Brouard

The extreme rarity of this species led the authors to consider it as “Endangered”, according to the conservation categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means it is in imminent danger of extinction in the absence of measures for its protection.

Phalotris shawnella. Photo by Jean-Paul Brouard

This species can only be found in the famous tourist destination of Laguna Blanca, an area declared as an Important Area for the Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles. 

Phalotris shawnella. Photo by Jean-Paul Brouard

“This demonstrates once again the need to protect the natural environment in this region of Paraguay,” the authors comment. “Laguna Blanca was designated as a Nature Reserve for a period of 5 years, but currently has no protection at all. The preservation of this site should be considered a national priority for conservation.”

Research article:

Smith P, Brouard J-P, Cacciali P (2022) A new species of Phalotris (Serpentes, Colubridae, Elapomorphini) from Paraguay. Zoosystematics and Evolution 98(1): 77-85. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.98.61064

This October, the hybrid TDWG 2022 conference will address standards for linking biodiversity data

From 17th to 21st October 2022, the Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) conference – to be held in Sofia – will run under the theme “Stronger Together: Standards for linking biodiversity data”.

Between 17th and 21st October 2022, the Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) conference – to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria – will run under the theme “Stronger Together: Standards for linking biodiversity data” and will be hosted by scholarly publisher and technology provider Pensoft, in collaboration with the National Museum of Natural History, and the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. This year, the event will be welcoming participants in-person, as well as virtually.

In addition to opening and closing plenaries, the conference will feature 14 symposia and a mix of other formats that include lightning talks, a workshop, and panel discussion as well as contributed oral presentations and virtual posters.

Both registrations and abstracts are already welcome. 

For a seventh year in a row, all abstracts submitted to the annual conference will be published in the dedicated TDWG journal: Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS Journal). Thus, the abstracts – to be published ahead of the event itself – will not only become permanently and freely available in a ‘mini-paper’ format, but will also provide conference participants with a sneak peek into what’s coming at the much anticipated conference. Learn more about the unique features of BISS.

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Important dates:

Abstract submissions accepted until 1 July 2022.

Early-bird registration available until 15 July 2022.

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Register and find more about the TDWG 2022 conference on Pensoft Event Manager.

See the Call for Abstracts and learn how to submit your abstract today.

Visit the TDWG conference website.

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Ahead, during and after the conference, join the conversation on Twitter via #tdwg2022.

Don’t forget to also follow TDWG (Twitter and Facebook), BISS Journal (Twitter and Facebook) and Pensoft (Twitter and Facebook) on social media.

Tadpoles for dinner? Indigenous community in Mexico reveals a favorite recipe for a particular frog

Tadpoles of the Sierra Juarez brook frog Duellmanohyla ignicolor are consumed in caldo de piedra in the Chinantla region, in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Stone soup (caldo de piedra) is a traditional meal from the Indigenous Chinantla region in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Prepared by men, it is made by placing tomato, cilantro, chili peppers, onion, raw fish, salt, and water in a jicara (a bowl made from the fruit of the calabash tree) in a hole dug near a river. Then, the ingredients are cooked by adding red hot rocks to the “pot”.

In 2019, members of the CIIDIR-Oaxaca Amphibian Ecology Laboratory visited Santa Cruz Tepetotutla in the Chinantla region as part of their continued research work in the community’s forests and streams. 

“As we observed and recorded the presence of tadpoles, our guide, Mr. Pedro Osorio-Hernández, remarked that one such tadpole was eaten in stone soup”, says Dr Edna González Bernal, one of the researchers.

Local landscape. Photo by Carlos A. Flores

Although not much attention is paid to tadpoles, they are more important than you might think. They are perfect indicators of the health of bodies of water, due to their sensitivity to changes in the aquatic environment where they develop. When tadpoles are present in a stream, river, or even a puddle, they indicate an acceptable concentration of oxygen, pH, conductivity, and temperature, or overall good dynamics of sediments and plant matter. And, above all, finding tadpoles is the easiest way to know about the presence of an amphibian species that reproduces in that site, regardless of whether or not an adult has been observed. Hence, the identification of the unique characteristics of the tadpoles of each species is an important task that is currently drawing more attention amongst scientists. 

