MAkiNg Technology work for moNitoring polliNAtors: Pensoft joins ANTENNA

Pensoft is to maximise the project’s impact by informing stakeholders about results and raising public awareness about pollinators.

Pensoft joins the newly funded Biodiversa+ project ANTENNA focused on making technology work for monitoring pollinators and is tasked with the communication, dissemination and exploitation activities. 

The overarching goal of ANTENNA is to fill key monitoring gaps through advancing innovative technologies that will underpin and complement EU-wide pollinator monitoring schemes, and to provide tested transnational pipelines from monitoring activities to curated datasets and enhanced indicators that support pollinator-relevant policy and end-users.

The ANTENNA project answers the BiodivMon call, which was launched in September 2022 by Biodiversa+ in collaboration with the European Commission. The BiodivMon call sought proposals for three-year research projects to improve transnational monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystem change, emphasising innovation and harmonisation of biodiversity data collection and management methodologies, addressing knowledge gaps on biodiversity status and trends to combat biodiversity loss, and the effective use of existing biodiversity monitoring data. 

Supporting the work of Work Package #5: “Project coordination, and communication”, Pensoft is dedicated to maximising the project’s impact by employing a mix of channels to inform stakeholders about the results from ANTENNA and raise public awareness about pollinators.

Pensoft is also tasked with creating and maintaining a clear and recognisable project brand, promotional materials, website, social network profiles, internal communication platform, and online libraries. Another key responsibility is the development, implementation and regular updates of the project’s communication, dissemination and exploitation plans, that ANTENNA is set to follow for the next four years.

On 14-15 March 2024, ANTENNA held its official kick off meeting. Project partners came together in Halle, Germany for two days to outline objectives, discuss strategies, and set the groundwork for this venture.

Specifically, the combined expertise of the consortium will address the following objectives:

  1. Advance automated sample sorting and image recognition tools from individual prototypes to systems that can be adopted by practitioners
  2. Expand pollinator monitoring to under-researched pollinator taxa, ecosystems, and pressures
  3. Quantify the added value of novel monitoring systems in comparison and combination with ‘traditional’ methods in terms of cost effectiveness
  4. Provide a framework for integrative monitoring by combining multiple data streams and. The framework will also support the development of near real-time forecasting models as bases for early warning systems;
  5. Upscale local demonstrations into the implementation of large-scale transnational pipelines and provide context-specific guidance to the use of policy-makers and other users who might need to select monitoring methods and indicators.

Consortium*:

  1. Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Germany
  2. Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Netherlands
  3. Aarhus University, Denmark
  4. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Spain
  5. University of the Aegean, Greece
  6. Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain
  7. Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

*Pensoft Publishers is a subcontractor tasked by the UFZ with multiple communication, dissemination and exploitation activities as part of Work Package 5.


Stay up to date with the ANTENNA project’s progress on X/Twitter (@ANTENNA_project) and LinkedIn (/antenna-project).

Top-lane crab: new species named after League of Legends character

The ‘furry’ crustacean is the latest discovery to be given a video-game-inspired name.

Species of the crab family Xanthidae go by many names: gorilla crabs, mud crabs, pebble crabs, rubble crabs – the list goes on. But when it was time to name a tiny, ‘furry’ new species from China, researchers drew unlikely inspiration from the video game League of Legends.

Gothus teemo was named after the character Teemo from the immensely popular MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) thanks to its distinctive appearance.

Two images of a small white-and-brown crab species besides Teemo from League of Legends.
Gothus teemo male holotype (left), Teemo (right).

Loosely resembling a raccoon, Teemo is small and fluffy with a brown and white intermingled fur coat. The new species’ small size, densely covered short setae (bristles), and brown-striped colouration quickly drew comparisons.

Published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution, the discovery was made during an expedition to the coral reefs of the South China Sea. There researchers discovered the new species in the Xisha Islands (Paracel Islands) and Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands).

An illustration of the crab species Gothus teemo. It is black with brown patterning.
Illustration of Gothus teemo by by Fei Gao.

The team collected specimens while scuba diving, photographing them and conserving them for further study. The specimens are now housed at the Marine Biological Museum, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Qingdao, China.

This new-to-science crab represents not only a new species, but also an entirely new genus. Sticking to a theme, researchers named the genus after a game – albeit one created 2,500 years before League of Legends!

