Effects of soil and drainage on the savanna vegetation in the northern Brazilian Amazonia

It is a well-known fact that environmental factors such as soil texture and drainage determine to a very large degree the vegetation appearance, richness and composition at any site. However, there has been little research on how these variables influence the flora in the marvellous savannas – large open areas characterised by a complex and unique network of natural resources and life forms.

Consequently, a Brazilian research team, led by Dr. Maria Aparecida de Moura Araújo, Universidade Federal de Roraima, investigated the hydro-edaphic conditions in the savanna areas in the northern Brazilian Amazonia. Their study, complete with an openly available and ready for re-use dataset, is published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.  

Image 1_Annonaceae_Xylopia aromatica_treeIn the course of the Program for Biodiversity Research, managed by the Brazilian government, the scientists sampled 20 permanent plots in two savanna areas in the state of Roraima, located in the northern of the Brazilian Amazon. As a result, the team reports a total of 128 plant species classified into 34 families from three savanna habitats with different levels of hydro-edaphic restrictions.

Amongst the various factors playing a role in the soil characteristics of the area, are the tectonic events and past climatic fluctuations which have occurred in the most recent period of the Cenozoic era. Paleo, as well as modern fires are likely to be other culprits for the specific conditions.

In conclusion, the authors suggest that the most restrictive savanna habitats – the wet grasslands, represent the home to less structurally complex plants, compared to the well-drained shrubby localities.

“The present study highlights the environmental heterogeneity and the biological importance of Roraima’s savanna regarding the conservation of natural resources from the Amazon,” say the scientists.

Image 2_Convolvulaceae_Merremia aturensis_herb“In addition, it points out the need for greater investment in floristic inventories associated with greater diversification of sites, since this entire ecosystem has been rapidly modified by agribusiness.”

Licensed under a Creative Commons License (CC-BY 4.0) and available in a Darwin Core Archive DwC-A format; the complete dataset is openly available via the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

 

Original source:
Araújo M, Rocha A, Miranda I, Barbosa R (2017) Hydro-edaphic conditions defining richness and species composition in savanna areas of the northern Brazilian Amazonia. Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e13829. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e13829

Disentangling the myth of the singing bushmaster viper with the help of tree frogs

Reaching over 3.5 m in length, the bushmaster (belonging in the Lachesis genus) is the largest viper in the western hemisphere. Legend spread among both colonists and natives from the Amazon region and Central America has it that it sings. Finding these numerous unrelated reports quite puzzling, since it is well known that snakes cannot sing, scientists took to finally disentangle the myth.photo-2

When the researchers recently conducted fieldwork in Amazonian Ecuador and Peru, they revealed it was not the snake singing. The ‘song’ was indeed the call of large tree frogs that live in hollow trunks in the forest.

While local guides in both countries attributed the songs to the bushmaster, the amphibians were almost completely unknown. To their surprise, instead of finding a snake, the field teams found two species of frogs of the genus Tepuihyla. The results are published in the open access journal ZooKeys in a collaborative effort by scientists from Catholic University of Ecuador, the Peruvian Institute of Research of the Amazon, Ecuadorian Museum of Natural Sciences, and Colorado State University, USA.

One of the tree frogs is a new species, Tepuihyla shushupe. The word shushupe is used by native people to refer to the bushmaster. The calls are highly unusual for frogs because they are a loud chuckle resembling the song of a bird. It is still unknown why locals associate the calls of the two species with the bushmaster.

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photo-3Original source:

Ron SR, Venegas PJ, Ortega-Andrade HM, Gagliardi-Urrutia G, Salerno P (2016) Systematics of Ecnomiohyla tuberculosa with the description of a new species and comments on the taxonomy of Trachycephalus typhonius (Anura, Hylidae). ZooKeys 630: 115-154. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.630.9298

Singing in the rain: A new species of rain frog from Manu National Park, Amazonian Peru

A new rain frog species has been described from Amazonian Peru and the Amazonian foothills of the Andes. The frog, given the name Pristimantis pluvialis, was found by researchers from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the University of Michigan, and the National University of San Antonio Abad of Cusco in Peru. The discovery is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Several individuals of P. pluvialis were found during nocturnal surveys near Manu National Park, a region recognized as having the highest diversity of reptiles and amphibians of any protected area.

The species has also been collected within the private conservation area Bosque Nublado, owned by the Peruvian NGO Perú Verde, and within the Huachiperi Haramba Queros Conservation Concession, the first such type of concession granted to a native community in Peru.

The new species is likely found within the park as well, bringing the number of known amphibian species in this area to 156. Similarly to other species within its genus, which is among the largest vertebrate genera, the new rain frog exhibits direct development. This means that it is capable of undergoing its entire life cycle without a free-living tadpole stage.

It can be distinguished from other members of its genus by call, skin texture, and the presence of a rostral papilla. It was given the name “pluvialis”, translatable to “rainy” from Latin, to denote the incredibly rain-soaked habitat it lives in (>8 meters of rain yearly), and because it was found calling only after heavy rains.