Duellmanohyla ignicolor tadpoles. Photo by Edna González-Bernal

“For us, as Oaxacans, Don Pedro’s words were an eye-opener”, biologist Carlos A. Flores, also part of the study,  continues. “Although we knew about the tradition of stone soup, we would have never imagined that it could be prepared with tadpoles of the Sierra Juárez Brook frog (Duellmanohyla ignicolor)!”

Duellmanohyla ignicolor. Photo by Edna González-Bernal

“As scientists, we wondered: why this species and not another? Since when have these tadpoles been eaten? In what other places are tadpoles consumed and in what form? Does this consumption have a negative effect on amphibian populations?”

To answer these questions, the researchers monitored several streams in the community, collecting data on the structure of these sites, such as depth, water velocity, temperature, etc. They wanted to identify the characteristics of the habitat where the tadpoles of this little known species are found. Their research was recently published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The team’s primary interest in the stone soup with tadpoles was to accurately document human interaction with this amphibian species. 

“It is common in anthropological literature to document the consumption of tadpoles in Mexico, but rarely does such documentation reach the species level. Even in some ethnoherpetological works, the consumption of tadpoles is mentioned only anecdotally”, Dr González Bernal explains.  

A boy collects tadpoles. Photo by Edna González-Bernal

“We learned that these larvae tend to form schools: aggregations of several tens to hundreds of individuals. They swim on the surface of the water and move their mouths to feed on suspended particles, which may be remains of plant matter, pollen or insect parts”, she continues. 

“This behavior, as has been documented in other species, biologically implies a strategy to feed more efficiently, control body temperature, protect themselves from predators and even to encourage social interaction. At the same time, it makes it easier for humans to capture several tadpoles using nets, hats, bags or even their own hands.”

This tadpole soup is consumed during the hottest months (April and May), when people go swimming in the river. The rest of the year, it is prepared with fish. Local people described the tadpoles as having a delicious fish-like flavor.

Why do people eat these particular tadpoles? Community members remarked that, because they are found at the surface of the water, they are considered cleaner than those found at the bottom, such as the tadpoles of the the coastal toad (Incilius valliceps) and the gloomy mountain frog (Ptychohyla zophodes). In addition, the tadpoles consumed in the stone broth reach sizes of up to 5 centimeters, which makes them a better choice for the dish.

Tadpoles caught using caps. Photo by Edna González-Bernal

Is stone soup a dish that only exists in the Chinantla region? “We found that while the dish has primarily been documented in this region, it is also consumed in some Indigenous Ayuk (Mixe) municipalities,” Dr González Bernal says. 

The cooking principle itself is a technique that has been used throughout history by different cultures around the world. The particularity of the caldo de piedra lies in its preparation with tomato, cilantro, and chili peppers, as well as prawns or particular species of fish such as the bobo (Joturus prichardi).

In the case of the Sierra Juarez Brook frog’s tadpoles, the researchers concluded that since they are consumed locally and for non-commercial purposes, the species is not at risk. However, the behavior of these tadpoles and their preference for deeper water bodies make them vulnerable to being caught in large quantities.

“In the context of the global amphibian crisis, it is of utmost importance to continue increasing our knowledge about the diversity of species and above all to delve deeper into their ecology, both at the adult and larval stages. Only in this way can we gain a greater understanding of each species’ needs and develop conservation strategies that take into account the biology of species with a complex life cycle, such as amphibians”, the research team says in conclusion. 

Research article:

Flores CA, Arreortúa M, González-Bernal E (2022) Tadpole soup: Chinantec caldo de piedra and behavior of Duellmanohyla ignicolor larvae (Amphibia, Anura, Hylidae). ZooKeys 1097: 117-132. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1097.76426

Novel research seeks to solve environmental challenges in BioRisk’s latest issue

The special issue features 35 studies presented at the International Seminar of Ecology 2021

Guest blog post by Prof. Stephka Chankova, PhD

The new special issue of BioRisk compiles materials presented at the International Seminar of Ecology – 2021. The multidisciplinary nature of modern ecology was demonstrated by the main topics of the Seminar: biodiversity and conservation biology, biotic and abiotic impact on the living nature, ecological risk and bioremediation, ecosystem research and services, landscape ecology, and ecological agriculture.