The boardgame Go. Black and white counters on a a wooden box with a grid pattern.
The ancient Chinese board game, Go.

They chose the name Gothus for the genus, drawing inspiration from the ancient Chinese strategy board game, Go. The name alludes to the intermingled black and white patterns on the carapace of Gothus species, beneath which lie circular granules resembling the pieces of the game.

As part of their study, the researchers suggested the reclassification of the species Actaea consobrina into the genus Gothus. This reclassification was based on both morphological and molecular evidence.

A white crab with balck and orange dots.
Actaea consobrina, proposed as Gothus consobrina.

Gothus teemo is by no means the only new species named after a video game character. Just last week, we shared a story from our Biodiversity Data Journal about a blind spider named after the Monster Hunter character Khezu – check out the story below!

Gothus teemo is yet another reminder that countless unknown creatures are just waiting to be discovered. The coral reefs of the South China Sea continue to be a rich source of new and fascinating species. And, who knows, perhaps there’s a Gothus tristana out there, too.

Original source

Yuan Z-M, Jiang W, Sha Z-L (2024) Morphological and molecular evidence for Gothus teemo gen. et sp. nov., a new xanthid crab (Crustacea, Brachyura, Xanthoidea) from coral reefs in the South China Sea, with a review of the taxonomy of Actaeodes consobrinus (A. Milne-Edwards, 1867). Zoosystematics and Evolution 100(3): 965-987. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.100.117859

Follow Zoosystematics and Evolution on X and Facebook for more!

Monster Hunter in real life: eyeless spider named after video game monstrosity

Discovered in China, the cave-dwelling arachnid was assigned a rather unflattering species name.

Deep within a cave in the Du’an Yao Autonomous County of Guangxi, China, researchers discovered a pale, eyeless spider unknown to science.

This discovery, detailed in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal adds a remarkable member to the Otacilia genus. And, as is often the case, the scientist behind the revelation turned to popular culture to name the new species.

They settled on Otacilia khezu.

A close-up shot of the face Khezu from Monster Hunter at night. It is a wwyvern with no eyes and many teeth.
Khezu in Monster Hunter.

The Khezu wyvern features in the popular video game series Monster Hunter. It is known for its blindness and unsettling appearance, just like newly discovered species. By naming the spider Otacilia khezu, the researchers highlight its troglobitic – or cave-dwelling – nature, particularly the complete absence of its eyes.

“Its long, elastic neck stretching out while it clings to a wall or the ceiling is a sight straight out of a nightmare. Make sure you do not get overwhelmed by its horrific appearance.”

Khezu description, Monster Hunter Wiki.

Otacilia khezu, like many troglobitic creatures, lacks eyes and pigmentation, has elongated appendages, and has developed heightened sensory adaptations to navigate and thrive in its dark environment.

A pale eyeless spider on a cave floor.
Otacilia khezu juvenile, in life. Photo: Shanmi Zheng.

The research team led by Yejie Li,  Langfang Normal University, note the significance of the discovery, as it marks the first recorded troglobitic Otacilia species in China. Prior to this, only two troglobitic Otacilia species had been identified, both in Laos. 

The species is one of many spiders named after influential fictional characters. In fact, one spider was named after a character and the actor playing him.

The documentation and publication of this new species set the stage for further studies on the ecological roles of troglobitic spiders and their evolutionary adaptations.

Chinese civillians can rest assured that Otacilia khezu is considerably less dangerous than its namesake when they keep an eye out for the eyeless arachnid.

Original source:

Lin Y, Chen H, Wang X, Li S (2024) Otacilia khezu sp. nov., a new troglobitic spider (Araneae, Phrurolithidae) from Guangxi, China. Biodiversity Data Journal 12: e126716. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.12.e126716

Follow Biodiversity Data Journal on Facebook and X.

Pensoft at the 7th European Congress of Conservation Biology as a publisher and Horizon project partner

At the Pensoft’s stand, delegates learned about the scientific publisher’s versatile open-access journal portfolio, as well as related publishing services and the Horizon project where Pensoft is a partner.

Between 17th and 22nd June 2024, Pensoft’s scholarly publishing and project teams joined the European Congress of Conservation Biology (ECCB), organised by the Society for Conservation Biology and hosted by the University of Bologna.

Here’s a fun fact: the University of Bologna is the oldest one still in operation in the world. It is also etched in history for being the first institution to award degrees of higher learning.  

