Two newly recorded species join Thailand’s aquatic insect fauna

In Thailand, more than 1,000 caddisfly species occur, and a recent study shows that their diversity in the country is even greater than previously suggested.

Caddisflies are an order of aquatic insects with high diversity. In Thailand, more than 1,000 caddisfly species are known to occur, and a recent study in the journal Check Listshows that their diversity in the country is even greater than previously suggested.

Scientists Rungnapa Somnark from Khon Kaen University and Narumon Sangpradub from the Center of Biodiversity Excellence, Chulalongkorn University recorded, for the first time, two caddisfly species that were previously not documented as part of Thailand’s fauna. They were able to catch the insects using black-light traps set up along water streams. The field study took place in the summer of 2017 at Thap Lan National Park, which is a part of Dong Phayayen–Khao Yai Forest Complex, a Natural World Heritage site in the north-eastern Thailand.

The two newly-recorded caddisfly species are Diplectrona erinya, a brown insect previously only known from Tam Dao in Vietnam, and Diplectrona extrema, yellowish-brown in colour and distributed in Borneo, Sumatra, and Java.

They both belong to the genus Diplectrona, which now has 10 documented representatives in Thailand.

The researchers suggest they are probably rare in the country.

“Our study suggests that two newly reported species occur at low densities, which highlights the continuing need for efforts to conserve the [Thap Lan National] park and to conduct more studies on the caddisfly fauna,” they say in conclusion.

Research article:

Somnark R, Sangpradub N (2023) New records of the caddisflies Diplectrona erinya Malicky, 2002 and Diplectrona extrema Banks, 1920 (Trichoptera, Hydropsychidae) from Thailand. Check List 19(1): 13-20. https://doi.org/10.15560/19.1.13

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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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.

Experts in insect taxonomy “threatened by extinction” reveals the first European Red List of Taxonomists

While insect populations continue to decline, taxonomic expertise in Europe is at serious risk, confirms data obtained within the European Red List of Insect Taxonomists, a recent study commissioned by the European Union. 

Expertise tends to be particularly poor in the countries with the richest biodiversity, while taxonomists are predominantly male and ageing

While insect populations continue to decline, taxonomic expertise in Europe is at serious risk, confirms data obtained within the European Red List of Insect Taxonomists, a recent study commissioned by the European Union. 

Scientists who specialise in the identification and discovery of insect species – also known as insect taxonomists – are declining across Europe, highlights the newly released report by CETAF, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Pensoft. The authors of this report represent different perspectives within biodiversity science, including natural history and research institutions, nature conservation, academia and scientific publishing.

Despite the global significance of its taxonomic collections, Europe has been losing taxonomic expertise at such a rate that, at the moment nearly half (41.4%) of the insect orders are not covered by a sufficient number of scientists. If only EU countries are counted, the number looks only slightly more positive (34.5%). Even the four largest insect orders: beetles (Coleoptera), moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera), flies (Diptera) and wasps, bees, ants and sawflies (Hymenoptera) are only adequately ‘covered’ in a fraction of the countries.

To obtain details about the number, location and productivity of insect taxonomists, the team extracted information from thousands of peer-reviewed research articles published in the last decade, queried the most important scientific databases and reached out to over fifty natural science institutions and their networks. Furthermore, a dedicated campaign reached out to individual researchers through multiple communication channels. As a result, more than 1,500 taxonomists responded by filling in a self-declaration survey to provide information about their personal and academic profile, qualification and activities. 

Then, the collected information was assessed against numerical criteria to classify the scientists into categories similar to those used by the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM. In the European List of Insect Taxonomists, these range from Eroded Capacity (equivalent to Extinct) to Adequate Capacity (equivalent to Least Concern). The assessment was applied to the 29 insect orders (i.e. beetles, moths and butterflies etc.) to figure out which insect groups the society, conservation practitioners and decision-makers need not be concerned at this point.

Overview of the taxonomic capacity in European countries based upon the Red List Index (colour gradient goes from red (Eroded Capacity) to green (Adequate Capacity).
Image by the European Red List of Taxonomists consortium.

On a country level, the results showed that Czechia, Germany and Russia demonstrate the most adequate coverage of insect groups. Meanwhile, Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Luxembourg, Latvia, Ireland and Malta turned out to be the ones with insufficient number of taxonomists.

In most cases, the availability of experts seems to correlate to GDP, as wealthiest countries tend to invest more in their scientific institutions.

What is particularly worrying is that the lack of taxonomic expertise is more evident in the countries with the greatest species diversity. This trend may cause even more significant problems in the knowledge and conservation of these species, further aggravating the situation. Thus, the report provides further evidence about a global pattern where the countries richest in biodiversity are also the ones poorest in financial and human resources. 

The research team also reminds that it is European natural history museums that host the largest scientific collections – including insects – brought from all over the globe. As such, Europe is responsible to the world for maintaining taxonomic knowledge and building adequate expert capacity.

Other concerning trends revealed in the new report are that the community of taxonomists is also ageing and – especially in the older groups – male-dominated (82%). 

One reason to have fewer young taxonomists could be due to limited opportunities for professional training (…), and the fact that not all professional taxonomists provide it, as a significant number of taxonomists are employed by museums and their opportunities for interaction with university students is probably not optimal. Gender bias is very likely caused by multiple factors, including fewer opportunities for women to be exposed to taxonomic research and gain an interest, unequal offer of career opportunities and hiring decisions. A fair-playing field for all genders will be crucial to address these shortcomings and close the gap.

comments Ana CasinoCETAF’s Executive Director.

***

Entomologist examining a small insect under a microscope.
Photo by anton_shoshin/stockadobe.com.
The European Red List of Taxonomists concludes with practical recommendations concerning strategic, science and societal priorities, addressed to specific decision-makers.

