Genetically Modfied Organisms (GMO) need to be assessed through systematic networks

A European-wide network for systematic GMO impact assessment proposed

In Europe there are many concerns about adverse environmental effects of genetically modified (GM) crops, and the opinions on the outcomes of environmental risk assessments (ERA) differ largely. GM crop safety testing and studies on the standardisation of impact assessments of releases are insufficiently developed. Therefore a framework was published in the open access journal BioRisk, which aims at improving the European regulatory/legal system.

Specific elements of the network are a) methodologies for both indicator and field site selection for GM crop ERA and PMEM, b) an EU-wide typology of agro-environments, c) a pan-European field testing network using GM crops, d) specific hypotheses on GM crop effects, and e) state-of-the art sampling, statistics and modelling approaches. Involving actors from various sectors the network will address public concerns and create confidence in the ENSyGMO results.

"Assessing GMOs on the basis of separate criteria may yield misleading results, with negative consequences for both nature and mankind. The impact of GMO should be analysed using integrated approaches and methods at various scales. We are convinced that the proposed assessment framework has the potential to set up a new standard in regulation of the usage of GMO" commented Dr Josef Settele from Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research – UFZ, Halle and Editor-in-Chief of BioRisk.

Original source
Graef F, Römbke J, Binimelis R, Myhr AI, Hilbeck A, Breckling B, Dalgaard T, Stachow U, Catacora-Vargas G, Bøhn T, Quist D, Darvas B, Dudel G, Oehen B, Meyer H, Henle K, Wynne B, Metzger MJ, Knäbe S, Settele J, Székács A, Wurbs A, Bernard J, Murphy-Bokern D, Buiatti M, Giovannetti M, Debeljak M, Andersen E, Paetz A, Dzeroski S, Tappeser B, van Gestel CAM, Wosniok W, Séralini G-E, Aslaksen I, Pesch R, Maly S, Werner A (2012) A framework for a European network for a systematic environmental impact assessment of genetically modified organisms (GMO). BioRisk 7: 73. doi: 10.3897/biorisk.7.1969

Food versus fuel: Is there surplus land for bioenergy?

Increasing demand for bioenergy feedstock is generating land-use conflicts which are currently discussed in the food vs. fuel controversy and the debate about indirect land-use change. Concepts for solving those conflicts suggest a spatial segregation of food/feed and bioenergy producing areas. It is suggested to continue producing food/feed on established agricultural land while growing dedicated energy crops on so called "surplus" land.

Confusion in the applicability of those concepts is however caused by ambiguity in the definition and characterization of surplus land as well as by uncertainties in assessments of land availability, both on the national and the global scale, and of the potential yields of bioenergy crops when grown on surplus land.

‘We still have limited understanding of how much land is truly surplus and suitable for energy crop production’ said Dr Dauber, the lead author of the study, ‘because constraints arising from environmental and socio-economic implications of bioenergy development in those areas are often not accounted for in assessments of land availability’.

The authors suggest a thorough reassessment of land availability for bioenergy production by clarifying the terminology of surplus land and taking both constraints and options for efficient and sustainable bioenergy-land use into account. Policy recommendations for resolving conflicting land-use demands are provided.

In Dr Daubers opinion, ‘factoring in the constraints, combined with creativity in utilizing the options provided by the novel cropping systems, would lead to a more sustainable and efficient development of the bioenergy sector’.

Original source
Dauber J, Brown C, Fernando AL, Finnan J, Krasuska E, Ponitka J, Styles D, Thrän D, Van Groenigen KJ, Weih M, Zah R (2012) Bioenergy from "surplus" land: environmental and socio-economic implications. BioRisk 7: 5-50. doi: 10.3897/biorisk.7.3036

About BioRisk
BioRisk is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal launched to support free exchange of ideas and information in environmental science, issued by Pensoft Publishers. All papers published in BioRisk can be freely copied, downloaded, printed and distributed at no charge for the reader.