This year, the annual event themed “Biodiversity positive by 2030” took place in the stunning Italian city of Bologna famous for its historical and cultural heritage, in a way building a bridge between the past of European civilisation and the future, which is now in our hands.

***

At the Pensoft’s stand, delegates learned about the scientific publisher’s versatile open-access journal portfolio of over 30 journals covering the fields of ecology and biodiversity, as well as other related services and products offered by Pensoft, including the end-to-end full-featured scholarly publishing platform ARPHA, which hosts and powers all Pensoft journals, in addition to dozens other academic outlets owned by learned societies, natural history museums and other academic institutions.

In addition to its convenient collaborative online environment, user interface and automated export/import workflows, what ARPHA’s clients enjoy perhaps the most, are the various human-provided services that come with the platform, including graphic and web design, assistance in journal indexing, typesetting, copyediting and science communication.

Visitors at the stand could also be heard chatting with Pensoft’s Head of Journal development, Marketing and PR: Iva Boyadzhieva about the publisher’s innovative solutions for permanent preservation and far-reaching dissemination and communication of academic outputs that do not match the traditional research article format.

For example, the Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO) journal was launched in 2015 by Pensoft as an open-science journal that would publish ‘unconventional’ research outputs, such as Grant proposals, Policy briefs, Project reports, Data management plans, Research ideas etc. Its project-branded open-science collections are in fact one of the Pensoft’s products that enjoys particular attention to participants in scientific projects funded by the likes of the European Commission’s Horizon programme.

Another innovation by Pensoft that easily becomes a talking point at forums like ECCB, is the ARPHA Conference Abstract (ACA) platform, which is basically a journal for conference abstracts, where abstracts are treated and published much like regular journal articles (a.k.a. ‘mini papers’) to enable permanent preservation, but also accessibility, discoverability and citability. Furthermore, ACA has been designed to act as an abstracts submission portal, where the abstracts undergo review and receive feedback before being published and indexed at dozens of relevant scientific databases.

***

At ECCB 2024, our team was also happy to meet in person many authors and editors, whose work has frequented the pages of journals like Nature Conservation, Biodiversity Data Journal, ZooKeys and NeoBiota, to name a few.

On Wednesday, delegates also got a chance to hear the talk by renowned vegetation ecologist at the ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences and Editor-in-Chief at the Vegetation Classification and Survey journal: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Dengler. He presented findings and conclusions concerning neophytes in Switzerland, while drawing comparisons with other European countries and regions.

***

At this year’s ECCB, Pensoft took a stand as an active Horizon project participant too. At the publisher’s booth, the delegates could explore various project outputs produced within REST-COAST, SpongeBoost and BioAgora. Each of these initiatives has been selected by the European Commission to work on the mitigation of biodiversity decline, while aiming for sustainable ecosystems throughout the Old continent.

In all three projects, Pensoft is a consortium member, who contributes with expertise in science communication, dissemination, stakeholder engagement and technological development.

Coordinated by the Catalonia University of Technology UPC-BarcelonaTech and involving over 30 European institutions, REST-COAST has been working on developing tools to address key challenges to coastal ecosystems – all consequences of a long history of environmental degradation of our rivers and coasts.

Having started earlier this year, SpongeBoost is to build upon existing solutions and their large-scale implementation by implementing innovative approaches to improve the functional capacity of sponge landscapes. The project is coordinated by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and will be developed with the active participation of 10 partnering institutions from seven countries across Europe. 

In the meantime, since 2022, the five-year BioAgora project has been working towards setting up the Science Service for Biodiversity platform, which will turn into an efficient forum for dialogue between scientists, policy actors and other knowledge holders. BioAgora is a joint initiative, which brings together 22 partners from 13 European countries led by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE).

***

Still, REST-COAST, SpongeBoost and BioAgora were not the only Horizon projects involving Pensoft that made an appearance at ECCB this year thanks to the Pensoft team. 

On behalf of OBSGESSION – another Horizon-funded project, Nikola Ganchev, Communications officer at Pensoft, presented a poster about the recently started project. Until the end of 2027, the OBSGESSION project, also led by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) and involving a total of 12 partnering organisations, will be tasked with the integration of different biodiversity data sources, including Earth Observation, in-situ research, and ecological models. Eventually, these will all be made into a comprehensive product for biodiversity management in both terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. 

