DiCaprio and Sheth name new species of tree-dwelling snakes threatened by mining

Five new drop-dead-gorgeous tree-dwelling snake species were discovered in the jungles of Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama.

Five new drop-dead-gorgeous tree-dwelling snake species were discovered in the jungles of Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama. Conservationists Leonardo DiCaprio, Brian Sheth, Re:wild, and Nature and Culture International chose the names for three of them in honor of loved ones while raising awareness about the issue of rainforest destruction at the hands of open-pit mining operations. The research was conducted by Ecuadorian biologist Alejandro Arteaga, an Explorers Club Discovery Expedition Grantee, and Panamanian biologist Abel Batista.

The mountainous areas of the upper-Amazon rainforest and the Chocó-Darién jungles are world-renowned for the wealth of new species continually discovered in this region. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that they also house some of the largest gold and copper deposits in the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the proliferation of illegal open-pit gold and copper mining operations in the jungles of Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama reached a critical level and is decimating tree-dwelling snake populations.

Illegal mining activity in the upper Ecuadorian Amazon doubled between 2021 and 2022. Photo by Jorge Anhalzer

Neotropical snail-eating snakes (genera Sibon and Dipsas) have a unique lifestyle that makes them particularly prone to the effects of gold and copper mining. First, they are arboreal, so they cannot survive in areas devoid of vegetation, such as in open-pit mines. Second, they feed exclusively on slugs and snails, a soft-bodied type of prey that occurs mostly along streams and rivers and is presumably declining because of the pollution of water bodies.

“When I first explored the rainforests of Nangaritza River in 2014, I remember thinking the place was an undiscovered and unspoiled paradise,” says Alejandro Arteaga, author of the research study on these snakes, which was published in the journal ZooKeys. “In fact, the place is called Nuevo Paraíso in Spanish, but it is a paradise no more. Hundreds of illegal gold miners using backhoe loaders have now taken possession of the river margins, which are now destroyed and turned into rubble.”

Biologist Alejandro Arteaga examines a snail-eating snake in the museum. Photo by Jorge Castillo

The presence of a conservation area may not be enough to keep the snail-eating snakes safe. In southeastern Ecuador, illegal miners are closing in on Maycu Reserve, ignoring landowner rights and even making violent threats to anyone opposed to the extraction of gold. Even rangers and their families are tempted to quit their jobs to work in illegal mining, as it is much more lucrative. A local park ranger reports that by extracting gold from the Nangaritza River, local people can earn what would otherwise be a year’s salary in just a few weeks. “Sure, it is illegal and out of control, but the authorities are too afraid to intervene,” says the park ranger. “Miners are just too violent and unpredictable.”

Gold mining activities in Napo, Ecuador. Photo by Ivan Castaneira

In Panama, large-scale copper mining is affecting the habitat of two of the new species: Sibon irmelindicaprioae and S. canopy. Unlike the illegal gold miners in Ecuador and Colombia, the extraction in this case is legal and at the hands of a single corporation: Minera Panamá S.A., a subsidiary of the Canadian-based mining and metals company First Quantum Minerals Ltd. Although the forest destruction at the Panamanian mines is larger in extent and can easily be seen from space, its borders are clearly defined and the company is under the purview of local environmental authorities.

Sibon irmelindicaprioae, named after Leonardo DiCaprio’s mother, is the rarest of the lot. It occurs in the Chocó-Darién jungles of eastern Panama and western Colombia. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga of Khamai Foundation.

“Both legal and illegal open-pit mines are uninhabitable for the snail-eating snakes,” says Arteaga, “but the legal mines may be the lesser of two evils. At the very least they respect the limit of nearby protected areas, answer to a higher authority, and are presumably unlikely to enact violence on park rangers, researchers, and conservationists.”

Gold mining activities in Napo province, Ecuador. Photo by Ivan Castaneira

Sibon canopy, one of the newly described species, appears to have fairly stable populations inside protected areas of Panama, although elsewhere nearly 40% of its habitat has been destroyed. At Parque Nacional Omar Torrijos, where it is found, there has been a reduction in the number of park rangers (already very few for such a large protected area). This makes it easier for loggers and poachers to reach previously unspoiled habitats that are essential for the survival of the snakes.

Sibon canopy is named in honor of the Canopy Family system of reserves, particularly its Canopy Lodge in Valle de Antón, Coclé province, Panama. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga

Lack of employment and the high price of gold aggravate the situation. No legal activity can compete against the “gold bonanza.” More and more often, farmers, park rangers, and indigenous people are turning to illegal activities to provide for their families, particularly during crisis situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, when NGO funding was at its lowest.

An Ecuadorian miner shows the gold she has collected and that she will use to pay for any family emergency. Photo by Ivan Castaneira

“These new species of snake are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of new species discoveries in this region, but if illegal mining continues at this rate, there may not be an opportunity to make any future discoveries,” concludes Alejandro Arteaga.

A gold mine in Nangaritza. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga

Fortunately, three NGOs in Ecuador and Panama (Khamai, Nature and Culture International, and Adopta Bosque) have already made it their mission to save the snake’s habitat from the emerging gold mining frenzy. Supporting these organizations is vital, because their quest for immediate land protection is the only way to save the snakes from extinction.

Research article:

Arteaga A, Batista A (2023) A consolidated phylogeny of snail-eating snakes (Serpentes, Dipsadini), with the description of five new species from Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama. ZooKeys 1143: 1-49. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1143.93601

Support Khamai Foundation’s mission to save the upper Amazon rainforest from gold mining: https://www.khamai.bio/save_amazon_rainforest_from_gold_mining.html

Support Nature and Culture International: https://www.natureandculture.org

Support Fundación Adopta Bosque: https://adoptabosque.org

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Alien land snail species are increasing exponentially

A new study compiles an overview of the exponential increase and dynamic spread of land snail species introduced to Europe and the Mediterranean.