The authors give practical examples and potential solutions in support of their call to action.

For instance, in order to develop targeted and sustainable funding mechanisms to support taxonomy, they propose the launch of regular targeted Horizon Europe calls to study important insect groups for which taxonomic capacity has been identified to be at a particularly high risk of erosion.

To address specific gaps in expertise – such as the ones reported in the publication from Romania – a country known for its rich insect diversity, yet poor in taxonomic expertise – the consortium proposes the establishment of a natural history museum or entomological research institute that is well-fitted to serve as a taxonomic facility.

Amongst the scientific recommendations, the authors propose measures to ensure better recognition of taxonomic work at a multidisciplinary level. The scientific community, including disciplines that use taxonomic research, such as molecular biology, medicine and agriculture – need to embrace universal standards and rigorous conduct for the correct citation of scientific publications by insect taxonomists.

Societal engagement is another important call. “It is pivotal to widely raise awareness of the value and impact of taxonomy and the work of taxonomists. We must motivate young generations to join the scientific community” points Prof. Lyubomir Penev, Managing Director of Pensoft.

***

Understanding taxonomy is a key to understanding the extinction risk of speciesIf we strategically target the gaps in expert capacity that this European Red List identifies, we can better protect biodiversity and support the well-being and livelihoods of our societies. With the climate crisis at hand, there is no time left to waste,

added David Allen from the IUCN Red List team.

As a dedicated supporter of the IUCN Red List, I am inspired by this call to strengthen the capacity, guided by evidence and proven scientific methods. However, Europe has much more scientific capacity than most biodiversity-rich regions of the world. So, what this report particularly highlights is the need for massively increasing investment in scientific discovery, and building taxonomic expertise, around the world,”  

said Jon Paul Rodríguez, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

***

Follow and join the conversation on Twitter using the #RedListTaxonomists hashtag. 

🥳 Here goes THE title in our New Species Showdown!

From the kingdom of plants, welcome the all-time crowd-favourite species ever described in a Pensoft journal!

Which one is the species that springs to mind when you think about the most awesome discoveries in recent times?

In an age where we more than ever need to appreciate and preserve the magnificent biodiversity inhabiting the Earth, we decided to go for a lighter and fun take on the work of taxonomists that often goes unnoticed by the public. 

From the ocean depths surrounding Indonesia to the foliage of the native forests of Príncipe Island and into the soils of Borneo, we started with 16 species described as new to science in journals published by Pensoft over the years. 

Out of these most amazing creatures, over the past several weeks we sought to find who’s got the greatest fandom by holding a poll on Twitter (you can follow it further down here or via #NewSpeciesShowdown).

Grand Finale – here comes the champion!

Truly, we couldn’t have a more epic final!

The two competitors come from two kingdoms, two opposite sides of the globe, and the “pages” of two journals, namely PhytoKeys and Evolutionary Systematics.

While we need to admit that we ourselves expected to crown an animal as the crowd-favourite, we take the opportunity to congratulate the botanists amongst our fans for the well-deserved win of Nepenthes pudica (see the species description)!

Find more about the curious one-of-a-kind pitcher plant in this blog post, where we announced its discovery following the new species description in PhytoKeys in June 2022:

Back then, N. pudica gave a good sign about its worldwide web appeal, when it broke the all-time record for online popularity in a competition with all plant species described in PhytoKeys over the journal’s 22-year history of taxonomic papers comrpising over 200 issues.

What’s perhaps even more curious, is that there is only one species EVER described in a Pensoft-published journal that has so far triggered more tweets than the pitcher plant, and that species is the animal that has ended up in second place in the New Species Showdown: a tiny amphibian living in Peru, commonly known as the the Amazon Tapir Frog (Synapturanus danta). Which brings us once again to the influence of botanists in taxonomic research.

Read more about its discovery in the blog post from February 2022:

Another thing that struck us during the tournament was that there was only one species described in our flagship journal in systematic journal ZooKeys: the supergiant isopod Bathynomus raksasa, that managed to fight its way to the semi-finals, where it lost against S. danta.

This makes us especially proud with our diverse and competitive journal portfolio full of titles dedicated to biodiversity and taxonomic research!

The rules

Twice a week, @Pensoft would announce a match between two competing species on Twitter using the hashtag #NewSpeciesShowdown, where everyone could vote in the poll for their favourie.

Disclaimer

This competition is for entertainment purposes only. As it was tremendously tough to narrow the list down to only sixteen species, we admit that we left out a lot of spectacular creatures.

To ensure fairness and transparency, we made the selection based on the yearly Altmetric data, which covers articles in our journals published from 2010 onwards and ranks the publications according to their online mentions from across the Web, including news media, blogs and social networks. 

We did our best to diversify the list as much as possible in terms of taxonomic groups. However, due to the visual-centric nature of social media, we gave preference to immediately attractive species.