On Tuesday evening, the CO-OP4CBD (abbreviation for Co-operation for the Convention on Biological Diversity) team: another Horizon Europe project, where Pensoft contributes with expertise in science communication and dissemination, held a workshop dedicated to what needs to be done to promote CBD activities in Central and Eastern Europe.

On the next day, scientists from the EuropaBON consortium: another project involving Pensoft that had concluded only about a month ago, held a session to report on the final conclusions from the project concerning the state and progress in biodiversity monitoring.

***

You can find the detailed scientific programme of this year’s ECCB on the congress’ website. 

Use the #ECCB2024 hashtag on X (formerly Twitter) to relive highlights from the ECCB congress. 

Cute but deadly: a new velvet worm species from Ecuador

The so-called “living fossil” shoots a sticky substance from a pair of glands to trap its prey.

Researchers have described a remarkable new species of velvet worm from the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Take a look below:

Oroperipatus tiputini.
Credit: Roberto J. León, Archive Universidad San Francisco de Quito USFQ.

While the Tiputini velvet worm (Oroperipatus tiputini) may look friendly, it is an accomplished hunter that shoots a sticky substance from a pair of glands to trap its prey.

However, lead author Jorge Montalvo from the USFQ Museum of Zoology, notes that the species also has a softer side, with the mother taking care of her considerably lighter-coloured young after they are born.

Adult female velvet worm with her offspring on a leaf.
Adult female with her offspring.

Velvet worms, also known as onychophorans or peripatus, are rare and unique invertebrates often referred to as “living fossils” because they evolved over 500 million years ago, long before the appearance of dinosaurs.

Currently, only about 240 velvet worm species are known, inhabiting tropical regions in the Americas, southern Chile, Africa, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and New Zealand.

Adult velvet worm on a leaf.
Oroperipatus tiputini.
Pedro Peñaherrera-R., Archive Universidad San Francisco de Quito USFQ

Published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution, the discovery was more than 20 years in the making. It also represented the first study of Ecuadorian velvet worms for over 100 years.

“The research on this new species took several decades. I discovered the first individual of this new species in 2001, and we finally managed to describe it as part of Jorge Montalvo’s graduation thesis, who is now my colleague at the Museum of Zoology at USFQ. To complete the description, we used not only macromorphological descriptions but also high-magnification images obtained with a scanning electron microscope.”

Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia, one of the authors and director of the USFQ Museum of Zoology, Ecuador.

The researchers named the species after the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS), part of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve. The name recognises the hard work of the station’s management, research, and field team in protecting biodiversity.

Map of Ecuador showing the location of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station.
Map of Ecuador showing the location of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (white square), type locality of Oroperipatus tiputini sp. nov., in the Amazonian lowlands.

The description of the Tiputini velvet worm raises the total number of described velvet worm species in Ecuador to seven. This species is the first from the Ecuadorian Amazon lowlands and the third in the western Amazon.

Original source

Montalvo-Salazar JL, Bejarano ML, Valarezo A, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2024) A new species of velvet worm of the genus Oroperipatus (Onychophora, Peripatidae) from western Amazonia. Zoosystematics and Evolution 100(3): 779-789. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.100.117952

Follow Zoosystematics and Evolution on X and Facebook for more!

Brand new computer language describes organismal traits to create computable species descriptions

Describing traits with Phenoscript is like programming a computer code for how an organism looks.

The beetle species Grebennikovius basilewskyi. Numbers next to arrows indicate patterns of phenotype statements explained in the section “Phenoscript: main patterns of phenotype statements”. Arrow numbers from T1 to T5 illustrate individual body parts. See more in the research study.

One of the most beautiful aspects of Nature is the endless variety of shapes, colours and behaviours exhibited by organisms. These traits help organisms survive and find mates, like how a male peacock’s colourful tail attracts females or his wings allow him to fly away from danger. Understanding traits is crucial for biologists, who study them to learn how organisms evolve and adapt to different environments.

To do this, scientists first need to describe these traits in words, like saying a peacock’s tail is “vibrant, iridescent, and ornate”. This approach works for small studies, but when looking at hundreds or even millions of different animals or plants, it’s impossible for the human brain to keep track of everything.