Research teams from various universities, institutes, organizations, and departments, both from Bulgaria and abroad, took part in the Seminar. Foreign participants included: Environmental Toxicology Research Unit (Egypt), Pesticide Chemistry Department, National Research Centre (Giza, Egypt); National Institute for Agrarian and Veterinary Research (Oeiras, Portugal), Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes (Lisbon, Portugal); Bach Institute of Biochemistry, Research Center of Biotechnology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow, Russia).

Biorisk’s latest issue: Current trends of ecology

Some of the reports presented joint research of Bulgarian scientists and scientists from Germany, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, and the USA. After assessment by independent reviewers, the articles published in the journal cover the topics presented and discussed at the Seminar. 

A set of reports were focused on the anthropogenic and environmental impacts on the biota. Soil properties were shown as a factor that can modulate the effect of heavy metals, present in chronically contaminated soils. Different ap­proaches to overcome environmental pollution were presented and discussed: zeolites as detoxifying tools, microalgae for the treatment of contaminated water bodies, and a newly developed bio-fertilizer, based on activated sludge combined with a bacte­rial strain with detoxifying and plant growth-promoting properties. The clear need for the enlargement of existing monitoring program by including more bioindicators and markers was pointed out.

It was shown that, by using various markers for the evaluation of environmentally induced stress response at different levels (microbiological, molecular, biochemical), it is possible to gain insights of the organisms’ protection and the mechanisms involved in resistance formation. The contribution of increased DNA repair capacity and AOS to the development of environmental tolerance or adaptation was also shown.

Important results for understanding the processes of photoprotection in either cyanobacteria or algae, and higher plants were obtained by in vitro reconstitution of complexes of stress HliA protein with pigments. The crucial role of the cellular physiological state, as a critical factor in determining the resistance to environmental stress with Q cells was demonstrated.

Several papers were focused on the action of bioactive substances of plants origin. The bioactivity was shown to depend strongly on chemical composition. Origanum vulgare hirtum essential oil was promoted as a promising candidate for the purposes of “green” technologies. Analyzing secondary metabolites of plants, it was shown that their productivity in vitro is a dynamic process closely related to the plant growth and development, and is in close relation with the interactions of the plant with the environment.

Origanum vulgare hirtum. Photo by cultivar413 under a CC-BY 2.0 license

The influence of the agricultural system type on essential oil production and antioxidant activity of industrially-cultivated Rosa damascena in the Rose valley (Bulgaria) was reported, comparing organic vs conventional farming. The rose extracts from organic farming were shown to accumulate more phenolic compounds, corresponding to the higher antioxidant potential of organic roses.

A comparative study, based on official data from the statistics office of the EU and the Member countries, concerning viral infection levels in intensive and organic poultry farming, demonstrated that free-range production had a higher incidence of viral diseases with a high zoonotical potential.

Pollinators of Lavandula angustifolia, as an important factor for optimal production of lavender essential oil, were analyzed. It was concluded that, although lavender growers tend to place beehives in the fields for optimal essential oil production, it was crucial to preserve wild pollinators, as well.

Lavandula angustifolia inflorescence excluded from pollinators.

New data reported that essential oils and alkaloid-rich plant extracts had the strongest acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity and could be proposed for further testing for insect control.

It was reported that the vegetation diversity of Bulgaria had still not been fully investigated. Grasslands, broad-leaved forests, and wetlands are the best investigated habitats, while data concerning ruderal, shrubland, fringe, and chasmophytic vegetation in Bulgaria are scarce.

Other important topics were reported and discussed in this session: the possibility of pest control using pteromalids as natural enemies of pests in various crops; the main reasons responsible for the population decrease of bumblebees – habitat destruction, loss of floral resources, emerging diseases, and increased use of pesticides (particularly neonicotinoids); the strong impact of temperature and wind on the distribution of zooplankton complexes in Mandra Reservoir, in Southeastern Bulgaria; an alternative approach for the ex-situ conservation of Stachys thracica based on in vitro shoot culture and its subsequent adaptation under ex vitro conditions.