Additional Information
Renewable Fuels Agency
UNEP
Dauber J, Jones M, Stout J (2010) The impact of biomass crop cultivation on temperate biodiversity. GCB Bioenergy 2: 289. doi: 10.1111/j.1757-1707.2010.01058.x
Baum S, Weih M, Bolte A (2012) Stand age characteristics and soil properties affect species composition of vascular plants in short rotation coppice plantations. BioRisk 7: 51-71. doi: 10.3897/biorisk.7.2699
Dornburg V, van Vuuren D, van de Ven G, Langeveld H, Meeusen M, Banse M, van Oorschot M, Ros J, van den Born GJ, Aiking H, Londo M, Mozaffarian H, Verweij P, Lyseng E, Faaij A (2010) Bioenergy revisited: Key factors in global potentials of bioenergy. Energy & Environmental Science 3: 258.
Haberl H, Beringer T, Bhattacharya SC, Erb K-H, Hoogwijk M (2010) The global technical potential of bio-energy in 2050 considering sustainability constraints. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2: 394. doi: 10.1016/j.cosust.2010.10.007
Krasuska E, Cadórniga C, Tenorio JL, Testa G, Scordia D (2010) Potential land availability for energy crops production in Europe. Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining 4: 658. doi: 10.1002/bbb.259
The Royal Society (2008) Sustainable biofuels: prospects and challenges. Policy document 01/08: 1.

Sitting on top of the world

Mountain marvels of French Polynesia

Do you have it in mind to go to a mountain top and study beetles that nobody else has ever seen? Well, there are two fewer such mountains available now that beetle species discovered on Mont Tohiea and Mont Mauru in the Society Islands have been named. James Liebherr, Curator of the Cornell University Insect Collection, has just described 14 species of predatory carabid beetle, also called ground beetles, as part of a U.S. National Science Foundation team that surveyed the insects and spiders of French Polynesia.

Liebherr described the species in two papers published in the on-line journal, ZooKeys, taking advantage of the recent changes to rules that now allow electronic publication of names for newly described animal species.

The new beetles are members of the genus Mecyclothorax, a group that seems to have found a home in remote Pacific Islands. The Society Islands have about 100 species, and the Hawaiian Islands support well over 200 species. Conversely, the Australian continent, where all this evolution presumably started, is home to a mere 25 species. Like the flightless Dodos of Mauritius, all the Pacific Island beetles are flightless, whereas many of the Australian species can fly.

Liebherr’s discoveries of the seven new species on Moorea’s Mont Tohiea expands the known distribution of the genus in the Society Islands from Tahiti to the island of Moorea, mirroring the distribution of related beetles in Hawaii, where members of the genus are recorded from Oahu to Hawaii Island. In Tahiti and Moorea these beetles are very rarely recorded below 1000 m elevation, so the new species have very limited geographic distributions. "When we travel to a new mountain we find only new species. It’s like moving to a different continent as far as these beetles are concerned" says Liebherr. Being able to identify these small areas of endemism is essential for justifying conservation programs that can maintain biodiversity.

The new species take their place in the Tahitian fauna next to 67 species revised by the late Dr. Georges Perrault, whose collection of Tahitian beetles is housed at the Natural History Museum in Paris. "Georges Perrault made this study possible through his valuable work describing the Tahitian beetle fauna. If he hadn’t completed his work, we would not have been able to gain the support needed to expand upon his studies of this remarkable fauna" states Liebherr. These new species are not the end of biodiversity discovery for these beetles and their relatives.

Liebherr is working in the lab to name more collected from other mountains, and many more no doubt occur on unexplored peaks. Conservation programs in French Polynesia will be busy for a long time documenting these hidden gems of the Pacific.