Computers could help, but not even the latest AI technology is able to grasp human language to the extent needed by biologists. This hampers research significantly because, although scientists can handle large volumes of DNA data, linking this information to physical traits is still very difficult.

To solve this problem, researchers from the Finnish Museum of Natural History, Giulio Montanaro and Sergei Tarasov, along with collaborators, have created a special language called Phenoscript. This language is designed to describe traits in a way that both humans and computers can understand. Describing traits with Phenoscript is like programming a computer code for how an organism looks.

Phenoscript uses something called semantic technology, which helps computers understand the meaning behind words, much like how modern search engines know the difference between the fruit “apple” and the tech company “Apple” based on the context of your search.

“This language is still being tested, but it shows a lot of promise. As more scientists start using Phenoscript, it will revolutionise biology by making vast amounts of trait data available for large-scale studies, boosting the emerging field of phenomics,”

explains Montanaro.

In their research article, newly published in the open-access, peer-reviewed Biodiversity Data Journal, the researchers make use of the new language for the first time, as they create semantic phenotypes for four species of dung beetles from the genus Grebennikovius. Then, to demonstrate the power of the semantic approach, they apply simple semantic queries to the generated phenotypic descriptions. 

Finally, the team takes a look yet further ahead into modernising the way scientists work with species information. Their next aim is to integrate semantic species descriptions with the concept of nanopublications, “which encapsulates discrete pieces of information into a comprehensive knowledge graph”. As a result, data that has become part of this graph can be queried directly, thereby ensuring that it remains Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR) through a variety of semantic resources.

***

Research paper:

Montanaro G, Balhoff JP, Girón JC, Söderholm M, Tarasov S (2024) Computable species descriptions and nanopublications: applying ontology-based technologies to dung beetles (Coleoptera, Scarabaeinae). Biodiversity Data Journal 12: e121562. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.12.e121562

***

The hereby study is the latest addition to the special topical collection: “Linking FAIR biodiversity data through publications: The BiCIKL approach”, launched and supported by the recently concluded Horizon 2020 project: Biodiversity Community Integrated Knowledge Library (BiCIKL). The collection aims to bring together scientific publications that demonstrate the advantages and novel approaches in accessing and (re-)using linked biodiversity data.

***

What expert recommendations did the BiCIKL consortium give to policy makers and research funders to ensure that biodiversity data is FAIR, linked, open and, indeed, future-proof? Find out in the blog post summarising key lessons learnt from the Horizon 2020 project.

***

Follow Biodiversity Data Journal on Facebook and X.

¡Que Vive Centinela! A tiny new plant species reaffirms the “miraculous” survival of Western Ecuador’s ravished biodiversity

The discovery represents an inspiration for biodiversity conservation in an area the scientific community assumed to be a barren agricultural landscape of plant extinctions.

A new 5 cm-high plant species has been discovered on the western Andean slopes of Ecuador in an area where scientists once believed a rich diversity of native plants and animals had been totally destroyed.

John L. Clark with Amalophyllon miraculum. Credit @phinaea on Instagram.

The tiny plant, with iridescent foliage and white ephemeral flowers, was found in a farmer’s backyard during ongoing collaborative research expeditions in western Ecuador, led by teams of Ecuadorian and international researchers.

The expeditions resulted in the rediscovery of small forest fragments in a legendary hotspot known as Centinela. Selby Gardens research botanist, John L. Clark is the lead author of the article describing the new species in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal PhytoKeys.

The forest fragments are less than 20 miles from Santo Domingo, a major city of more than 300,000 people. Each fragment of Centinela is an isolated biodiversity island surrounded by large swaths of agricultural landscape largely devoid of forest.

Small purple plant leaf held between thumb and index finger.
Amalophyllon miraculum leaf.

A seminal publication titled “Biological extinction in western Ecuador” brought attention to the rapid loss of rainforest in western Ecuador. It was authored by the late botanists Alwyn Gentry and Calaway Dodson, Selby Gardens’ first Executive Director, whose research inspired names such as Gasteranthus extinctus in recognition of the loss of more than 70-97% of rainforests from the western Ecuadorian lowlands due to agriculture.

This discovery, amongst others, has shattered the preconception that the multitudes of life in the region had vanished entirely. The name Amalophyllon miraculum reflects the “miracle” of its discovery in the unexpected fragments of protected forests.