All battles:

(in chronological order)

Round 1
The first tie of the New Species Showdown was between the olinguito: Bassaricyon neblina (see species description) and the “snow-coated” tussock moth Ivela yini (see species description).
In the second battle, we faced two marine species discovered in the Indian Ocean and described in ZooKeys. The supergiant isopod B. raksasa (see species description) won against the Rose Fariy Wrasse C. finifenmaa (see species description) with strong 75%.
In the third battle, we faced two frog species: the tapir ‘chocolate’ frog described in Evolutionary Systematics (see species description) winning against the ‘glass frog’ described in Zookeys (see species description) with 73%.
With 62% of the votes, the two-species tournament saw the Harryplax severus crab grab the win against another species named after a great wizard from the Harry Potter universe: the Salazar’s pit viper, which was described in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution in 2020. The “unusual” crustacean was described back in 2017 in ZooKeys. As its species characters matched no genus known to date, the species also established the Harryplax genus.
With the fifth battle in the New Species Showdown taking us to the Kingdom of Plants, we enjoyed a great battle between the first pitcher plant found to grow its pitchers underground to dine (see the full study) and the Demon’s orchid, described in 2016 from a single population spread across a dwarf montane forest in southern Colombia (read the study). Both species made the headlines across the news media around the world following their descriptions in our flagship botany journal PhytoKeys.
Next, we saw the primitive dipluran Haplocampa wagnelli (read its species description in Subterranean Biology) – a likely survivor of the Ice Age thanks to the caves of Canada – win the public in a duel against Xuedytes bellus (described in ZooKeys in 2017), also known as the Most cave-adapted trechine beetle in the world!
We had a close battle between the Principe Scops-owl Otus bikegila (see species description published in our ZooKeys earlier in 2022) and the blue-tailed Monitor lizard Varanus semotus (also first ‘known’ from the pages of ZooKeys, 2016). Being adorable species, but also ‘castaways’ on isolated islands in the Atlantic, they made great sensations upon their discovery. In fact, the reptile won with a single vote!
In the last battle of Round 1, the ‘horned’ tarantula C. attonitifer claimed the victory with a strong (80%) advantage from its competitor with a rebel name: the freshwater crayfish C. snowden (species description in ZooKeys from 2015). Described in African Invertebrates in 2019, the arachnid might be one amongst many ‘horned’ baboon spiders, yet there was something quite extraordinary about its odd protuberance. Furthermore, it came to demonstrate how little we know about the fauna of Angola:  a largely underexplored country located at the intersection of several ecoregions.
Round 2 – Quarter-finals
In the first quarter-final round, in the close battle, the isopod ’emerged’ from the ocean depths of Indonesia B. raksasa (species description in Zookeys from 2020) claimed the victory with just a few votes difference (58%!) from its competitor: lovely olinguito B. neblina, also described in Zookeys but back in 2013.
In the second round of the quarter-final, the tapir ‘chocolate’ frog S. danta (described in Evolutionary Systematics this year) claimed the victory with a significant advantage (69%) over its competitor crab H. severus described in Zookeys in 2017.
The third battle in Round 2 secured a place at the semi-finals for the only plant to get this far in the New Species Showdown. If you are dedicated to the mission of proving the plant kingdom superior: keep supporting Nepenthes pudica in the semi-finals and beyond!
In the meantime, read the full description of the species, published in our PhytoKeys in June.
The last quarter-final send the Angolan ‘horned’ tarantula to the next round. Described in African Invertebrates in 2019, its discovery would have likely remained a secret had it not been for the local tribes who provided the research team with crucial information about the curious arachnid.
Round 3 – Semi-finals
Curiously enough, by winning against the ‘supergiant’ isopod B. raksasa – also known around the Internet as the ‘Darth Vader of the seas’ – the Amazonian anuran S. danta outcompetes the last species in the New Species Showdown representing our flagship taxonomy journal: ZooKeys.

The charming anuran was described in February 2022 in Evolutionary Systematics, a journal dedicated to whole-organism biology that we publish on behalf of the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change (LIB).
In a dramatic turn of events, the tight match between the Angolan tarantula C. attonitifer , whose ‘horn’ protruding from its back surprised the scientists because of its unique structure and soft texture, and the first pitcher plant whose ‘traps’ can be found underground in Borneo, ended up with the news that the New Species Showdown will be concluding with a battle between the kingdoms Animalia and Plantae! What a denouement!

The record-breaking plant was described in June 2022 in PhytoKeys: a journal launched by Pensoft in 2010 with the mission to introduce fast, linked and open publishing to plant taxonomy.
THE FINAL
And here we were at the finish line.
But why did we hold the tournament right now?

If you have gone to the Pensoft website at any point in 2022, visited our booth at a conference, or received a newsletter from any of our journals, by this time, you must be well aware that in 2022 – more precisely, on 25 December – we turned 30. And we weren’t afraid to show it!

Pensoft’s team happy to showcase the 30-year story of the company at various events this year.
Left: Maria Kolesnikova at the annual Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG 2022) conference, hosted by Pensoft in Sofia, Bulgaria. Right: Iva Boyadzhieva at the XXVI International Congress of Entomology (ICE 2022) in Helsinki, Finland.

Indeed, 30 is not that big of a number, as many of us adult humans can confirm. Yet, we take pride in reminiscing about what we’ve done over the last three decades. 

The truth is, 30 years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to picture this day, let alone think that we’d be sharing it with all of you: our journal readers, authors, editors and reviewers, collaborators in innovation, project partners, and advisors. 

Long story short, we wanted to do something special and fun to wrap up our anniversary year. While we have been active in various areas, including development of publishing technology concerning open and FAIR access and linkage for research outcomes and underlying data; and multiple EU-supported scientific projects, we have always been associated with our biodiversity journal portfolio.

Besides, who doesn’t like to learn about the latest curious creature that has evaded scientific discovery throughout human history up until our days? 😉

Now, follow the #NewSpeciesShowdown to join the contest!

‘Nature’s Envelope’ – a simple device that reveals the scope and scale of all biological processes

All processes fit into a broad S-shaped envelope extending from the briefest to the most enduring biological events. For the first time, we have the first simple model that depicts the scope and scale of biology.

Arctic tern by Mark Stock, Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park. License: CC BY-SA.

As biology is progressing into a digital age, it is creating new opportunities for discovery. 

Increasingly, information from investigations into aspects of biology from ecology to molecular biology is available in a digital form. Older ‘legacy’ information is being digitized. Together, the digital information is accumulated in databases from which it can be harvested and examined with an increasing array of algorithmic and visualization tools.