Original sources:
Liebherr J (2012) The first precinctive Carabidae from Moorea, Society Islands: new Mecyclothorax spp. (Coleoptera) from the summit of Mont Tohiea. ZooKeys 224: 37-80. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.224.3675
Liebherr J (2012) New Mecyclothorax spp. (Coleoptera, Carabidae, Moriomorphini) define Mont Mauru, eastern Tahiti Nui, as a distinct area of endemism. ZooKeys 227: 63-99. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.227.3797

About ZooKeys
ZooKeys is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal launched to support free exchange of ideas and information in biodiversity science, issued by Pensoft Publishers. All papers published in ZooKeys can be freely copied, downloaded, printed and distributed at no charge for the reader. ZooKeys implemented several cutting-edge innovation in publishing and dissemination of science information and is considered a technological leader in its field.

Additional Information
National Science Foundation DEB-0451971; Biotic Surveys and Inventory: Arthropods of French Polynesia (R. G. Gillespie, PI) Richard B. Gump South Pacific Field Station http://moorea.berkeley.edu/

A new cave-dwelling reef coral discovered in the Indo-Pacific

Coral named Leptoseris troglodyta sheds light on coral-algal symbiosis

Coral specialist Dr. Bert W. Hoeksema of Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, The Netherlands, recently published the description of a new coral species that lives on the ceilings of caves in Indo-Pacific coral reefs. It differs from its closest relatives by its small polyp size and by the absence of symbiotic algae, so-called zooxanthellae. Its distribution range overlaps with the Coral Triangle, an area that is famous for its high marine species richness. Marine zoologists of Naturalis visit this area frequently to explore its marine biodiversity.

Reef corals in shallow tropical seas normally need the symbiotic algae for their survival and growth. Without these algae, many coral reefs would not exist. During periods of elevated seawater temperature, most reef corals lose their algae, which is visible as a dramatic whitening of the reefs, a coral disease known as bleaching.

Most reef corals generally do not occur over 40 m depth, a twilight zone where sunlight is not bright anymore, but some species of the genus Leptoseris are exceptional and may even occur much deeper. At greater depths, seawater is generally colder and corals here may be less susceptible to bleaching than those at shallower depths. Despite the lack of zooxanthellae and its small size, the skeleton structures of the new species indicate that it is closely related to these Leptoseris corals, although it has not been found deeper than 35 m so far.

The species is named Leptoseris troglodyta. The word troglodyta is derived from ancient Greek and means "one who dwells in holes", a cave dweller. The discovery sheds new light on the relation of reef corals with symbiotic algae. The new species has adapted to a life without them. Consequently, it may not grow fast, which would be convenient because space is limited on cave ceilings. The species description is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Original source
Hoeksema BW (2012) Forever in the dark: the cave-dwelling azooxanthellate reef coral Leptoseris troglodyta sp. n. (Scleractinia, Agariciidae). ZooKeys 228: 21. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.228.3798

About ZooKeys
ZooKeys is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal launched to support free exchange of ideas and information in biodiversity science, issued by Pensoft Publishers. All papers published in ZooKeys can be freely copied, downloaded, printed and distributed at no charge for the reader. ZooKeys implemented several cutting-edge innovation in publishing and dissemination of science information and is considered a technological leader in its field.

Worldwide coverage for ZooKeys’ dinosaur

A recently published monograph on heterodontosaurs with description of Pegomastax africana by Paul Sereno from the University of Chicago was featured in all world’s leading news media! It truly is a fantastic animal – you may want to have a look at some of the postings:

BBC: Dwarf ‘vampire dinosar was a plant eater

CNN: Scientist describes fruit-loving, housecat-sized dino

National Geographic: New fanged dwarf dinosaur found, "Would be nice pet"

New York Times: Bizarre species of miniature dinosaur identified

The Guardian: "Fanged vampire parrot" identified as a new species of dinosaur

Scientific American: Diminutive dinosaur bore beak, bristles and fangs

USA Today: Fanged dinosaur feasted on fruit

Time: A parrot-headed, big-fanged, porcupine dinosaur

Original source
Sereno P (2012) Taxonomy, morphology, masticatory function and phylogeny of heterodontosaurid dinosaurs. ZooKeys 226: 1-225. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.226.2840

 

New fanged dwarf dinosaur from southern Africa ate plants

The single specimen of the new species was originally chipped out of red rock in southern Africa in the 1960’s and discovered in a collection of fossils at Harvard University by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Paul Sereno, paleontologist and professor at the University of Chicago. Details of the dinosaur’s anatomy and lifestyle are part of a monograph by Sereno dedicated to these puny herbivores and published in the online journal ZooKeys and on the website of the National Geographic Society.