Invasive land snail species can displace native species and harm human health. A recent study by the Leibniz Institute for Biodiversity Change Analysis (LIB) compiles an overview of the exponential increase and dynamic spread of land snail species introduced to Europe and the Mediterranean from other continents.

Laevicaulis alte, an invasive species from tropical Africa that was introduced into Egypt in 2018. © Reham F. Ali

To date, there is a lack of information for the spread of alien species, especially invertebrates such as snails. “Despite efforts to compile lists of alien species, there is not even a well-documented inventory of alien invertebrate species for Europe,” emphasizes Prof. Dr. Bernhard Hausdorf, section leader Mollusca at LIB. His study, just published in the journal NeoBiota, provides a basis for decisions on further measures to control or eradicate introduced populations.

Alien land snail species in the Western Palaearctic Region: Zonitoides arboreus, Hawaiia minuscula, Guppya gundlachii, Polygyra cereolus

Land snails play a supporting role in ecosystems. They decompose decaying plants and thus play an important role in nutrient cycling and soil formation. However, more and more species are being spread beyond their native range, usually by humans, sometimes intentionally, but often unintentionally by goods or travellers.

The study examines 22 land snail species introduced to Europe and the Mediterranean from other continents. Most of them are small, live on decaying plant parts and apparently cause few problems. In contrast, carnivorous species can threaten native species; and species that feed on living plants can cause damage to agriculture. Some even serve as hosts and vectors of parasites that can cause brain encephalitis, for example, and thus can indirectly harm human health.

Alien land snail species in the Western Palaearctic Region: Paralaoma servilis and Helicodiscus parallelus.

Harmful species include the Laevicaulis species recently introduced to the Mediterranean from tropical Africa and the African giant snail Lissachatina fulica. They can cause economic damage on irrigated farmland or in greenhouses by destroying or contaminating crops, making them unsaleable.

Hausdorf’s study compiles records of land snail species introduced to the Western Palearctic region, Europe and the Mediterranean, from other regions after 1492 and established in the wild. In doing so, he observes that the number of alien species has increased steadily since the 19th century, even exponentially from the 1970s onward, and that the introduced species have become more widespread.

Within Europe, alien species generally spread from south to north and from west to east. Thirteen of the 22 species studied were from North America, three from sub-Saharan Africa, two from the Australian region, three probably from the Oriental region, and one from South America.

Alien land snail species in the Western Palaearctic Region: llopeas clavulinum, Allopeas gracile, Lissachatina fulica, Paropeas achatinaceum, and Discocharopa aperta.

Even if trade relations and the spread of species can be correlated, Hausdorf believes that the prevailing climate is primarily decisive: “The spread of many of the introduced species, especially the tropical species dispersing in Mediterranean, is probably favored by climate change.”

Bernhard Hausdorf, “Distribution patterns of established alien land snail species in the Western Palaearctic Region”, NeoBiota, Pensoft
https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.81.96360

Press release originally published by Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change. Republished with permission.

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Boosting the reproducibility of research: Pensoft joins the EU-funded project TIER2

As an experienced science communicator and open-science publisher, Pensoft is joining this promising project on its mission within its acronym: Trust, Integrity, and Efficiency in Research, through next-level Reproducibility

Recent years have seen perceptions of a “reproducibility crisis” grow in various disciplines. Scientists see poor levels of reproducibility as a severe threat to scientific self-correction, the efficiency of research processes, and societal trust in research results. 

Now, a newly launched Horizon Europe-funded project: TIER2 brings together 10 major European organisations and proponents of open science to dig deeper into the issues surrounding reproducibility in research work with the aim to improve practices and policies across diverse scientific fields. 

In its capacity as an experienced science communicator and open-science publisher, Pensoft is joining this promising project on its mission within its acronym: Trust, Integrity, and Efficiency in Research, through next-level Reproducibility (TIER2).

TIER2’s interdisciplinary, expert project team will use co-creative methods to work with researchers in social, life and computer sciences, research funders, and publishers to further understand and address the causes of poor reproducibility. 

The project will produce and test new tools, connect initiatives, engage communities, and test novel interventions to increase reuse and overall quality of research results. 

“It is very exciting to take part in such significant work for the benefit of scientific rigor and integrity. As an open-access publisher, the goals of Pensoft and TIER2 are very much aligned – increasing the trust and efficiency of the research apparatus on a large scale. We are looking forward to collaborating on this mutual goal.”

said Teodor Metodiev, TIER2 Principal Investigator for Pensoft.
The project

TIER2 launched in early January 2023 and will be running until December 2025 with the support of EUR 2 millions in funding, provided by the European Union’s Horizon Europe program and the United Kingdom’s Research & Innovation

TIER2 will study reproducibility in diverse contexts by selecting three broad research areas (i.e. social, life and computer sciences) and two cross-disciplinary stakeholder groups (i.e. research publishers and funders). Reaching different contexts will allow the project team to systematically investigate the causes and implications of the lack of reproducibility across the research spectrum. Together with curated co-creation communities of these groups, the project will design, implement, and assess systematic interventions – addressing critical levers of change (tools, skills, communities, incentives, and policies) in the process.

In 3 years’ time, TIER2-led activities will have significantly boosted knowledge on reproducibility, created valuable tools, engaged communities, and implemented interventions and policies across science. As a result, the reuse of resources and the quality of research results in the European research landscape and beyond will be improved and increased, and so will trust, integrity, and efficiency in research overall.

You can read more about the project’s plans, rationale and mission in the full project proposal, recently published in the open-science journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO).