“The heroic efforts of local landowners who maintained small patches of forests – usually surrounding waterfalls – were instrumental in conserving these remnant forest fragments,” Clark says.

Ongoing conservation initiatives by foundations and academic institutions such as the Ecuadorian conservation NGO Fundación de Conservación Jocotoco and the Jardín Botánico Padre Julio Marrero (JBJM) of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador are also crucial to protecting the areas.

Original source:

Clark JL, Fernández A, Zapata JN, Restrepo-Villarroel C, White DM, Pitman NCA (2024) Amalophyllon miraculum (Gesneriaceae), an exceptionally small lithophilous new species from the western Andean slopes of Ecuador. PhytoKeys 242: 307–316. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.242.118069

***

Follow PhytoKeys on Facebook and X.

Captivating blue-colored ant discovered in India’s remote Siang Valley

It was named Paraparatrechina neela, after the word “neela”, which means blue in various Indian languages.

Nothing like the common red, black, or brown ants, a stunning blue ant has been discovered from Yingku village in Arunachal Pradesh, northeastern India. This new species belongs to the rare genus Paraparatrechina and has been named Paraparatrechina neela. The word “neela” signifies the color blue in most Indian languages – a fitting tribute to the ant’s unique coloration.

Entomologists Dr. Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan and Sahanashree R, from Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in Bengaluru, along with Aswaj Punnath from the University of Florida, collaborated to describe the remarkable new species. Their scientific description of the ant is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Paraparatrechina neela. Photo by Sahanashree R

“While exploring a tree hole about 10 feet up in a steep cattle track in the remote Yinku village one evening, something sparkled in the twilight. With the dim light available, two insects were sucked into an aspirator. To our surprise, we later found they were ants” said the researchers.

The ant was found during an expedition to Siang valley in Arunachal Pradesh to resurvey its biodiversity after the century-old ‘Abhor expedition’. The original Abor expedition from the period of colonial rule in India was a punitive military expedition against the indigenous people there in 1911-1912. A scientific team also accompanied the military expedition, to document the natural history and geography of the Siang Valley. Тhis expedition encountered several challenges, including hostile terrain, difficult weather conditions, and resistance from local tribes. Despite the challenges, it managed to explore and map large parts of the Siang Valley region, cataloguing every plant, frog, lizard, fish, bird & mammal and insects they found, with the discoveries published in several volumes from 1912 to 1922 in the Records of the Indian Museum.

A view of Suabg Valley. Photo by Ranjith AP

Now, a century later, a team of researchers  from ATREE and a documentation team from Felis Creations Bangalore have embarked on a series of expeditions under the banner “Siang Expedition”, to resurvey and document the biodiver­sity of the region. This expedition was funded by the National Geographic Society through the wild­life-conservation expedition grant.

“Nestled within a Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, Arunachal Pradesh’s Siang Valley presents a world of unparalleled diversity, much of it yet to be explored. However, this very richness, both cultural and ecological, faces unprecedented threats. Large-scale infrastructure projects like dams, highways, and military installations, along with climate change, are rapidly altering the valley. The impact extends beyond the valley itself, as these mountains play a critical role not only in sustaining their own diverse ecosystems but also in ensuring the well-being of millions of people living downstream”, said Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan, corresponding author of the paper.

Paraparatrechina neela is a small ant with a total length of less than 2mm. Its body is predominantly metallic blue, except for the antennae, mandibles, and legs. The head is subtriangular with large eyes, and has a triangular mouthpart (mandible) featuring five teeth. This species has a distinct metallic blue colour that is different from any other species in its genus.

Paraparatrechina neela. Photo by Sahanashree R

Blue is relatively rare in the animal kingdom. Various groups of vertebrates, including fish, frogs, and birds, as well as invertebrates such as spiders and flies and wasps, showcase blue coloration. In insects, it is often produced by the arrangement of biological photonic nanostructures, which create structural colours rather than being caused by pigments. While blue coloration is commonly observed in some insects like butterflies, beetles, bees, and wasps, it is relatively rare in ants. Out of the 16,724 known species and subspecies of ants worldwide, only a few exhibit blue coloration or iridescence.

The discovery of Paraparatrechina neela contributes to the richness of ant diversity and represents the unique biodiversity of the Eastern Himalayas, and its blue coloration raises intriguing questions. Does it help in communication, camouflage, or other ecological interactions? Delving into the evolution of this conspicuous coloration and its connections to elevation and the biology of Paraparatrechina neela presents an exciting avenue for research.