Named Pegomastax africanus, or "thick jaw from Africa", the new species has a short parrot-shaped beak up front, a pair of stabbing canines, and tall teeth tucked behind for slicing plants. The tall teeth in upper and lower jaws operated like self-sharpening scissors, with shearing wear facets that slid past one another when the jaws closed. The parrot-shaped skull, less than three inches long, may have been adapted to plucking fruit.

"Very rare", admits Sereno, "that a plant-eater like Pegomastax would sport sharp-edged, enlarged canines" like that of a vampire. Some scientists have argued that consuming meat or at the least insects was a good part of the diet of heterodontosaurs, which evolved near the root of the great bird-hipped radiation of dinosaurs that includes the famous plant-eaters Triceratops and Stegosaurus.

Self-defense and competitive sparring for mates is more likely their role, argues Sereno in the study, based on microscopic examination of the teeth of Pegomastax and kin. Wear facets and chipped enamel suggest that the fangs of Pegomastax and other heterodontosaurs were used like those of living fanged deer for nipping or even digging rather than slicing flesh.

A bizarre covering of bristles, something like that of a porcupine, likely covered most of the body of Pegomastax, which measured less than two-feet in length and weighed less than a housecat. These bristles first came to light in a similar-sized heterodontosaur, Tianyulong, discovered recently in China and described in the study. Buried in lake sediment and covered by volcanic ash, Tianyulong preserves hundreds of bristles spread across its body from its neck to the tip of its tail. In life, dwarf-sized heterodontosaurs like Pegomastax would have scampered around in search of suitable plants, says Sereno, looking something like a "nimble two-legged porcupine".

When Pegomastax lived some 200 million years ago, the supercontinent Pangaea had just begun to split into northern and southern landmasses. Heterodontosaurs appear to have divided similarly, the study argues, the northern species with simple triangular teeth like Tianyulong and the southern species with taller crowns like Pegomastax.

Sereno marvels at these punk-sized early herbivores that spread across the globe. Although virtually unknown to the public, "Pegomastax and kin were the most advanced plant-eaters of their day".

Original source:
Sereno PC (2012) Taxonomy, morphology, masticatory function and phylogeny of heterodontosaurid dinosaurs. ZooKeys 226: 1-225. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.226.2840

Multimedia:
New dinosaur dwarf Pegomastax from South Africa
With jaws only 1-inch in length, plant-eating Pegomastax (“thick jaw”) is one of the smallest dinosaurs ever discovered. Drawing by Todd Marshall.
Heterodontosaurus flesh model & skull—photo (2a; 2b)
Skin, scales and quills are added to a cast of the skull of Heterodontosaurus, the best known heterodontosaurid from South Africa.  Photo and sculpting by Tyler Keillor.
Heterodontosaurids as dinosaur dwarfs
Some heterodontosaurids, such as South African Pegomastax or Chinese Tianyulong (shown here), grew to less than 2 feet in length and rank as dwarfs in the dinosaur era. Drawing by Paul Sereno and Carol Abraczinskas.
—VIDEO—Making of Heterodontosaurus flesh model
Muscles, skin, scales and quills are added to a skull cast of Heterodontosaurus.  Video and sculpting by Tyler Keillor.

ZooKeys’ Statement on electronic publishing, ZooBank registration and printed version


In respond to several inquiries and in the light of the current lively discussions on Taxacom and in some blogs, ZooKeys considered necessary to publish the following statement:

1. ZooKeys was the first – and still is – the only journal that registers authors, publications and new names in ZooBank. We have been doing this for our authors since July 2008, when the first ZooKeys issue was published. We shall continue this practice and ZooKeys’ authors will not need to bother with any kind of registration issues to make their taxa validly published.