You can also browse the project’s website at https://tier2-project.eu/.

The website – including its design and software development – is itself one of Pensoft’s communication contributions to TIER2.

Stay up to date with the project’s activities and progress on Twitter: @TIER2Project.

International consortium

The interdisciplinary TIER2 consortium comprises ten members from universities and research centers across Europe to bring together a range of expertise spanning open science, research integrity, AI, data analytics, policy research, science infrastructures, stakeholder engagement, and core knowledge in social, life, and computational sciences. They share a long history of successful cooperation and have extensive experience in completed EU projects, especially in the fields of Open Science, Research Integrity, and Science Policy.

Full list of partners:
  1. Know Center
  2. Athena Research Center
  3. Amsterdam University Medical Center
  4. Aarhus University 
  5. Pensoft Publishers
  6. GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences 
  7. OpenAIRE
  8. Charité – University of Medicine Berlin
  9. Oxford University
  10. Alexander Fleming Biomedical Sciences Research Center

New species from a new country: A newly described gecko from Timor-Leste, the 4th youngest country in the world

For the first time, a new species of bent-toed gecko was described from the country, hinting at the unexplored diversity in the region.

Nestled amongst a chain of islands in the southern reaches of Southeast Asia, Timor-Leste occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor, the largest of the Lesser Sunda Islands that also include Bali and Komodo, the latter of which is home to the Komodo Dragon. In May 2002, Timor-Leste (officially the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste) became the first sovereign nation in the 21st century and is currently the 4th youngest country in the world.

A view from the road between Dili and Baucau, Timor-Leste. Photo by Graham Crumb shared under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Even though the country lies in the highly biodiverse region of Wallacea, its biodiversity is relatively poorly known, partly because decades of pre-independence violence and conflict have hindered biological surveys. In August 2022, a partnership between the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (Singapore), Conservation International, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of Timor-Leste conducted preliminary biological surveys across the eastern part of the island. The surveys specifically targeted remote and underexplored areas, such as the isolated mountain of Mundo Perdido (“Lost World” in Portuguese) and Nino Konis Santana National Park (NKS)—the first and largest national park in Timor-Leste.   

An aerial view of Nino Konis Santana National Park, Timor-Leste. Photo by UN Photo/Martine Perret under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

NKS is an enormous park that covers 1,236 square kilometers of land and is mainly characterized by lowland tropical forests. In it, there are several limestone caves of archaeological importance,  and it was in one of those caves that a new gecko species was found.

While surveying the Lene Hara cave during the day, a member of the research team caught a glimpse of a lizard scurrying on the ground before disappearing into a crevice. Dr. Chan Kin Onn, a herpetologist at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and the lead author of a study published in ZooKeys, sprung into action. Soon, he found himself wedged into a tight crevice in hopes of capturing the lizard.

Lene Hara cave, where the new species was found. Photo by Tan Heok Hui

“I couldn’t get to the lizard because the crack was too narrow, but I saw the rear half of its body and could tell that it was a bent-toed gecko from the genus Cyrtodactylus. New species of bent-toed geckos are being discovered all across Southeast Asia and due to the remoteness of the cave, the potential for this gecko to be a new species was high,” explained Dr. Chan.

Several hours later, under the cover of darkness, the team was back in the cave, this time equipped with flashlights. “Bent-toed geckos are usually nocturnal and can be skittish during the day. Our best chance at capturing them would be at night,” says Dr. Chan.True enough, after just one hour of looking, they collected ten specimens. A few weeks later, the gecko from Lena Hara cave was confirmed to be a new species based on DNA analysis and external morphological characteristics.

The new species of bent-toed gecko, Cyrtodactylus santana. Photo by Chan Kin Onn

The new species is named Cyrtodactylus santana, in reference to Nino Konis Santana National Park. The park’s name honors Nino Konis Santana, a freedom fighter who led the Falintil militia against the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste.

Even though past surveys have documented several populations of bent-toed geckos in Timor-Leste, none of them had been identified to the species level and thus, remain unnamed. Cyrtodactylus santana is the first bent-toed gecko in Timor-Leste formally described as a species.

The expedition also discovered several interesting plants and crabs that are currently being examined, all of which have the potential to be new species. “We have barely scratched the surface of Timor-Leste’s biodiversity. New discoveries can have profound impacts, because Timor-Leste is a substantial landmass bounded by deep sea trenches and is located at the fringe of the Wallacean Biodiversity Hotspot and Weber’s Line, a transitional zone between Oriental and Australasian fauna” remarked the researchers. Understanding the biodiversity of Timor-Leste could provide key insights into the divergence, evolution, and distribution of species, they believe.

Research article:

Chan KO, Grismer LL, Santana F, Pinto P, Loke FW, Conaboy N (2023) Scratching the surface: a new species of Bent-toed gecko (Squamata, Gekkonidae, Cyrtodactylus) from Timor-Leste of the darmandvillei group marks the potential for future discoveries. ZooKeys 1139: 107-126. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1139.96508

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Homo sapiens or insapiens? A new insect species from Kosovo cries for help

A new insect species from Kosovo challenges the idea of the intelligence and cleverness of humankind, compared to other organisms, with its scientific name.

Type locality of the new species. Photo by Halil Ibrahimi

Lying at the center of the Balkan Peninsula, Kosovo harbors a diversity of ecosystems and conditions, which have favored processes leading to the existence of many endemic and rare species. In the past few years, several new species of aquatic insects have been discovered from the small Balkan country, making it unique in terms of biodiversity. Unfortunately, as elsewhere in the Balkans, many of these ecosystems have deteriorated heavily.

