Recent botanical expeditions in Caquetá department (southeastern Colombia) have uncovered the enormous richness of plant species in this region. Research led by W. Trujillo in the Andean foothills has allowed the unveiling of at least 90 species of Piper in the region, highlighting northwestern Amazonia as one of the richest regions for the genus. Here, four new species of Piper new to science are described.
This publication is the result of a collaboration between three institutions and five researchers, each contributing their experience and strengths: main author William Trujillo (Fundación La Palmita), with M. Alejandra Jaramillo (Universidad Militar Nueva Granada), Edwin Trujillo Trujillo, Fausto Ortiz and Diego Toro (Centro de Investigaciones Amazónicas Cesar Augusto Estrada Gonzalez, Universidad de la Amazonia). W. Trujillo, a native of Caquetá, has dedicated the last ten years to the study of Piper species in his department. M. A. Jaramillo has been studying the phylogenetics, ecology and evolution of the genus for more than 20 years. Edwin Trujillo is a local botanist well versed in the flora of Caquetá and the Colombian Amazon. Fausto Ortiz and Diego Toro are trained in plant molecular biology methods and lead this area at Universidad de la Amazonia.
Caquetá is situated where the Andes and the Amazon meet in southern Colombia, in the northwestern Amazon. Several researchers have highlighted the importance of the northwest Amazon for high biodiversity and our lack of knowledge of the region. Fortunately, ongoing studies led by W. Trujillo and E. Trujillo are unveiling the immense diversity of plants in Caquetá, showing the importance of local institutions in the knowledge of Amazonian flora. There are many species in the region yet to be described and discovered. Leadership from local institutions and collaboration with experts are vital to appreciating the great relevance of plants from Caquetá.
Two of the species in this manuscript (Piper indiwasii and Piper nokaidoyitau) bear names inspired by the indigenous tribes that live in Caquetá. The name indiwasii comes from a Quechua word meaning “house of the sun” and is also the name of one of the National Parks where the species lives in southern Colombia. In its turn, nokaidoyitau comes from the Murui language and means “tongue of the toucan,” the way the Murui Indians of the Colombian Amazon call the species of Piper. In fact, local communities rely on these plants for medicinal purposes, using them against inflammations or parasites, or to relieve various ailments.
Furthermore, the other two new species (Piper hoyoscardozii and Piper velae) honor two Amazonian naturalists, the authors’ dear friend Fernando Hoyos Cardozo, and Dr. Vela. Fernando, who was a devoted botanist and companion in W. Trujillo’s botanical expeditions. Dr. Vela, a naturalist and conservation enthusiast who sponsored Trujillo’s trips, was killed in 2020. We miss him immensely. His death is a significant loss for the environment in Caquetá.
The team’s joint effort will continue to describe new species, explore unexplored regions, and inspire new and seasoned researchers to dive into the magnificent diversity of the Colombian Amazon.
Trujillo W, Trujillo ET, Ortiz-Morea FA, Toro DA, Jaramillo MA (2022) New Piper species from the eastern slopes of the Andes in northern South America. PhytoKeys 206: 25–48. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.206.75971
While every Flora publication is an incredibly valuable scientific resource, Vol. 45 is the first in the series to be made available in digital format, following its publication in the open-access journal PhytoKeys
The 45th volume of the Flora of Cameroon pilots a novel “Flora” section in the journal to promote accessibility and novelty in plant taxonomy
Dedicated to Annonaceae, the 45th volume of the Flora of Cameroon is the result of over 15 years of work on the systematics of this major pantropical group, commonly known as the Custard apple family or the Soursop family, and its diversity in one of the most biodiverse African countries, whose flora has remained understudied to this date.
In their publication, the authors: Thomas L. P. Couvreur, Léo-Paul M. J. Dagallier, Francoise Crozier, Jean-Paul Ghogue, Paul H. Hoekstra, Narcisse G. Kamdem, David M. Johnson, Nancy A. Murray and Bonaventure Sonké, describe 166 native taxa representing 163 species in 28 native genera, including 22 species known solely from Cameroon. The team also provides keys to all native genera, species, and infraspecific taxa, while a detailed morphological description and a distributional map are provided for each species.