Bombus hortorum/subterraneus collecting nectar in 1991, and B B. wurflenii/lapidarius worker robbing nectar of Gentiana asclepiadea in 2017

New information was presented concerning pre-monitoring geochemical research of river sediments in the area of Ada Tepe gold mining site (Eastern Rhodopes). The obtained results illustrate that the explored landscapes have been influenced by natural geochemical anomalies, as well as, impacted by human activity. The forests habitat diversity of Breznik Municipality was revealed, following the EUNIS Classification and initial data from the Ministry of Environment and Water and the Forestry Management Plans. It was shown that, in addition to the dominant species Quercus dalechampii, Quercus frainetto, Fagus sylvatica, Carpinus betulus, some artificial plantations with Pinus nigra and Pinus sylvestris were also present, as well as non-native species, such as Robinia pseudoacacia and Quercus rubra.

Models for Predicting Solution Properties and Solid-Liquid Equilibrium in Cesium Binary and Mixed Systems were created. The results are of great importance for the development of strategies and programs for nuclear waste geochemical storage. In conclusion, many results in different areas of ecology were presented in the Seminar, followed by interesting discussions. A lot of questions were answered, however many others remained open. A good platform for further discussion will be the next International Seminar of Ecology – 2022, entitled Actual Problems of Ecology.

Threatened South American coati found roaming in a large city

Researchers recorded an individual at the Canoas Airbase, one of the last remaining green spaces in a densely urbanized area of a large city in southern Brazil.

You may assume that metropolitan areas are devoid of wildlife, but that is very far from the truth. The remaining green spaces within the urban matrices of large cities can serve as corridors or stepping stones for wild animals. Sometimes, even threatened mammal species end up using them.

On August 12, 2020, a research team from Brazil recorded a South American coati in Canoas, the fourth most populous and densely urbanized city in the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul. The animal was detected with a camera trap during a Masters research project conducted at the Canoas Airbase, one of the last green spaces remaining in the municipality.

South American Coati at the Canoas airbase in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Video by Diego Floriano da Rocha, Thaís Brauner do Rosario and Cristina Vargas Cademartori

Widely distributed throughout the continent, the South American coati is a medium-sized carnivore living on trees and feeding mainly on small invertebrates and fruits. The species is classified as Vulnerable in Rio Grande do Sul, and it’s considered threatened mainly because of the loss of its forest habitats.

The study that recorded an individual in the urban area was conducted as part of a partnership between the Canoas Airbase and La Salle University. Led by Dr Cristina Vargas Cademartori from La Salle University, the research team was made up of Diego Floriano da Rocha (Doctoral student), Thaís Brauner do Rosario (Masters student), Ana Carolina Pontes Maciel (biologist at the Canoas Airbase), and Duana Suelem Alves (undergraduate student). They described in detail the record and the study area in a paper in the open-access journal Neotropical Biology and Conservation.

The researchers were surprised to find the coati in the midst of a dense urban area. Although the species is not considered threatened in the majority of its area of distribution, its populations have been in decline because of habitat loss and hunting.

“This record confirms the capacity of this species to use environments that have been changed by anthropic activity,” the researchers write in their paper, adding that, because of all the food that humans leave behind, urban environments can in fact favor the establishment of more adaptable species like the coati.

The discovery highlights the importance of urban green spaces for wildlife conservation. “This is very important for defining appropriate conservation measurements for endangered species, especially beyond protected areas,” the authors conclude.

Research article:
da Rocha DF, do Rosario TB, Maciel ACP, Alves DS, Cademartori CV (2022) Record of occurrence of Nasua nasua (Linnaeus, 1766) (Carnivora, Procyonidae) in a densely urbanized area of the city of Canoas, southern Brazil. Neotropical Biology and Conservation 17(2): 111-116. https://doi.org/10.3897/neotropical.17.e81824