A team of scientists from Kosovo, led by Professor Halil Ibrahimi of the University of Prishtina, recently found a new species of aquatic insect, a caddisfly, from the Sharr Mountains in Kosovo, and named it Potamophylax humoinsapiens.

The species epithet humoinsapiens is a combination of two Latin words, “humo”, which in English means “to cover with soil, to bury,” and “insapiens,” meaning “unwise”. The researchers explain this name refers to the unwise and careless treatment of the habitats of the new species: hydropower plant, illegal logging and pollution have greatly degraded the area in the past years. “In some segments, whole parts of the Lepenc River are “buried” in large pipes,” they write in their study, which was published in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal.

Potamophylax humoinsapiens. Photo by Halil Ibrahimi

“The species name ‘humoinsapiens’ ironically sounds like Homo insapiens, and this new species is right in calling us unwise,” thinks Prof. Ibrahimi. “With its actions, humankind has caused the extinction of many species of insects and other organisms during the past decades and has degraded greatly all known ecosystems in the planet. The debate on questioning wise nature of humans is already ongoing.

In the past few years, Professor Halil Ibrahimi and his team have found several new species of aquatic insects from the Balkans, Middle East and North Africa. In an attempt to raise awareness for this group of vulnerable creatures, endangered greatly by human activities, the team of scientists has given their species unique names. One of their previous discoveries was named Potamophylax coronavirus in order to raise the attention to the silent and dangerous “pandemic” humans have caused in freshwater ecosystems in the Balkans.

The research team behind the discovery. Photo by Halil Ibrahimi

“By combining classical taxonomy and modern molecular analysis techniques with the unique names, we are making insect species talk to our collective consciousness. It is in humankind’s capacity to earn the name Homo sapiens again,” the researchers conclude.

The study was financed by the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Information of the Republic of Kosovo and was conducted in the Laboratory of Zoology-Department of Biology of the University of Prishtina.

Original source:

Ibrahimi H, Bilalli A, Gashi A, Grapci Kotori L, Slavevska Stamenkovič V, Geci D (2023) Potamophylax humoinsapiens sp. n. (Trichoptera, Limnephilidae), a new species from the Sharr Mountains, Republic of Kosovo. Biodiversity Data Journal 11: e97969. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.11.e97969

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EIVE 1.0 – The largest system of ecological indicator values in Europe

EIVE 1.0 is the most comprehensive system of ecological indicator values of vascular plants in Europe to date. It can be used as an important tool for continental-scale analyses of vegetation and floristic data.

Guest blog post by Jürgen Dengler, Florian Jansen & François Gillet

Geographic coverage of the 31 ecological indicator value systems that entered the calculation of the consensus system of EIVE 1.0 (image from the original article).

It took seven years and hundreds of hours of work by an international team of 34 authors to develop and publish the most comprehensive system of ecological indicator values (EIVs) of vascular plants in Europe to date.

EIVE 1.0 is now available as an open access database and described in the accompanying paper (Dengler et al. 2023).

EIVE 1.0 provides the five most-used ecological indicators, M – moisture, N – nitrogen, R – reaction, L – light and T – temperature, for a total of 14,835 vascular plant taxa in Europe, or between 13,748 and 14,714 for the individual indicators. For each of these taxa, EIVE contains three values: the EIVE niche position indicator, the EIVE niche width indicator and the number of regional EIV systems on which the assessment was based. Both niche position and niche width are given on a continuous scale from 0 to 10, not as categorical ordinal values as in the source systems.

Evidently, EIVE can be an important tool for continental-scale analyses of vegetation and floristic data in Europe.

It will allow to analyse the nearly 2 million vegetation plots currently contained in the European Vegetation Archive (EVA; Chytrý et al. 2016) in new ways.

Since EVA apart from elevation, slope inclination and aspect hardly contains any in situ measured environmental variables, the numerous macroecological studies up to date had to rely on coarse modelled environmental data (e.g. climate) instead. This is particularly problematic for soil variables such as pH, moisture or nutrients, which can change dramatically within a few metres.

Here, the approximation of site conditions by mean ecological indicator values can improve the predictive power substantially (Scherrer and Guisan 2019). Likewise, in broad-scale vegetation classification studies, mean EIVE values per plot would allow a better characterisation of the distinguished vegetation units. Lastly, one should not forget that most countries in Europe do not have a national EIV system, and here EIVE could fill the gap.

Violin plots showing largely continuous value distributions of the niche position and niche width values of the five indicators in EIVE 1.0 (image from the original article).

Almost on the same day as EIVE 1.0 another supranational system of ecological indicator values in Europe has been published by Tichý et al. (2023) with a similar approach.

Thus, it will be important for vegetation scientists in Europe to understand the pros and cons of both systems to allow the wise selection of the most appropriate tool:

  • EIVE 1.0 is based on 31 regional EIV systems, while Tichý et al. (2023) uses 12.
  • Both systems provide indicator values for moisture, nitrogen/nutrients, reaction, light and temperature, while Tichý et al. (2023) additionally has a salinity indicator.
  • Tichý et al. (2023) aimed at using the same scales as Ellenberg et al. (1991), which means that the scales vary between indicators (1–9, 0–9, 1–12), while EIVE has a uniform interval scale of 0–10 for all indicators.
  • Only EIVE provides niche width in addition to niche position. Niche width is an important aspect of the niche and might be used to improve the calculation of mean indicator values per plot (e.g. by weighting with inverse niche width).
  • The taxonomic coverage is larger in EIVE than in Tichý et al. (2023): 14,835 vs. 8,908 accepted taxa and 11,148 vs. 8,679 species.
  • EIVE provides indicator values for accepted subspecies, while Tichý et al. (2023) is restricted to species and aggregates. Separate indicator values for subspecies might be important for two reasons: (a) subspecies often strongly differ in at least one niche dimension; (b) many of the taxa now considered as subspecies have been treated at species level in the regional EIV systems.
  • Tichý et al. (2023) added 431 species not contained in any of the source systems based on vegetation-plot data from the European Vegetation Archive (EVA; Chytrý et al. 2016) while EIVE calculated the European indicator values only for taxa occurring at least in one source system. 
  • While both systems present maps that suggest a good coverage across Europe, Tichý et al. (2023)’s source systems largely were from Central Europe, NW Europe and Italy, but, unlike EIVE, these authors did not use source systems from the more “distal” parts of Europe, such as Sweden, Faroe Islands, Russia, Georgia, Romania, Poland and Spain, and they used only a small subset of indicators of the EIV systems of Ukraine, Greece and the Alps.
  • In a validation with GBIF-derived data on temperature niches, Dengler et al. (2023) showed that EIVE has a slightly stronger correlation than Tichý et al. (2023)’s indicators (r = 0.886 vs. 0.852).
The correlation of EIVE-T values of species with GBIF-derived temperature niche data was high and even higher when restricting the calculation to those species whose consensus value was based on at least four sources (image from the original article).

How did EIVE manage to integrate all EIV systems in Europe that contained at least one of the selected indicators for vascular plants, while Tichý et al. (2023) used only a small subset?

This difference is mainly due to a more complex workflow in EIVE (which also was one of the reasons why the preparation took so long). First, Tichý et al. (2023) restricted their search to EIV systems and indicators that had the same number of categories as the “original” Ellenberg system.

Second, from these they discarded those that showed a too low correlation with Ellenberg. By contrast, EIVE’s workflow allowed the use of any system with an ordinal (or even metric) scale, irrespective of the number of categories or the initial match with Ellenberg et al. (1991).

EIVE also did not treat one system (Ellenberg) as the master to assess all others but considered each of them equally valid. While indeed the individual EIV systems are often quite inconsistent, i.e. even if they refer to Ellenberg, the same value of an indicator in one system might mean something different in another system, our iterative linear optimisation enabled us to adjust all 31 systems for the five indicators to a common basis.

This in turn allowed deriving EIVE as the consensus system of all the source systems. The fact that in our validation of the temperature indicator, EIVE performed better than Tichý et al. (2023) and much better than most of the regional EIV systems might be attributable to the so-called wisdom of the crowd, going back to the statistician Francis Galton who found that averaging numerous independent assessments (even by laymen) of a continuous quantity can leads to very good estimates of the true value. 

Apart from the indicator values themselves, EIVE has a second main feature that might not be so obvious at first glance, but which actually took the EIVE team, including several taxonomists, more time than the workflow to generate the indicator values themselves: the taxonomic backbone. EIVE for vascular plants is fully based on the taxonomic concept (including the synonymic relationships) of the Euro+Med Plantbase.

However, since Euro+Med lacks an important part of taxa that are frequently recorded in vegetation plots, to make our backbone fully usable to vegetation science, we expanded it beyond Euro+Med to something called “Euro+Med augmented”. We particularly added hybrids, neophytes and aggregates, three groups of plants hitherto only very marginally covered in Euro+Med. All additions were done by experts consistently with the taxonomic concept of Euro+Med and are fully documented. Likewise, many additional synonym relationships had to be added that were missing in Euro+Med.

Finally, we implemented the so-called “concept synonymy” (see Jansen and Dengler 2010), which allows the assignment of the same name from different sources to different accepted names (“taxonomic concepts”). This applies mainly to nested taxa that are treated at different levels in different sources, e.g. once as species with several subspecies, once as aggregate with several species. However, there are also some cases of misapplied names (i.e. names that were not used in agreement with their nomenclatural type in certain EIV systems). Such cases generally cannot be solved by the various tools for automatic taxonomic cleaning, but require experts who make a case-by-case decision.

The whole taxonomic workflow of EIVE is fully transparent with an R code that “digests”:

(a) the names as they are in the source systems,

(b) the official Euro+Med database and

(c) tables that document our additions and modifications (with reasons and references).

This comprehensive documentation will allow continuous and efficient improvement in the future, be it because of taxonomic novelties adopted in Euro+Med or because EIVE’s experts decide to change certain interpretations. That way, “Euro+Med augmented” and the accompanying R-based workflow can also be a valuable tool for other projects that wish to harmonise plant taxonomic information from various sources at a continental scale, e.g. in vegetation-plot databases such as GrassPlot (Dengler et al. 2018) and EVA (Chytrý et al. 2016).

The publication of EIVE 1.0 is not the endpoint, but rather a starting point for future developments in a community-based approach.

Together with interested colleagues from outside, the EIVE core team plans to prepare better and more comprehensive releases of EIVE in the future, including updates to its taxonomic backbone.

Future releases of EIVE will be published in fixed versions, typically together with a paper that describes the changes in the content.

As steps for the next two years, we anticipate that we will first add further taxa (bryophytes, lichens, macroalgae) and some additional indicators, both of which are relatively easy with our established R-based workflow. Then we plan EIVE 2.0 that will use the approx. 2 million vegetation plots in EVA (Chytrý et al. 2016) to re-calibrate EIVE for all taxa (see http://euroveg.org/requests/EVA-data-request-form-2022-02-10-Dengleretal.pdf).

We invite you to get into contact with us if you have:

(a) a new or overlooked indicator value system for any taxonomic group in Europe and adjacent areas (including comprehensive datasets of measured environmental data in vegetation plots);

(b) suggestions for improvements of our taxonomic backbone;

(c) a paper idea in the EIVE context that you would like to realise together with the EIVE core team (since everything is OA, you can, of course, use EIVE 1.0 for any possible purpose without notifying us as long as you cite EIVE properly).