Amongst the findings featured in the paper is the discovery of a previously unknown species of a rare tree that grows up to 6 metres and is so far only known from two localities in Cameroon. As a result of their extensive study, the authors also report that the country is the one harbouring the highest number of African species for the only pantropical genus of Annonaceae: Xylopia.
While every Flora publication presents an incredibly valuable scientific resource due to its scale and exhaustiveness, what makes Volume 45 of the Flora of Cameroon particularly special and important is that it is the first in the series to be made available in digital format, following its publication in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal PhytoKeys.
As such, it is not only available to anyone, anywhere in the world, but is also easily discoverable and minable online, as it benefits from the technologically advanced publishing services provided by the journal that have been specially designed to open up biodiversity data. While the full-text publication is machine-readable, hence discoverable by search algorithms, various data items, such as nomenclature, descriptions, images and occurrences, are exported in relevant specialised databases (e.g. IPNI, Plazi, Zenodo, GBIF). In their turn, the readers who access the HTML version of the publication may enjoy the benefits of this semantically enriched format, as they navigate easily within the text, and access further information about the mentioned and hyperlinked taxa.
In fact, the Annonaceae contribution is the first to use the newly launched publication type in PhytoKeys: Flora.
Yet, to keep up with the much treasured tradition, the new publication is also available in print format, accompanied by its classic cover design.
When we spoke with the team behind the Flora, we learnt that they are all confident that having the new volume in both print and open-access digital formats, is expected to rekindle the interest in the series, especially amongst younger botanists in Cameroon.
“The hybrid publication is a response to the reluctance to publish new volumes of these series. The hybrid version pioneered in Volume 45, is an opportunity for any scientist to freely access this fundamental work, and eventually use it in future studies. Also, the online and open access format is intended to stimulate botanists to author family treatments without the fear of not having their work published online in an academic journal with an Impact Factor,”
“The chosen format marks a qualitative leap in the presentation of the Flora of Cameroon and will be of interest to young botanists, who until now might have found the old presentation of the Flora unrewarding,” adds Prof. Bonaventure Sonké, last author and Head of the Biology Department of the Université de Yaoundé 1, Cameroon.
As an extensive contribution to a previously understudied area of research, the value of the new publication goes beyond its appreciation amongst plant taxonomists.
“The Flore du Cameroun series is considered as a showcase of the National Herbarium of Cameroon, which promotes knowledge of the flora of Cameroon at all levels. Being able to identify plants and trees is the first and foremost step to addressing the issue of ill-management of forest regions in Cameroon and the Congo Basin as a whole. If planning continues to rely on badly made identification, the forecasts about our resources are not good at all,” says Prof. Jean Betti Largarde, Head of the National Herbarium of Cameroon, and Editor-in-Chief of the Flora of Cameroon.
“Plant taxonomy is the basic discipline for the knowledge, conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity, including animals, plants and habitats. Young Cameroonian botanists, privileged to having such floristic richness in their country, are invited to take an interest in it. This is the field that opens the mind and makes it possible to address all other aspects of botanical research and development in relation to natural resources,”
adds Jean Michel Onana.
Couvreur TLP, Dagallier L-PMJ, Crozier F, Ghogue J-P, Hoekstra PH, Kamdem NG, Johnson DM, Murray NA, Sonké B (2022) Flora of Cameroon – Annonaceae Vol 45. PhytoKeys 207: 1-532. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.207.61432
A group of scientists led by Alejandro Arteaga, grantee of The Explorers Club Discovery Expeditions and researcher at Khamai Foundation, discovered three new cryptozoic (living underground) snakes hidden under graveyards and churches in remote towns in the Andes of Ecuador. The discovery was made official in a study published in the journal ZooKeys. The new snakes, which are small, cylindrical, and rather archaic-looking, were named in honor of institutions or people supporting the exploration and conservation of remote cloud forests in the tropics.