From this trend has emerged a vision that, one day, we should be able to analyze any and all aspects of biology in this digital world. 

However, before this can happen, there will need to be an infrastructure that gathers information from ALL sources, reshapes it as standardized data using universal metadata and ontologies, and made freely available for analysis. 

That information also must make its way to trustworthy repositories to guarantee the permanent access to the data in a polished and fully suited for re-use state.

The first layer in the infrastructure is the one that gathers all old and new information, whether it be about the migrations of ocean mammals, the sequence of bases in ribosomal RNA, or the known locations of particular species of ciliated protozoa.

How many of these subdomains will be there?

To answer this, we need to have a sense of the scope and scale of biology.

With the Nature’s Envelope we have, for the first time, a simple model that depicts the scope and scale of biology. Presented as a rhetorical device by its author Dr David J. Patterson (University of Sydney, Australia), the Nature’s Envelope is described in a Forum Paper, published in the open-science journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO).

This is achieved by compiling information about the processes conducted by all living organisms. The processes occur at all levels of organization, from sub-molecular transactions, such as those that underpin nervous impulses, to those within and among plants, animals, fungi, protists and prokaryotes. Further, they are also the actions and reactions of individuals and communities; but also the sum of the interactions that make up an ecosystem; and finally, the consequences of the biosphere as a whole system. 

Nature’s Envelope, in green, includes all processes carried out by, involving, or the result of the activities of any and all organisms. The axes depict the duration of events and the sizes of participants using a log10 scale. Image by David J. Patterson. License: CC BY.

In the Nature’s Envelope, information on sizes of participants and durations of processes from all levels of organization are plotted on a grid. The grid uses a logarithmic (base 10) scale, which has about 21 orders of magnitude of size and 35 orders of magnitude of time. Information on processes ranging from the subatomic, through molecular, cellular, tissue, organismic, species, communities to ecosystems is assigned to the appropriate decadal blocks. 

Examples include movements from the stepping motion of molecules like kinesin that move forward 8 nanometres in about 10 milliseconds; or the migrations of Arctic terns which follow routes of 30,000 km or more from Europe to Antarctica over 3 to 4 months.

The extremes of life processes are determined by the smallest and largest entities to participate, and the briefest and most enduring processes.

The briefest event to be included is the transfer of energy from a photon to a photosynthetic pigment as the photon passes through a chlorophyll molecule several nanometres in width at a speed of 300,000 km per second. That transaction is conducted in about 10-17 seconds. As it involves the smallest subatomic particles, it defines the lower left corner of the grid. 

The most enduring is the process of evolution that has been progressing for almost 4 billion years. The influence of the latter has created the biosphere (the largest living object) and affects the gas content of the atmosphere. This process established the upper right extreme of the grid.

All biological processes fit into a broad S-shaped envelope that includes about half of the decadal blocks in the grid. The envelope drawn round the initial examples is Nature’s Envelope.

Nature’s envelope will be a useful addition to many discussions, whether they deal with the infrastructure that will manage the digital age of biology, or provide the context for education on the diversity and range of processes that living systems engage in.

The version of Nature’s Envelope published in the RIO journal is seen as a first version, to be refined and enhanced through community participation,”

comments Patterson.

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Original source:

Patterson DJ (2022) The scope and scale of the life sciences (‘Nature’s envelope’). Research Ideas and Outcomes 8: e96132. https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.8.e96132

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Follow Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal) on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

Digitising beans to feed the world

In 2018, NHM London’s digitisation team started a project to digitise non-type herbarium material from the legume family. A recent data paper in the Biodiversity Data Journal reports on the outcomes.

You can find the original blog post by the Natural History Museum of London, reposted here with minor edits.

Legumes are a group of plants that include soybeans, peas, chickpeas, peanuts and lentils. They are a significant source of protein, fibre, carbohydrates, and minerals in our diet and some, like the cowpea, are resistant to droughts.

In 2018, the Natural History Museum of London’s (NHM London) digitisation team started a project in collaboration with project leader Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

The project’s outcomes were published in a data paper in the Biodiversity Data Journal. Within the project, the digitisation team aimed to collectively digitise non-type herbarium material from the legume family. This includes rosewood trees (Dalbergia), padauk trees (Pterocarpus) and the Phaseolinae subtribe that contains many of the beans cultivated for human and animal food.

This project was made possible through the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)-allocated Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding, distributed by the UK government in its “global efforts to defeat poverty, tackle instability and create prosperity in developing countries”.

AfricanGuinea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar
AsianBangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, New Guinea and India
Southern and Central AmericanGuatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil
ODA-listed Countries

The legume groups: Dalbergia, Pterocarpus and Phaseolinae,were chosen for digitisation to support the development of dry beans as a sustainable and resilient crop, and to aid conservation and sustainable use of rosewood and padauk trees. Some of these beans, especially cow pea and pigeon pea, are sustainable and resilient crops, as they can be grown in poor-quality soils and are drought stress resistant. This makes them particularly suitable for agricultural production where the growing of other crops would be difficult.

Digitally discoverable herbarium specimens can provide important information about the distribution of individual species, as well as highlighting which species occur naturally together.

While there have been collaborative efforts between herbaria in the past, these have tended to prioritise digitisation of type specimens: the example specimens for which a species is named.

Types are important to identification, but being individual specimens, they don’t offer insights into species distribution over time. By focusing on the non-types across the world and over the last 200 years, we have released a brand-new resource to the global scientific community.

Searching for beans

This collection was digitised by creating an inventory record for each specimen, attaching images of each herbarium sheet, and then transcribing more data and georeferencing the specimens, providing an accurate locality in space and time for their collection. 