Last but not least, any test of the validity and performance of EIVE, alone or in comparison with Tichý et al. (2023), with in situ measured environmental variables, locally or even continentally, would be most welcome.

***

This Behind the paper post refers to the article Ecological Indicator Values for Europe (EIVE) 1.0 by Jürgen Dengler, Florian Jansen, Olha Chusova, Elisabeth Hüllbusch, Michael P. Nobis, Koenraad Van Meerbeek, Irena Axmanová, Hans Henrik Bruun, Milan Chytrý, Riccardo Guarino, Gerhard Karrer, Karlien Moeys, Thomas Raus, Manuel J. Steinbauer, Lubomir Tichý, Torbjörn Tyler, Ketevan Batsatsashvili, Claudia Bita-Nicolae, Yakiv Didukh, Martin Diekmann, Thorsten Englisch, Eduardo Fernandez Pascual, Dieter Frank, Ulrich Graf, Michal Hájek, Sven D. Jelaska, Borja Jiménez-Alfaro, Philippe Julve, George Nakhutsrishvili, Wim A. Ozinga, Eszter-Karolina Ruprecht, Urban Šilc, Jean-Paul Theurillat, and François Gillet published in Vegetation Classification and Survey (https://doi.org/10.3897/VCS.98324).

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Follow the Vegetation Classification and Survey journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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Brief personal summaries: 

Jürgen Dengler is a Professor of Vegetation Ecology at the Zurich University of Applied Science (ZHAW) in Wädenswil, Switzerland. Among others, he cofounded the European Vegetation Database (EVA), the global vegetation-plot database “sPlot” and the “GrassPlot” database of the Eurasian Dry Grassland Group. His major research interests are grassland ecology, grassland conservation, biodiversity patterns, macroecology, vegetation change, broad-scale vegetation classification, methodological developments in vegetation ecology and ecoinformatics.

Florian Jansen is a Professor of Landscape Ecology at the University of Rostock, Germany. His research interests are vegetation ecology and dynamics, mire ecology including greenhouse gas emissions, and numerical ecology with R. He (co-)founded the German Vegetation Database vegetweb.de, the European Vegetation Database (EVA), and the global vegetation-plot database “sPlot”. He wrote the R package eHOF for modelling species response curves along one-dimensional ecological gradients.

François Gillet is an Emeritus Professor of Community Ecology at the University of Franche-Comté in Besançon, France. His major research interests are vegetation diversity, ecology and dynamics, grassland and forest ecology, integrated synusial phytosociology, numerical ecology with R, dynamic modelling of social-ecological systems.

***

References: 

Chytrý, M., Hennekens, S.M., Jiménez-Alfaro, B., Knollová, I., Dengler, J., Jansen, F., Landucci, F., Schaminée, J.H.J., Aćić, S., (…) & Yamalov, S. 2016. European Vegetation Archive (EVA): an integrated database of European vegetation plots. Applied Vegetation Science 19: 173–180.

Dengler J, Wagner V, Dembicz I, García-Mijangos I, Naqinezhad A, Boch S, Chiarucci A, Conradi T, Filibeck G, … Biurrun I (2018) GrassPlot – a database of multi-scale plant diversity in Palaearctic grasslands. Phytocoenologia 48: 331–347.

Dengler, J., Jansen, F., Chusova, O., Hüllbusch, E., Nobis, M.P., Van Meerbeek, K., Axmanová, I., Bruun, H.H., Chytrý, M., (…) & Gillet, F. 2023. Ecological Indicator Values for Europe (EIVE) 1.0. Vegetation Classification and Survey 4: 7–29.

Ellenberg H, Weber HE, Düll R, Wirth V, Werner W, Paulißen D (1991) Zeigerwerte von Pflanzen in Mitteleuropa. Scripta Geobotanica 18: 1–248.

Jansen F, Dengler J (2010) Plant names in vegetation databases – a neglected source of bias. Journal of Vegetation Science 21: 1179–1186.

Midolo, G., Herben, T., Axmanová, I., Marcenò, C., Pätsch, R., Bruelheide, H., Karger, D.N., Acic, S., Bergamini, A., Bergmeier, E., Biurrun, I., Bonari, G., Carni, A., Chiarucci. A., De Sanctis, M., Demina, O., (…), Dengler, J., (…) & Chytrý, M. 2023. Disturbance indicator values for European plants. Global Ecology and Biogeography 32: 24–34.

Scherrer D, Guisan A (2019) Ecological indicator values reveal missing predictors of species distributions. Scientific Reports 9: Article 3061.

Tichý, L, Axmanová, I., Dengler, J., Guarino, R., Jansen, F., Midolo, G., Nobis, M.P., Van Meerbeek, K., Aćić, S., (…) & Chytrý, M. 2023. Ellenberg-type indicator values for European vascular plant species. Journal of Vegetation Science 34: e13168.

Seeing off 2022 with another selection of awesome new species

A list of the most exciting biodiversity wins we’ve published in the second half of 2022.

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.”

Published in ZooKeys.

The underground carnivore

Nepenthes pudica is 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.

Published in PhytoKeys.

The graveyard-dwelling snake

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 the Zoological 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.

Published in ZooKeys.

The beautiful aquarium fish

2022 was a good year for fish diversity! In the first half, we had Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa, in the second half we have Astronotus mikoljii.

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.

Published in ZooKeys.

The spiny-tailed gecko

gecko

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 spinicaudus is 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.

Published in ZooKeys.

Honorable mention: the bee with a dog-like snout

“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 zephyr is 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.”

Published in Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

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 the Mojave 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.

The budding naturalists published a formal description of the two species with the help of Lauren Esposito, PhD,  Curator of Arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences.

“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.