Unfortunately, when a fungal disease, known as the amphibian chytrid fungus, arrived in the area back in the early 2000s, many frog species in and around the region began to decline. Out of the studied ten individuals of the presently described new species, four were found to be infected. However, the impact of the disease on these particular rain frogs is still unknown, and their numbers do not seem to have decreased.Image 3

“This discovery highlights the need for increased study throughout the tropics, for example Manu NP and its surrounding areas have been well studied, but despite these efforts, new species are being continuously discovered,” points out first author Alex Shepack, a PhD student in the laboratory of co-author Dr Alessandro Catenazzi at Southern Illinois University.

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Original source:

Shepack A, von May R, Ttito A, Catenazzi A (2016) A new species of Pristimantis (Amphibia, Anura, Craugastoridae) from the foothills of the Andes in Manu National Park, southeastern Peru. ZooKeys 594: 143-164. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.594.8295

Zorro, the new Latin American fish species, takes off the mask to show its true identity

Unidentified since its discovery in 2007, a large fish species from Amazonia has failed to give out enough information about itself, leaving only insufficient hints about its genus. Nevertheless, three scientists have now recovered the missing pieces to puzzle out its mysterious identity. In their study, published in the open-access journal ZooKeys, they describe the fish as a new species and name it after the fictional secretive Latin American character Zorro.

The new fish, called Myloplus zorroi, is commonly known among the Brazilians as ‘pacu’ and is a relative to the piranha. The research team, led by Marcelo C. Andrade, Universidade Federal do Para, Brazil, recognised in a fish, collected by sport fishermen from Rio Madeira basin, Brazil, a previously found, yet undescribed species. Following their analysis, it turned out that its discoverers had assumed an incorrect genus for it.

Among the distinctive features of the new fish, which helped its rightful placement, are its characteristic teeth, specialised to crush seeds.

The new pacu species is quite large, growing up to 47,5 cm. It dwells in moderately to rapidly flowing clear rivers, running over rocky or sandy bottoms, and ranging from about 2 to 8 metres in depth. Its basis colour is reddish silver with darker markings running along the upper side of the body. The head is dark and the belly – pale yellow.

Curiously enough, although the name of the new fish is chosen as a tribute to Mauricio Camargo-Zorro, a researcher at the Instituto Federal de Educacao, Ciencia e Tecnologia, in recognition of his invaluable contribution to the fish fauna inventory from the Marmelos Conservation Area, zorroi is also a playful reference to the Latin American fictional character Don Diego de la Vega and his secret identity hidden behind the nickname of Zorro.

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Original source:

Andrade MC, Jegu M, Giarrizzo T (2016) A new large species of Myloplus (Characiformes, Serrasalmidae) from the Rio Madeira basin, Brazil. ZooKeys 571: 153-167. doi: http://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.571.5983.

Rare Amazonian butterfly named after British national treasure Sir David Attenborough

A beautiful new Black-eyed Satyr species has become the first butterfly named in honour of the popular naturalist and TV presenter Sir David Attenborough. Although not the first animal to be named after the British national treasure, the butterfly is so rare that it is known only from lowland tropical forests of the upper Amazon basin in Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil. The study, conducted by an international team of researchers, led by Andrew F. E. Neild, Natural History Museum, London, and Shinichi Nakahara, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity and Entomology & Nematology Department, University of Florida, is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The presently described Attenborough’s Black-eyed Satyr, scientifically called Euptychia attenboroughi, has such a restricted distribution that all of its known sites lie within 500 kilometres from each other in the north-west of the upper Amazon basin.

Best known for scripting and presenting the BBC Natural History’s ‘Life’ series, Sir David Attenborough is also a multiple winner of the BAFTA award and a president of Butterfly Conservation.

“Other animals and plants have previously been dedicated to Sir David, but it makes us happy and proud to be the first to dedicate a butterfly species in his name,” says Andrew Neild. “Although we are a large team from several countries from across four continents and speaking different languages, we have all been deeply influenced and inspired by Sir David’s fascinating and informative documentaries.”

The butterfly’s atypical wings in comparison to its relatives, have been the reason the scientists took to plenty of diagnostic characters to define its taxonomic placement. The peculiar patterns and morphology initially led the researchers to think the species could be even a new genus.

“It was a surprise for us that DNA data supported inclusion of this new species in the existing genus Euptychia, since this species lacked a distinctive structural character which was considered to be shared by all members of the genus” explains Shinichi Nakahara.

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Original Source:

Neild AFE, Nakahara S, Zacca T, Fratello S, Lamas G, Le Crom J-F, Dolibaina DR, Dias FMS, Casagrande MM, Mielke OHH, Espeland M (2015) Two new species of Euptychia Hübner, 1818 from the upper Amazon basin (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae, Satyrinae). ZooKeys 541: 87-108. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.541.6297