We originally had four months and three members of staff to digitise over 11,000 specimens. The Covid-19 lockdown was ironically rather lucky for this project as it enabled us to have more time to transcribe and georeference all of the records. 

say the researchers behind the digitisation project.
Map showing breakdown of records by country.

“We were able to assign country-level data to 10,857 out of the total number of 11,222 records. We were also able to transcribe the collectors’ names from the majority of our specimen labels (10,879 out of 11,222). Only 770 out of the 2,226 individuals identified during this project collected their specimens in ODA listed countries. The highest contributors were: Richard Beddome (130 specimens), Charles Clarke (110), Hans Schlieben (98) and Nathaniel Wallich (79). The breakdown of records by ODA country can be seen in the chart below. “

Map showing breakdown of records by country and pie chart showing distribution by ODA listed countries.

From our data, we can see the peak decade of collection was the 1930s, with almost half (4,583 specimens or 49,43%) collected between 1900 and 1950 (Fig. 10).

This peak can be attributed to three of our most prolific collectors: Arthur Kerr, John Gossweiler and Georges Le Testu, all of whom were most active in the 1930s. The oldest specimen (BM013713473) was collected by Mark Catesby (1683-1749) in the Bahamas in 1726.

they explain.

An interesting, but perhaps unsurprising, finding is that our collection is strongly male-dominated.

There are only two women (Caroline Whitefoord and Ynes Mexia) in the list of our top 50 plant collectors and they are not close to the most prolific collectors.

We identified more women in the rest of our records, but their contribution is on average less than 25 specimens per person in the dataset consisting of more than 10,000 specimens. In contrast, the top five male collectors contributed 10% of our collection. 

they continued

Releasing Rosewoods

Both the Pterocarpus and Dalbergia genera include species that are used as expensive good quality timber that is prone to illegal logging. Many species such as Pterocarpus tinctorius are also listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. By releasing this new resource of information on all these plants from three of the biggest herbaria in the world, we can share this datа with the people who are taking care of biodiversity in these countries. The data can be used to identify hotspots, where the tree is naturally growing and protect these areas. These data would also allow much closer attention to be paid to areas that could be targets for illegal logging activity.

Pterocarpus tinctorius is a species of padauk tree that is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is a food and animal feed crop grown in the semi-arid tropics.

The ODA-listed countries are economically impoverished and disproportionately prone to be disadvantaged with the changing climate whether from flood or drought or increase in temperature.

Using data to identify good, nutritious plant species that can be grown in such conditions can therefore benefit local communities, potentially reducing dependence on imports, aid and on less resilient crops. 

the team adds in conclusion.

***

This dataset is now openly available on the Museum’s Data Portal and a data paper about this work has been released in the Biodiversity Data Journal.

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Leaves and Spines: A new spiny-tailed leaf-toed gecko from the unexplored coastal savanna of Angola

A random survey in a poorly explored region of the southern Benguela Province of Angola, led to the discovery of a unique new spiny-tailed leaf-toed gecko.

Guest blog post by Javier Lobon-Rovira

After the long, hard days of fieldwork in the arid coastal region of southern Angola, Angolan researcher Pedro Vaz Pinto and his enthusiastic son Afonso, found the best spot to spend the night before heading back home. In the area of Carivo, every night was different: after four visits to this unique place, a different gecko species always showed up to add to the growing species list.

On a random night in August 2021, they went for a routine night walks and came across this unique gecko. In shock, Pedro immediately started sharing photos with the coauthors, Werner and Javier. “Guys, I think I found a new Kolekanos” he said.

Kolekanos is a unique and iconic gecko genus in Africa and more specifically only known from southwestern Angola. Kolekanos plumicaudus was described by one of the most recognized herpetologists in Africa, the late Wulf Haacke (1936– 2021).

Feather-tailed Kolekanos was at that point a monotypic genus (only one species in the genus), known only from ~200km south of the new discovery. Immediately, we all knew that what we were looking in that photo was something different from the known K. plumicaudus. “It is a Kolekanos… but, those are spines in the tail, not feathers…” was one of the most common reactions that night. So, we started planning our next trip to the area.

Three months later we were back at Carivo, now focusing on finding more specimens of that unique gecko. After only one hour, we spotted at least six specimens among the semi-dessert vegetations and rocks. At that moment, all doubt went away. The behavior and habitat of the new gecko was completely distinctive in comparison with K. plumicaudus.

Then, with our goal achieved and based on the big success of the first night, we planned to go back through different areas to explore some of the most remote regions in Northern Namibe and southern Benguela provinces. After two days driving on impossible roads, the team reached Ekongo. 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. 

This study, now published in the journal ZooKeys, also highlights how poorly explored and understood some regions of Angola remain, even as it has been considered as an important source of diversification and endemism in West Africa.

One Biodiversity Knowledge Hub to link them all: BiCIKL 2nd General Assembly

The FAIR Data Place – the key and final product of the partnership – is meant to provide scientists with all types of biodiversity data “at their fingertips”

The Horizon 2020 – funded project BiCIKL has reached its halfway stage and the partners gathered in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) from the 22nd to the 25th of October for the Second General Assembly, organised by Pensoft

The BiCIKL project will launch a new European community of key research infrastructures, researchers, citizen scientists and other stakeholders in the biodiversity and life sciences based on open science practices through access to data, tools and services.

BiCIKL’s goal is to create a centralised place to connect all key biodiversity data by interlinking 15 research infrastructures and their databases. The 3-year European Commission-supported initiative kicked off in 2021 and involves 14 key natural history institutions from 10 European countries.

BiCIKL is keeping pace as expected with 16 out of the 48 final deliverables already submitted, another 9 currently in progress/under review and due in a few days. Meanwhile, 21 out of the 48 milestones have been successfully achieved.