Believe or not, graveyards are also land of the living. In the Andes of Ecuador, they are inhabited by a fossorial group of snakes belonging to the genus Atractus. These ground snakes are the most species-rich snake genus in the world (there are now 150 species known globally), but few people have seen one or even heard about their existence. This is probably because these serpents are shy and generally rare, and they remain hidden throughout most of their lives. Additionally, most of them inhabit remote cloud forests and live buried underground or in deep crevices. In this particular case, however, the new ground snakes where found living among crypts.
The discovery of the three new species took place rather fortuitously and in places where one would probably not expect to find these animals. The Discovery Ground Snake (Atractus discovery) was found hidden underground in a small graveyard in a remote cloud forest town in southeastern Ecuador, whereas the two other new species were found besides an old church and in a small school. All of this seems to suggest that, at least in the Andes, new species of snakes might be lurking just around the corner.
Unfortunately, the coexistence of ground snakes and villagers in the same town is generally bad news for the snakes. The study by Arteaga reports that the majority of the native habitat of the 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 are usually killed on sight.
Diego Piñán, a teacher of the town where one of the new reptiles was found, says: “when I first arrived at El Chaco in 2013, I used to see many dead snakes on the road; others where hit by machetes or with stones. Now, after years of talking about the importance of snakes, both kids and their parents, while still wary of snakes, now appreciate them and protect them.” Fortunately, Diego never threw away the dead snakes he found: he preserved them in alcohol-filled jars and these were later used by Arteaga to describe the species as new to science.
In addition to teaching about the importance of snakes, the process of naming species is important to create awareness about the existence of a new animal and its risk of extinction. In this particular case, two of the new snakes are considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the near future.
The discovery process also provides an opportunity to recognize and honor the work of the people and institutions fighting to protect wildlife.
Atractus discovery was named to honor The Explorers Club Discovery Expedition Grants initiative, a program seeking to foster scientific understanding for the betterment of humanity and all life on Earth and beyond. The grant program supports researchers and explorers from around the world in their quest to mitigate climate change, prevent the extinction of species and cultures, and ensure the health of the Earth and its inhabitants.
Atractus zgap 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. The ZGAP grant program supports the fieldwork of young scientists who are eager to implement and start conservation projects in their home countries.
Atractus michaelsabini was named in honor of a young nature lover, Michael Sabin, grandson of American philanthropist and conservationist Andrew “Andy” Sabin. Through the conservation organization Re:wild, the Sabin family has supported field research of threatened reptiles and has protected thousands of acres of critical habitat throughout the world.
“Naming species is at the core of biology”, says Dr. Juan M. Guayasamin, co-author of the study and a professor at Universidad San Francisco de Quito. “Not a single study is really complete if it is not attached to the name of the species, and most species that share the planet with us are not described.”
“The discovery of these new snakes is only the first step towards a much larger conservation project,” says Arteaga. “Now, thanks to the encouragement of ZGAP, we have already started the process of establishing a nature reserve to protect the ground snakes. This action would not have been possible without first unveiling the existence of these unique and cryptic reptiles, even if it meant momentarily disturbing the peace of the dead in the graveyard where the lived.”
Arteaga A, Quezada A, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (2022) Leaving no stone unturned: three additional new species of Atractus ground snakes (Serpentes, Colubridae) from Ecuador discovered using a biogeographical approach. ZooKeys 1121: 175-210. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1121.89539
As they were collecting cephalopod samples in Dongshan island in China’s Fujian Province, a team of researchers came across an interesting finding: a new-to-science species of octopus.
Actually, locals and fishermen have long been familiar with the species -but they kept mistaking it for a juvenile form of the common long-arm octopus (‘Octopus’ minor), whose trade is widespread throughout the country.