Research article:
Sahanashree R, Punnath A, Rajan Priyadarsanan D (2024) A remarkable new species of Paraparatrechina Donisthorpe (1947) (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, Formicinae) from the Eastern Himalayas, India. ZooKeys 1203: 159-172. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1203.114168

Snake in a ski mask: a striking new species from the Arabian Peninsula

The stylish serpent is dubbed “the missing piece of the puzzle” as it fills a large distribution gap for its genus.

Researchers have discovered a new distinctive and secretive snake species in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia.

Rhynchocalamus hejazicus is a small snake bearing a black collar and reddish colouration. A completely black variation of of the species known as a ‘melanistic morphotype’ was also discovered.

A black snake on stony ground.
Melanistic morphotype of Rhynchocalamus hejazicus.

The snake’s genus Rhynchocalamus previously had a large distribution gap, stretching between the Levant and coastal regions of Yemen and Oman. However, the new species is widely distributed between these areas, prompting the research team to dub it “the missing piece of the puzzle.”

Distribution map of the new species showing the location of the material examined in this study. Various areas in western Saudi Arabia are marked.
Distribution of Rhynchocalamus hejazicus, showing the location of the material examined in the study.

The international team led by scientists from the Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos (CIBIO), Portugal, and Charles University, Czech Republic, published their discovery in Zoosystematics and Evolution, an open-access journal published by Pensoft on behalf of Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.

Rhynchocalamus hejazicus inhabits sandy and stony soils with varying vegetation cover and is found in habitats disturbed by humans, suggesting the species should not be categorised as threatened according to IUCN criteria.

Three images of habitats. The first is a barren desert landscape with sparse trees and rocks scattered throughout. The second is a dry desert scene featuring a small number of trees and rocks. The third is an arid landscape with a handful of trees and rocks in view.
Habitats of the holotype and two paratype specimens of R. hejazicus.

The species’ natural history and behaviour remain unclear, and further monitoring and conservation efforts are necessary to better understand its ecological dynamics. However, it appears that Rhynchocalamus hejazicus is predominantly nocturnal as all encountered individuals were active at night.

“The discovery of a new species of snake widespread in the central-western regions of Saudi Arabia is surprising and gives rise to the hope that more undiscovered species might be present in the Kingdom,” the authors say.

Orange snake with black collar and nose colouration on sandy ground.
Rhynchocalamus hejazicus.

Most observations of the new species are the result of intense sampling efforts in a vast area around the ancient Arabic oasis city of AlUla, fostered by the Royal Commission for AlUla, Saudi Arabia, which is pushing forward scientific activities and explorations to promote conservation in the region. Recent research in Saudi Arabia has led to fruitful collaborations and findings like this study, to which many experts from multiple teams contributed significantly.

The discovery of such a distinctive snake highlights the existing gap in knowledge of rare and secretive species, and the need to enhance sampling efforts and monitoring strategies to fully capture species diversity in unexplored areas.

Original source

Licata F, Pola L, Šmíd J, Ibrahim AA, Liz AV, Santos B, Patkó L, Abdulkareem A, Gonçalves DV, AlShammari AM, Busais S, Egan DM, Ramalho RMO, Smithson J, Brito JC (2024) The missing piece of the puzzle: A new and widespread species of the genus Rhynchocalamus Günther, 1864 (Squamata, Colubridae) from the Arabian Peninsula. Zoosystematics and Evolution 100(2): 691-704. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.100.123441

Follow Zoosystematics and Evolution on X and Facebook for more!

How to ensure biodiversity data are FAIR, linked, open and future-proof?

Now concluded Horizon 2020-funded project BiCIKL shares lessons learned with policy-makers and research funders

Within the Biodiversity Community Integrated Knowledge Library (BiCIKL) project, 14 European institutions from ten countries, spent the last three years elaborating on services and high-tech digital tools, in order to improve the findability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability (FAIR-ness) of various types of data about the world’s biodiversity. These types of data include peer-reviewed scientific literature, occurrence records, natural history collections, DNA data and more.

By ensuring all those data are readily available and efficiently interlinked to each other, the project consortium’s intention is to provide better tools to the scientific community, so that it can more rapidly and effectively study, assess, monitor and preserve Earth’s biological diversity in line with the objectives of the likes of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the European Green Deal. Their targets require openly available, precise and harmonised data to underpin the design of effective measures for restoration and conservation, reminds the BiCIKL consortium.