Prof. Lyubomir Penev (BiCIKL’s project coordinator Prof. Lyubomir Penev and CEO and founder of Pensoft) opens the 2nd General Assembly of BiCIKL in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

The hybrid format of the meeting enabled a wider range of participants, which resulted in robust discussions on the next steps of the project, such as the implementation of additional technical features of the FAIR Data Place (FAIR being an abbreviation for Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable).

This FAIR Data Place online platform – the key and final product of the partnership and the BiCIKL initiative – is meant to provide scientists with all types of biodiversity data “at their fingertips”.

This data includes biodiversity information, such as detailed images, DNA, physiology and past studies concerning a specific species and its ‘relatives’, to name a few. Currently, the issue is that all those types of biodiversity data have so far been scattered across various databases, which in turn have been missing meaningful and efficient interconnectedness.

Additionally, the FAIR Data Place, developed within the BiCIKL project, is to give researchers access to plenty of training modules to guide them through the different services.

Halfway through the duration of BiCIKL, the project is at a turning point, where crucial discussions between the partners are playing a central role in the refinement of the FAIR Data Place design. Most importantly, they are tasked with ensuring that their technologies work efficiently with each other, in order to seamlessly exchange, update and share the biodiversity data every one of them is collecting and taking care of.

By Year 3 of the BiCIKL project, the partners agree, when those infrastructures and databases become efficiently interconnected to each other, scientists studying the Earth’s biodiversity across the world will be in a much better position to build on existing research and improve the way and the pace at which nature is being explored and understood. At the end of the day, knowledge is the stepping stone for the preservation of biodiversity and humankind itself.


“Needless to say, it’s an honour and a pleasure to be the coordinator of such an amazing team spanning as many as 14 partnering natural history and biodiversity research institutions from across Europe, but also involving many global long-year collaborators and their infrastructures, such as Wikidata, GBIF, TDWG, Catalogue of Life to name a few,”

said BiCIKL’s project coordinator Prof. Lyubomir Penev, CEO and founder of Pensoft.

“I see our meeting in Plovdiv as a practical demonstration of our eagerness and commitment to tackle the long-standing and technically complex challenge of breaking down the silos in the biodiversity data domain. It is time to start building freeways between all biodiversity data, across (digital) space, time and data types. After the last three days that we spent together in inspirational and productive discussions, I am as confident as ever that we are close to providing scientists with much more straightforward routes to not only generate more biodiversity data, but also build on the already existing knowledge to form new hypotheses and information ready to use by decision- and policy-makers. One cannot stress enough how important the role of biodiversity data is in preserving life on Earth. These data are indeed the groundwork for all that we know about the natural world”  

Prof. Lyubomir Penev added.
Christos Arvanitidis (CEO of LifeWatch ERIC) at the 2nd General Assembly of the BiCIKL project.

Christos Arvanitidis, CEO of LifeWatch ERIC, added:

“The point is: do we want an integrated structure or do we prefer federated structures? What are the pros and cons of the two options? It’s essential to keep the community united and allied because we can’t afford any information loss and the stakeholders should feel at home with the Project and the Biodiversity Knowledge Hub.”


Joe Miller, Executive Secretary and Director at GBIF, commented:

“We are a brand new community, and we are in the middle of the growth process. We would like to already have answers, but it’s good to have this kind of robust discussion to build on a good basis. We must find the best solution to have linkages between infrastructures and be able to maintain them in the future because the Biodiversity Knowledge Hub is the location to gather the community around best practices, data and guidelines on how to use the BiCIKL services… In order to engage even more partners to fill the eventual gaps in our knowledge.”


Joana Pauperio (biodiversity curator at EMBL-EBI) at the 2nd General Assembly of the BiCIKL project.

“BiCIKL is leading data infrastructure communities through some exciting and important developments”  

said Dr Guy Cochrane, Team Leader for Data Coordination and Archiving and Head of the European Nucleotide Archive at EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI).

“In an era of biodiversity change and loss, leveraging scientific data fully will allow the world to catalogue what we have now, to track and understand how things are changing and to build the tools that we will use to conserve or remediate. The challenge is that the data come from many streams – molecular biology, taxonomy, natural history collections, biodiversity observation – that need to be connected and intersected to allow scientists and others to ask real questions about the data. In its first year, BiCIKL has made some key advances to rise to this challenge,”

he added.

Deborah Paul, Chair of the Biodiversity Information Standards – TDWG said:

“As a partner, we, at the Biodiversity Information Standards – TDWG, are very enthusiastic that our standards are implemented in BiCIKL and serve to link biodiversity data. We know that joining forces and working together is crucial to building efficient infrastructures and sharing knowledge.”


The project will go on with the first Round Table of experts in December and the publications of the projects who participated in the Open Call and will be founded at the beginning of the next year.

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Learn more about BiCIKL on the project’s website at: bicikl-project.eu

Follow BiCIKL Project on Twitter and Facebook. Join the conversation on Twitter at #BiCIKL_H2020.

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All BiCIKL project partners:

#TDWG2022 recap: TDWG and Pensoft welcomed 400 biodiversity information experts from 41 countries in Sofia

For the 37th time, experts from across the world to share and discuss the latest developments surrounding biodiversity data and how they are being gathered, used, shared and integrated across time, space and disciplines.

Between 17th and 21st October, about 400 scientists and experts took part in a hybrid meeting dedicated to the development, use and maintenance of biodiversity data, technologies, and standards across the world.

This year, the conference was hosted by Pensoft in collaboration with the National Museum of Natural History (Bulgaria) and the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Science. It ran under the theme “Stronger Together: Standards for linking biodiversity data”.