Only when a team of scientists from the Ocean University of China collected a batch of specimens misidentified by locals from Dongshan Seafood Market Pier as ‘O’. minor to study them, did it become apparent that this was in fact a separate, new species. That’s how it got its own name, Callistoctopus xiaohongxu, and a scientific description published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
The scientific name xiaohongxu is a phonetic translation of the local Chinese name of this species in Zhangzhou, where it was collected. It is a reference to its smooth skin and reddish-brown colour, which are among its most distinctive features. At less than 40 g in its adult stage, C. xiaohongxu is considered a small to moderate-sized octopus.
The researchers also note that this is the first new species of the genus Callistoctopus to be found in the China Seas.
More than 130 different cephalopod species are recorded in Chinese waters. Тhe southeast waters of China, due to the influence of strong warm currents, provide ideal environmental conditions to generate abundant marine biodiversity, and the finding of C. xiaohongxu further confirms the high diversity of species in the southeast China sea, the researchers said.
Zheng X, Xu C, Li J (2022) Morphological description and mitochondrial DNA-based phylogenetic placement of a new species of Callistoctopus Taki, 1964 (Cephalopoda, Octopodidae) from the southeast waters of China. ZooKeys 1121: 1-15. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1121.86264
What makes this species so charismatic and loved by aquarists and ichthyologists?
I already spoke about my experience as an aquarist from an early age, where the qualities of the species of the Astronotus genus, known as Oscars are highlighted.
Different varieties and color patterns have been obtained from them through selective breeding, or genetic manipulation, which are called living modified organisms (LMOs) or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
However, the true lovers of nature, the aquarians of the “Biotope Aquarium” movement and the like, prefer pure specimens to manipulated or artificially modified ones. This is why Mikolji’s Oscar is a highly appreciated species in the aquarium hobby. It is more than just a fish in an aquarium since it is considered a true pet.
For ichthyologists, it is remarkably interesting and at the same time very challenging to study a genus like Astronotus, which already has only three described species (Astronotus ocellatus, A. cassiprinnis and A. mikoljii).
This is an unusual situation, which, as we have reported, requires an integrative approach and the work and experience of different specialists for its study. With all certainty, as in the case of Mikolji’s Oscar, other species of the genus Astronotus remain to be studied and described, and we hope that we will have the fortune to participate with our experience in these new works.
Local people have long known this species. What role does it have in their lives?
It is important to clarify that Astronotus 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 was known by the common name of Oscar and scientific name of Astronotus ocellatus, or, to a lesser degree, as Astronotus cassiprinnis.
Much less is it a new species for the nine thousand-year-old indigenous ethnic groups that share their world with the habitat of this fish, who baptized it with some 14 different names, known in their languages as mijsho (Kariña), boisikuajaba (Warao), hácho (Pumé = Yaruro), phadeewa, jadaewa (Ye’Kuana = Makiritare), perewa, parawa (Eñepá = Panare), yawirra (Kúrrim = Kurripako), kohukohurimï, kohokohorimï, owënawë kohoromï” (Yanomami = Yanomamï), eba (Puinave), Itapukunda (Kurripako), uan (Tucano).
Hence, the importance of scientific names, since the same species can have multiple common names, in the same language or in multiple languages.
It is important to note that very few studies that describe new species for science include the common names of the species, as given by the indigenous ethnic groups or natives of the regions, where the species live.
This 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 our studies, in the plains of Orinoco from 30 years ago, we were able to verify its consumption, as well as high gastronomic value, due to its pleasant taste and enhanced texture.
However, due to my imprint as an aquarist, I have not wanted to consume it on the different occasions that it was offered to me, because it is very difficult to eat the beloved pets that we had in our childhood.
Why is this fish important to people and to ecosystems?
It is especially important to highlight that the Astronotus mikoljii species plays a very important role in the ecosystem, due to its biological and ecological background.
Although it can feed from different sources, it is a fundamentally carnivorous species, and therefore, it “controls” other species in the ecosystem.