Published in ZooKeys.

Flooded cities: A flood-regulating ecosystem services assessment for heavy rainfalls in urban areas

Scientists from Germany developed a framework with indicator suggestions to quantify and compare flood-regulating ecosystem services supply and demand.

Extreme weather events – like heavy rainfall – are a major environmental risk. Only recently after the Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP) 2022 Europe Conference on Crete (Greece) some conference attendees were able to directly experience the effects of heavy rainfall, when air traffic was stopped in Heraklion for many hours, streets were flooded, properties damaged, and even people died.

Heavy rainfall can occur anywhere and are usually highly localized. Cities are particularly vulnerable to pluvial flooding because of the high degree of surface sealing, the high population density and the high potential of socio-economic damage in urban areas. In this light, ecosystems are important natural flood-regulating elements that can relieve grey infrastructure such as sewer systems. They can buffer rain events and prevent flooding as their functions turn into a flood-regulating ecosystem service (ES) to protect society.

So far, flood-regulating ES supply and demand for heavy rainfall in urban areas have rarely been studied. Therefore, scientists from the Climate Service Center Germany and the Leibniz University Hannover (Germany) developed a framework with indicator suggestions to quantify and compare flood-regulating ES supply and demand. Interception by canopies and infiltration in the soil serve as essential indicators for urban flood-regulating ES supply. The indicators can be quantified based on the outputs of a hydrological model that has explicitly been developed for this study. The model is based on single, individual landscape elements. It considers vegetation-hydrological interaction, and 2D surface water routing. Social-economic indicators and the surface flooding indicate the related ES demand.

A flooded neighbourhood. Photo by U.S. Geological Survey

In their study, published in the journal One Ecosystem, they assessed the flood-regulating ES of an urban district in the City of Rostock (Germany) for a one-hour heavy rainfall event. They found the highest mean ES supply on greened areas of forests, woodlands and green areas, resulting in a supply surplus. Whereas, sealed areas (paved surface where water cannot infiltrate into the soil), such as settlements, urban dense areas, traffic areas and industry, showed an unmet demand resulting from both low supply and relatively high actual demand. The results indicated that vegetation plays an important part in flood regulation, if the soils are saturated or sealed and, thus, should be considered in urban flood-regulating ES assessments.

Budget of the flood-regulating ecosystem services supply and demand resulting in unmet demand and supply surplus.

Analysing the supply and demand for flood-regulating ES is particularly important for urban planning in order to identify ES supply-demand mismatches. Based on this information, adaptation measures such as Nature-based Solutions can be planned and their possible ES contributions can be quantified. Since heavy precipitation events are projected to become more frequent and intense in the future, the future functionality of current flood-regulating ES and the benefits of adaptation measures under changing climate conditions need to be assessed. This provides information about changing ES supply and the development of ES demand.

Research article:

Wübbelmann T, Bouwer LM, Förster K, Bender S, Burkhard B (2022) Urban ecosystems and heavy rainfall – A Flood Regulating Ecosystem Service modelling approach for extreme events on the local scale. One Ecosystem 7. https://doi.org/10.3897/oneeco.7.e87458

Follow One Ecosystem on Facebook and Twitter.

How science helps the conservation of sloths in Ecuador

We follow the post-release monitoring of Bravo, a male two-toed sloth that arrived in March 2021 at Guayaquil´s Mansión Mascota veterinary clinic.

Guest blog post by Ricardo Villalba-Briones

Choloepus hoffmanni capitalis is a poorly known subspecies of two-toed sloth that inhabits coastal southern Colombia and Ecuador(Hayssen 2011). In Ecuador, according to local reports from rehabilitation centers and events recorded by the press, this species is apparently not widely trafficked for pet trade, but it is known to be illegally hunted and consumed, the impact of which is difficult to trace and evaluate. Nevertheless, the conservation status of the two-toed sloths C.h. capitalis Ecuadorian coast keeps leaning towards more threatened categorizations, and nowadays is established as vulnerable (Tirira, 2021).

The sloths Bravo and Linda during rehabilitation.

Its habitat is a hotspot for conservation in all its extent, as it is threatened. In addition, due to multiple origins of impact, it has been recorded as the second most abundant mammal (from the list of animals subjected to wildlife traffic and bushmeat consumption according to Environment Ministry reports) received in the busy rehabilitation center of Guayaquil, Ecuador (Villalba-Briones et al., 2021).

Xenarthrans have been relatively poorly studied, specially sloths (Superina and Loughry 2015), and due to the species’ inconspicuous strategy, it is also difficult to detect and perform population evaluations (Martínez et al. 2020). Taking in account the slow reproduction rate of Choloepus gen., having one offspring every 3 years (Hayssen 2011), it is critical to consider the importance of reintroductions (Paterson et al. 2021, Villalba-Briones et al. 2022), but, to all effects, nothing can substitute the implementation of efficient regulation to cease hunting and bushmeat consumption.

Choloepus hoffmanni. Photo by briangratwicke under a CC BY 4.0 license

In-situ studies, understanding its ecology, behavior, abundance etc., could provide the necessary tools to estimate its populations, and evaluate its conservation status. Alternatively, non-invasive opportunistic studies in ex-situ programs during rehabilitation procedures could provide improvements in the aspects as diets and health, increasing the survival rate and fitness to release of rehabilitated sloths.

I strongly consider it important that this species is duly studied, in order to appreciate it and support its conservation. In our work, “Release and follow-up of a rehabilitated two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) in a tropical dry forest in Ecuador”, published in the journal Neotropical Biology and Conservation, we follow the post-release monitoring of Bravo, a male two-toed sloth that arrived in March 2021 at Guayaquil´s Mansión Mascota veterinary clinic.