Since 2021, the project partners at BiCIKL have been working together to elaborate existing workflows and links, as well as create brand new ones, so that their data resources, platforms and tools can seamlessly communicate with each other, thereby taking the burden off the shoulders of scientists and letting them focus on their actual mission: paving the way to healthy and sustainable ecosystems across Europe and beyond.

Now that the three-year project is officially over, the wider scientific community is yet to reap the fruits of the consortium’s efforts. In fact, the end of the BiCIKL project marks the actual beginning of a European- and global-wide revolution in the way biodiversity scientists access, use and produce data. It is time for the research community, as well as all actors involved in the study of biodiversity and the implementation of regulations necessary to protect and preserve it, to embrace the lessons learned, adopt the good practices identified and build on the knowledge in existence.

This is why amongst the BiCIKL’s major final research outputs, there are two Policy Briefs meant to summarise and highlight important recommendations addressed to key policy makers, research institutions and funders of research. After all, it is the regulatory bodies that are best equipped to share and implement best practices and guidelines.

Most recently, the BiCIKL consortium published two particularly important policy briefs, both addressed to the likes of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment; the European Environment Agency; the Joint Research Centre; as well as science and policy interface platforms, such as the EU Biodiversity Platform; and also organisations and programmes, e.g. Biodiversa+ and EuropaBON, which are engaged in biodiversity monitoring, protection and restoration. The policy briefs are also to be of particular use to national research funds in the European Union.

One of the newly published policy briefs, titled “Uniting FAIR data through interlinked, machine-actionable infrastructures”, highlights the potential benefits derived from enhanced connectivity and interoperability among various types of biodiversity data. The publication includes a list of recommendations addressed to policy-makers, as well as nine key action points. Understandably, amongst the main themes are those of wider international cooperation; inclusivity and collaboration at scale; standardisation and bringing science and policy closer to industry. Another major outcome of the BiCIKL project: the Biodiversity Knowledge Hub portal is noted as central to many of these objectives and tasks in its role of a knowledge broker that will continue to be maintained and updated with additional FAIR data-compliant services as a living legacy of the collaborative efforts at BiCIKL.

The second policy brief, titled “Liberate the power of biodiversity literature as FAIR digital objects”, shares key actions that can liberate data published in non-machine actionable formats and non-interoperable platforms, so that those data can also be efficiently accessed and used; as well as ways to publish future data according to the best FAIR and linked data practices. The recommendations highlighted in the policy brief intend to support decision-making in Europe; expedite research by making biodiversity data immediately and globally accessible; provide curated data ready to use by AI applications; and bridge gaps in the life cycle of research data through digital-born data. Several new and innovative workflows, linkages and integrative mechanisms and services developed within BiCIKL are mentioned as key advancements created to access and disseminate data available from scientific literature. 

While all policy briefs and factsheets – both primarily targeted at non-expert decision-makers who play a central role in biodiversity research and conservation efforts – are openly and freely available on the project’s website, the most important contributions were published as permanent scientific records in a BiCIKL-branded dedicated collection in the peer-reviewed open-science journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO). There, the policy briefs are provided as both a ready-to-print document (available as supplementary material) and an extensive academic publication.

Currently, the collection: “Towards interlinked FAIR biodiversity knowledge: The BiCIKL perspective” in the RIO journal contains 60 publications, including policy briefs, project reports, methods papers, conference abstracts, demonstrating and highlighting key milestones and project outcomes from along the BiCIKL’s journey in the last three years. The collection also features over 15 scientific publications authored by people not necessarily involved in BiCIKL, but whose research uses linked open data and tools created in BiCIKL. Their publications were published in a dedicated article collection in the Biodiversity Data Journal.

***

Visit the Biodiversity Community Integrated Knowledge Library (BiCIKL) project’s website at: https://bicikl-project.eu/.

Don’t forget to also explore the Biodiversity Knowledge Hub (BKH) for yourself at: https://biodiversityknowledgehub.eu/ and watch the BKH’s introduction video

Highlights from the BiCIKL project are also accessible on Twitter/X from the project’s hashtag: #BiCIKL_H2020 and handle: @BiCIKL_H2020.