2. ZooKeys articles are archived in two global archives: (1) PubMedCentral based in the National Library of Medicine of the U.S. All content in PubMedCentral is available in open access, the separate taxa descriptions (treatments) are highlighted with separate links, and in addition, the PDF version and each image file are archived separately; (2) CLOCKSS, which is an international, not for profit, joint venture between the world’s leading scholarly publishers and research libraries initiated by Stanford University. Again, the authors do not need to worry personally about archiving!

3. According to our policies, anyone – a private person or institution – can download, archive, print and distribute the full content of ZooKeys. This is probably the best add-on archiving policy one may think about, because downloads of individual articles are counted in several hundreds, to say the least.

4. ZooKeys will continue to print its full-color, high-resolution version, which is available in several libraries, such as Smithsonian, Harvard, Naturalis (Leiden), the Dutch Entomological Society’s library, and some more. Separate printed issues or reprints are available on purchase. 

5. ZooKeys will continue to export taxon descriptions (treatments) to Encyclopedia of Life, Plazi Treatment Repository and Species-ID.net – a Wiki based treatment repository. Naturally, treatments are available in open access for anyone to read and the original publications are linked back from there.

6. Each individual ZooKeys article is published electronically as soon as the final proof is approved by the author; the date of publishing of the electronic version should be considered the valid date of publication of the article. Paper version will be published when an issue is completed. This will greatly facilitate the efficiency and speed of publication, without having any adverse effect on archiving and/or distribution!

7. ZooKeys will continue to assist authors in data publishing and archiving through GBIF (occurrence data) and DRYAD Data Repository (any other data).

8. ZooKeys will continue to assist authors in drafting and dissemination of press releases and other materials that promote their research.

9. These policies will be followed also by the other zoological journals published by Pensoft, such as Journal of Hymenoptera Research, International Journal of Myriapodology, and Comparative Cytogenetics.  
 

Wild bees: Champions for food security and protecting our biodiversity

Pollinating insects contribute to agricultural production in 150 (84%) European crops. These crops depend partly or entirely upon insects for their pollination and yield. The value of insect pollinators is estimated to be €22 billion a year in Europe. Declines in managed pollinators, such as honeybees, and wild pollinator such bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies, are therefore of growing concern as we need to protect food production and the maintain wildflower diversity.

Scientists involved in STEP, a large-scale project funded by the 7th Framework Program (FP7) of the European Union, have therefore taken an inclusive approach looking at the status and trends of all Europe’s pollinators.

New findings have been presented at a dedicated STEP symposium at the 5th EurBee meeting held in Halle, Germany on 3-6 September 2012. Prof Simon Potts from the University of Reading, UK and coordinator of STEP opened the discussion: "To help Europe secure sustainable food production and conserve its biodiversity we need to provide policy makers with clear evidence of who pollinates our crops and flowers and what are the best options to safeguard pollination services in a changing world".

More than 32 million European records of pollinators and plants have been analysed. "We have shown that not only has bee diversity been declining but communities are becoming more uniform in their composition", commented the lead scientist Dr Koos Beismeijer from Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis, The Netherlands.

One key threat to bees is agrochemicals; "we are now finding strong negative effects of pesticides, not only in honeybees and bumblebees, but also solitary bees– as Europe has more than 2,500 solitary bee species we expect the implications of our research to be very wide ranging" said Dr Christoph Sandrock of Swiss Bee Research Centre.

Many European countries have an array of agri-environment options aiming to support biodiversity, including bees, but it is unclear how effective these really are. "Our analysis is the first to systematically test whether agri-environment options are actually benefiting bees" said Dr David Kleijn from Alterra, Netherlands.

Several European countries have programmes aiming to improve honeybee health, but there is very little support for wild pollinators despite their critical roles in ecosystems. "One of the big achievements of the STEP project will be the first ever European Red List for bees which will provide an essential tool for politicians and land managers to direct conservation efforts targeted at wild bees" said Mr Stuart Roberts from University of Reading, UK.