For the 37th time, the global scientific and educational association Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) brought together experts from all over the globe to share and discuss the latest developments surrounding biodiversity data and how they are being gathered, used, shared and integrated across time, space and disciplines.

This was the first time the event happened in a hybrid format. It was attended by 160 people on-site, while another 235 people joined online. 

The TDWG 2022 conference saw plenty of networking and engaging discussions with as many as 160 on-site attendees and another 235 people, who joined the event remotely.

The conference abstracts, submitted by the event’s speakers ahead of the meeting, provide a sneak peek into their presentations and are all publicly available in the TDWG journal Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS).

“It’s wonderful to be in the Balkans and Bulgaria for our Biodiversity Information and Standards (TDWG) 2022 conference! Everyone’s been so welcoming and thoughtfully engaged in conversations about biodiversity information and how we can all collaborate, contribute and benefit,”

said Deborah Paul, Chair of TDWG, a biodiversity informatics specialist and community liaison at the University of Illinois, Prairie Research Institute‘s Illinois Natural History Survey and also an active participant in the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), the Entomological Collections Network (ECN), ICEDIG, the Research Data Alliance (RDA), and The Carpentries.

“Our TDWG mission is to create, maintain and promote the use of open, community-driven standards to enable sharing and use of biodiversity data for all,”

she added.
Prof Lyubomir Penev (Pensoft) and Deborah Paul (TDWG) at TDWG 2022.

“We are proud to have been selected to be the hosts of this year’s TDWG annual conference and are definitely happy to have joined and observed so many active experts network and share their know-how and future plans with each other, so that they can collaborate and make further progress in the way scientists and informaticians work with biodiversity information,”  

said Pensoft’s founder and CEO Prof. Lyubomir Penev.

“As a publisher of multiple globally renowned scientific journals and books in the field of biodiversity and ecology, at Pensoft we assume it to be our responsibility to be amongst the first to implement those standards and good practices, and serve as an example in the scholarly publishing world. Let me remind you that it is the scientific publications that present the most reliable knowledge the world and science has, due to the scrutiny and rigour in the review process they undergo before seeing the light of day,”

he added.

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In a nutshell, the main task and dedication of the TDWG association is to develop and maintain standards and data-sharing protocols that support the infrastructures (e.g., The Global Biodiversity Information Facility – GBIF), which aggregate and facilitate use of these data, in order to inform and expand humanity’s knowledge about life on Earth.

It is the goal of everyone at TDWG to let scientists interested in the world’s biodiversity to do their work efficiently and in a manner that can be understood, shared and reused.

It is the goal of everyone volunteering their time and expertise to TDWG to enable the scientists interested in the world’s biodiversity to do their work efficiently and in a manner that can be understood, shared and reused by others. After all, biodiversity data underlie everything we know about the natural world.

If there are optimised and universal standards in the way researchers store and disseminate biodiversity data, all those biodiversity scientists will be able to find, access and use the knowledge in their own work much more easily. As a result, they will be much better positioned to contribute new knowledge that will later be used in nature and ecosystem conservation by key decision-makers.

On Monday, the event opened with welcoming speeches by Deborah Paul and Prof. Lyubomir Penev in their roles of the Chair of TDWG and the main host of this year’s conference, respectively.

The opening ceremony continued with a keynote speech by Prof. Pavel Stoev, Director of the Natural History Museum of Sofia and co-host of TDWG 2022. 

Prof. Pavel Stoev (Natural History Museum of Sofia) with a presentation about the known and unknown biodiversity of Bulgaria during the opening plenary session of TDWG 2022.

He walked the participants through the fascinating biodiversity of Bulgaria, but also the worrying trends in the country associated with declining taxonomic expertise. 

He finished his talk with a beam of hope by sharing about the recently established national unit of DiSSCo, whose aim – even if a tad too optimistic – is to digitise one million natural history items in four years, of which 250,000 with photographs. So far, one year into the project, the Bulgarian team has managed to digitise more than 32,000 specimens and provide images to 10,000 specimens.

The plenary session concluded with a keynote presentation by renowned ichthyologist and biodiversity data manager Dr. Richard L. Pyle, who is also a manager of ZooBank – the key international database for newly described species.

Keynote presentation by Dr Richard L. Pyle (Bishop Museum, USA) at the opening plenary session of TDWG 2022.

In his talk, he highlighted the gaps in the ways taxonomy is being used, thereby impeding biodiversity research and cutting off a lot of opportunities for timely scientific progress.

“There are simple things we can do to change how we use taxonomy as a tool that would dramatically improve our ability to conduct science and understand biodiversity. There is enormous value and utility within existing databases around the world to understand biodiversity, how threatened it is, what impacts human activity has (especially climate change), and how to optimise the protection and preservation of biodiversity,”

he said in an interview for a joint interview by the Bulgarian News Agency and Pensoft.

“But we do not have easy access to much of this information because the different databases are not well integrated. Taxonomy offers us the best opportunity to connect this information together, to answer important questions about biodiversity that we have never been able to answer before. The reason meetings like this are so important is that they bring people together to discuss ways of using modern informatics to greatly increase the power of the data we already have, and prioritise how we fill the gaps in data that exist. Taxonomy, and especially taxonomic data integration, is a very important part of the solution.”

Pyle also commented on the work in progress at ZooBank ten years into the platform’s existence and its role in the next (fifth) edition of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, which is currently being developed by the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). 

“We already know that ZooBank will play a more important role in the next edition of the Code than it has for these past ten years, so this is exactly the right time to be planning new services for ZooBank. Improvements at ZooBank will include things like better user-interfaces on the web to make it easier and faster to use ZooBank, better data services to make it easier for publishers to add content to ZooBank as part of their publication workflow, additional information about nomenclature and taxonomy that will both support the next edition of the Code, and also help taxonomists get their jobs done more efficiently and effectively. Conferences like the TDWG one are critical for helping to define what the next version of ZooBank will look like, and what it will do.”