We suggest considering follow-up activities to check the animals’ safety during their adaptation to the natural environment. We also propose the inclusion of a follow-up term to redeem the post-release supportive monitoring, develop its scope, and to rely on the presence and readiness of the caregivers or researchers to help the animal during the first weeks after release.

In order to track Bravo after his release, a handmade biodegradable backpack with Bluetooth signal transmission capacity was fitted to his body. The lightweight Tile Bluetooth device did not pose any harm to the sloth, and after some heavy rains cardboard-made attachment just disintegrated, releasing the device.

In our work, the presence in the area of a territorial carnivore individual led to the end of the follow-up activity. Consequently, in the case of probable undesired situations, we propose the use of devices to track the animals and monitor their presence daily. Alternatively, accounting for the relationship between movement patterns of the individual and detection probability, we propose 7 pm as the best time for observations of this mainly nocturnal species.

Due to the difficulty monitoring nocturnal animals, economic constraints in conservation, accessibility, and safety of the animals, biodegradable Bluetooth-based backpacks are recommended to ease the location of the animal and support its survival in the wild. The range of detectability of the device used indicates its suitability for tracking low-mobility animals.

Map showing the movements and tree use of the rehabilitated two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) in a dry tropical forest in the coastal region of Ecuador.

This first record of the follow-up of a rehabilitated Choloepushoffmanni and the detectability analysis offer valuable information for the future release and follow-up of individuals belonging to the genus Choloepus, and sloths in general.

The knowledge about released animals’ survival could help in clearing rehabilitation uncertainties, and, always, can give the animals the second chance they deserve.  Monitoring animal survival after release is essential for recording whether the rehabilitation process has been accomplished, but it is rarely done in practice, given the amount of funds required. It can, however, be substantially cheaper and affordable if the right techniques are used. These activities are more feasible when strategic planning and support exist.

Nowadays, the scarcity of funds to fulfill the needs of conservation projects on sloths (Superina and Loughry 2015, Choperena-Palencia and Mancera-Rodríguez 2018) seems to be an important obstacle. However, with a sensitized population, management effort, and support, it could be possible to understand and preserve the Choloepus hoffmanni capitalis.

References:

Choperena-Palencia MC, Mancera-Rodríguez NJ (2018) EVALUACIÓN DE PROCESOS DE SEGUIMIENTO Y MONITOREO POST-LIBERACIÓN DE FAUNA SILVESTRE REHABILITADA EN COLOMBIA. Luna Azul: 181–209. https://doi.org/10.17151/luaz.2018.46.11

Hayssen V (2011) Choloepus hoffmanni (Pilosa: Megalonychidae). Mammalian Species 43: 37–55. https://doi.org/10.1644/873.1

Martínez M, Velásquez A, Pacheco-Amador S, Cabrera N, Acosta I, Tursios-Casco M (2020) El perezoso de dos dedos (Choloepus hoffmanni) en Honduras: distribución, historia natural y conservación. Notas sobre Mamíferos Sudamericanos 01: 001–009. https://doi.org/10.31687/saremNMS.20.0.25

Paterson JE, Carstairs S, Davy CM (2021) Population-level effects of wildlife rehabilitation and release vary with life-history strategy. Journal for Nature Conservation 61: 125983. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnc.2021.125983

Superina M, Loughry WJ (2015) Why do Xenarthrans matter?: Table 1. Journal of Mammalogy 96: 617–621. https://doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyv099

Villalba-Briones R, Molineros E, Monros, J. S. (2021). Estudio retrospectivo de rescates y retenciones de especies de fauna silvestre sujetas a tráfico de fauna en guayaquil, Ecuador. Comité científico.

Villalba-Briones R, Jiménez ER, Monros JS (2022) Release and follow-up of a rehabilitated two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) in a tropical dry forest in Ecuador. Neotropical Biology and Conservation 17(4): 253-267. https://doi.org/10.3897/neotropical.17.e91332

Tirira, D. G. (ed.). 2021. Lista Roja de los mamíferos del Ecuador, en: Libro Rojo de los mamíferos del Ecuador (3a edición). Asociación Ecuatoriana de Mastozoología, Fundación Mamíferos y Conservación, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador y Ministerio del Ambiente, Agua y Transición Ecológica del Ecuador. Publicación Especial sobre los mamíferos del Ecuador 13, Quito.

Scientists highlight safe access to the outdoors with naming of new plant species

The scientific name and English-language common name acknowledge the importance of maintaining equitable and safe access to outdoor spaces for all people.

Dr. Chris Martine, Bucknell’s David Burpee Professor, examining a Solanum scalarium plant at its only currently known location on the Escarpment Walk, Judbarra National Park, Northern Territory, Australia. Photo by Angela McDonnell

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.”

Photo of Solanum scalarium, a newly-described bush tomato species from the Northern Territory, Australia, showing the unusual ladder-like arrangement of prickles on male floral stems. Plants grown in the Rooke Biology Research Greenhouse at Bucknell University were closely studied by undergraduate student Jonathan Hayes (Biology ‘22) under the supervision of Drs. Tanisha Williams and Chris Martine. Photo by J. Hayes

“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.”

Solanum scalarium: immature green fruits enclosed in prickly calyx. Photo by Angela McDonnell

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.”

Dr. Tanisha Williams, Bucknell’s Richard E. and Yvonne Smith Post-doctoral Fellow,  on the rim of the Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater during fieldwork in Western Australia in June 2022. Photo by Chris Martine

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.”

Dr. Tanisha Williams, Bucknell’s Richard E. and Yvonne Smith Post-doctoral Fellow, and Dr. Chris Martine, Bucknell’s David Burpee Professor, in Western Australia in June 2022. Photo by Claire Marino

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.

Research Article:

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