"There is increasing evidence that honeybee numbers are insufficient in many parts of Europe to provide adequate pollination services, and so wild pollinators are needed to cover the shortfall" stated Dr Tom Breeze from University of Reading, UK.

The STEP project will continue to use high quality research to deliver the evidence politicians need to develop better policies to protect all of Europe’s pollinators. The project also uses its findings to develop specialist factsheets targeted at groups such as farmers and translated in 15 languages: see http://step-project.net/page.php?P=4&SP=14

Simultaneously, STEP is undertaking a broad-scale survey of the public opinion through online questionnaires available in seven European languages. The survey aims to reveal if, and to what extent, people are aware of the role of pollinators in agricultural ecosystems and the consequences for the environment from the decline of bees and other insect pollinators. Please spend 5 minutes of your time and fill it in at: http://www.step-project.net/page.php?P=26

Original source:
1. Pollinators Support Farm Productivity. STEP best practices recommendations for farmers to maintain the diversity of pollinators in 15 languages: http://step-project.net/page.php?P=4&SP=14.
2. Online questionnaire to survey the public opinion on the role of pollinators: http://www.step-project.net/page.php?P=26.

Additional information:
STEP (2010) stands for "Status and Trends of European Pollinators" and is a European research project. Financed by the 7th EU framework programme for research and development (FP7), STEP aims xxx. For more information please see: www.STEP-project.net

DNA sequences need quality time too – guidelines for quality control published

 Like all sources of information, DNA sequences come in various degrees of quality and reliability. To identify, proof, and discard compromised molecular data has thus become a critical component of the scientific endeavor – one that everyone generating sequence data is assumed to carry out before using the sequences for research purposes.

"Many researchers find sequence quality control difficult, though", says Dr. Henrik Nilsson of the University of Gothenburg and the lead author of a new article on sequence reliability, published in the Open Access journal MycoKeys. "There just isn’t any straightforward document to put in their hands to give them a flying start. As a result, scientists differ in the degree to which they are aware of the need to exercise sequence quality control and in what measures they take." Previous studies have highlighted several shortcomings of publicly available DNA sequences – more than ten percent of the fungal DNA sequences may be misidentified at the species level, for example.

"A second complication", adds co-author Prof. Urmas Koljalg of the University of Tartu, "is that the software available for sequence quality management tend to be very complex and resource intensive. It borders on the unfair to expect everyone to have access to, and to master, such computer environments. Fortunately, a whole lot can be done towards quality control of DNA sequences using just manual means and a web browser. The current MycoKeys paper describes these means to help those biologists who do not have a strong background in computer science."

The article – "Five simple guidelines for establishing basic authenticity and reliability of newly generated fungal ITS sequences" – compiles principles and observations to assist the reader in the quality management of sequence data. Although focusing on fungi, the guidelines are general and apply to most groups of organisms and genes. The guidelines target traditional DNA sequencing and are broadly applicable to datasets used in systematics, taxonomy, and ecology.

Co-author Dr. Martin Hartmann of the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL concludes, "We hope that our guidelines will assist the readers in sharpening their datasets so that, eventually, the trend of increasing noise in the public sequence databases can be arrested. Molecular data offer so much promise that we simply cannot afford to lose accuracy to bias and artifacts."

Original source:
Nilsson RH, Tedersoo L, Abarenkov K, Ryberg M, Kristiansson E, Hartmann M, Schoch CL, Nylander JAA, Bergsten J, Porter TM, Jumpponen A, Vaishampayan P, Ovaskainen O, Hallenberg N, Bengtsson-Palme J, Eriksson KM, Larsson K-H, Larsson E, Kõljalg U (2012) Five simple guidelines for establishing basic authenticity and reliability of newly generated fungal ITS sequences. MycoKeys 4: 37-62. doi: 10.3897/mycokeys.4.3606