***

During the week, the conference participants had the opportunity to enjoy a total of 140 presentations; as well as multiple social activities, including a field trip to Rila Monastery and a traditional Bulgarian dinner.

TDWG 2022 conference participants document their species observations on their way to Rila Monastery.

While going about the conference venue and field trip localities, the attendees were also actively uploading their species observations made during their stay in Bulgaria on iNaturalist in a TDWG2022-dedicated BioBlitz. The challenge concluded with a total of 635 observations and 228 successfully identified species.

Amongst the social activities going on during TDWG 2022 was a BioBlitz, where the conference participants could uploade their observations made in Bulgaria on iNaturalist and help each other successfully identify the specimens.

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In his interview for the Bulgarian News Agency and Pensoft, Dr Vincent Smith, Head of the Informatics Division at the Natural History Museum, London (United Kingdom), co-founder of DiSSCo, the Distributed System of Scientific Collections, and the Editor-in-Chief of Biodiversity Data Journal, commented: 

“Biodiversity provides the support systems for all life on Earth. Yet the natural world is in peril, and we face biodiversity and climate emergencies. The consequences of these include accelerating extinction, increased risk from zoonotic disease, degradation of natural capital, loss of sustainable livelihoods in many of the poorest yet most biodiverse countries of the world, challenges with food security, water scarcity and natural disasters, and the associated challenges of mass migration and social conflicts.

Solutions to these problems can be found in the data associated with natural science collections. DiSSCo is a partnership of the institutions that digitise their collections to harness their potential. By bringing them together in a distributed, interoperable research infrastructure, we are making them physically and digitally open, accessible, and usable for all forms of research and innovation. 

At present rates, digitising all of the UK collection – which holds more than 130 million specimens collected from across the globe and is being taken care of by over 90 institutions – is likely to take many decades, but new technologies like machine learning and computer vision are dramatically reducing the time it will take, and we are presently exploring how robotics can be applied to accelerate our work.”

Dr Vincent Smith, Head of the Informatics Division at the Natural History Museum, London, co-founder of DiSSCo, and Editor-in-Chief of Biodiversity Data Journal at the TDWG 2022 conference.

In his turn, Dr Donat Agosti, CEO and Managing director at Plazi – a not-for-profit organisation supporting and promoting the development of persistent and openly accessible digital taxonomic literature – said:

“All the data about biodiversity is in our libraries, that include over 500 million pages, and everyday new publications are being added. No person can read all this, but machines allow us to mine this huge, very rich source of data. We do not know how many species we know, because we cannot analyse with all the scientists in this library, nor can we follow new publications. Thus, we do not have the best possible information to explore and protect our biological environment.”

Dr Donat Agosti demonstrating the importance of publishing biodiversity data in a structured and semantically enhanced format in one of his presentations at TDWG 2022.

***

At the closing plenary session, Gail Kampmeier – TDWG Executive member and one of the first zoologists to join TDWG in 1996 – joined via Zoom to walk the conference attendees through the 37-year history of the association, originally named the Taxonomic Databases Working Group, but later transformed to Biodiversity Information Standards, as it expanded its activities to the whole range of biodiversity data. 

“While this presentation is about TDWG’s history as an organisation, its focus will be on the heart of TDWG: its people. We would like to show how the organisation has evolved in terms of gender balance, inclusivity actions, and our engagement to promote and enhance diversity at all levels. But more importantly, where do we—as a community—want to go in the future?”,

reads the conference abstract of her colleague at TDWG Dr Visotheary Ung (CNRS-MNHN) and herself.

Then, in the final talk of the session, Deborah Paul took to the stage to present the progress and key achievements by the association from 2022.

She gave a special shout-out to the TDWG journal: Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS), where for the 6th consecutive year, the participants of the annual conference submitted and published their conference abstracts ahead of the event. 

Deborah Paul reminds that – apart from the conference abstracts – the TDWG journal: Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS) also welcomes full-lenght articles that demonstrate the development or application of new methods and approaches in biodiversity informatics.

Launched in 2017 on the Pensoft’s publishing platform ARPHA, the journal provides the quite unique and innovative opportunity to have both abstracts and full-length research papers published in a modern, technologically-advanced scholarly journal. In her speech, Deborah Paul reminded that BISS journal welcomes research articles that demonstrate the development or application of new methods and approaches in biodiversity informatics in the form of case studies.

Amongst the achievements of TDWG and its community, a special place was reserved for the Horizon 2020-funded BiCIKL project (abbreviation for Biodiversity Community Integrated Knowledge Library), involving many of the association’s members. 

Having started in 2021, the 3-year project, coordinated by Pensoft, brings together 14 partnering institutions from 10 countries, and 15 biodiversity under the common goal to create a centralised place to connect all key biodiversity data by interlinking a total of 15 research infrastructures and their databases.

Deborah Paul also reported on the progress of the Horizon 2020-funded project BiCIKL, which involves many of the TDWG members. BiCIKL’s goal is to create a centralised place to connect all key biodiversity data by interlinking 15 key research infrastructures and their databases.

In fact, following the week-long TDWG 2022 conference in Sofia, a good many of the participants set off straight for another Bulgarian city and another event hosted by Pensoft. The Second General Assembly of BiCIKL took place between 22nd and 24th October in Plovdiv.

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You can also explore highlights and live tweets from TDWG 2022 on Twitter via #TDWG2022.
The Pensoft team at TDWG 2022 were happy to become the hosts of the 37th TDWG conference.