Without Mikolji’s Oscar, the aquatic ecosystem would lose one of its fundamental links and the delicate balance of its functioning, because the species it feeds on could increase their populations uncontrollably, becoming veritable pests. This would put in great danger the entire future of the aquatic ecosystem of the Orinoco River basin and the permanence of other species of ecological importance.
In addition, it would surely affect other species used by man, both those of commercial importance (sold as food or as ornamental species), and for the subsistence fishing of native and indigenous inhabitants.
Mikolji’s Oscar, although a carnivorous species, also has its natural predators, for example piranhas and other predatory fish. For this reason, it evolved with an ocellus, or false eye, at the base of the caudal fin, to confuse its predators and guarantee its survival. Obviously, this species will be compromised if we don’t learn about it, use its populations wisely and preserve it in the long term.
Oscar Miguel Lasso-Alcalá, MSc. is a Spanish-Venezuelan ichthyologist. This summer, his team described a new species of Oscar fish in the journal ZooKeys.
In this second part of his interview, he tells us about the challenges in his work and shares the story behind the new cichlid’s name.You can find Part 1 of the interview.
What did you find to be the biggest challenge?
Throughout the past seven years, the description of this species has been a real challenge. Our group of researchers knew from the beginning that it was going to be a difficult job. However, we never imagined the magnitude of the problems or challenges we would encounter.
We had to study the specimens from the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela and Colombia, and rivers from the hydrographic basin of the Gulf of Paria in Venezuela, which were within our reach, in the main scientific collections of fishes in Venezuela. Similarly, we studied the specimens from the Amazon River basin in one of the main collections in Brazil. We studied the traditional external morphology (morphometric characters, or the body, and meristic measurements, or the number of structures or parts such as scales, fins, etc.) and their coloration, as well as their internal morphology, that is, the study of structures of their skeleton, with the use of high-definition radiographs, where we found the main differences with other species.
A novel technique was the study of the shape of the otoliths, or “ear stones”, a technique not used before in the study of this group of fish. That is why I mentioned before that we also made some great scientific discoveries.
In addition to the long and meticulous laboratory work, we also had to conduct field work, not only to capture new specimens for the morphological study, but also for the genetic and molecular study, a new methodology that has become popular in recent years as a way to support taxonomy and systematics in the description and classification of species.
For this latest work, we also relied on a recent study in this area of research, carried out by the genetics specialists on our work team. This means our research was based on what is currently called “integrative taxonomy”, which is the sum of different techniques, methods, and technologies, at the service of achieving our goal: the description of a new species for science and for the world.
Many other difficulties came up along the way, which is why this research took over seven years to be published. Normally, researchers cannot focus 100% of their time on one single research, and workloads fluctuate. Sometimes we think that a greater number of specialists would help distribute the workload evenly or that getting input from others with different fields of experience, sometimes specialized, would help enrich the work, but that also makes it more difficult to reach agreement. Reaching perfection is never possible, and it took a long time for us to reach a level of results that was both acceptable to all and well accepted in the field of taxonomy and systematics.
One of the biggest challenges was purely financial. While we had some funds from Brazilian research support organizations and two universities, this was not the case in Venezuela, a country plunged in a serious political, social, economic, and humanitarian crisis.
Working in science in a country under these conditions, and being able to publish your results in high-level scientific journals, including ZooKeys, is an act of “true heroism”, as my brother José Antonio often says when cheering on my publication.
How come you named it after Ivan Mikolji?
People who do not know about the great work carried out by river explorer Ivan Mikolji might wonder about that, but the thousands of people, connoisseurs and followers of his work are absolutely clear on the justification for this appointment.
In addition to being an excellent professional explorer, author, underwater photographer, audiovisual producer and even plastic artist, he is a tireless and enthusiastic disseminator of the biodiversity and natural history of freshwater fish in Venezuela and Colombia.
He has made dozens of photography and art exhibitions in Venezuela, Mexico and the United States, as well as award-winning documentaries on the Orinoco River and its biodiversity that have acquired millions of views.
Mikolji has also inspired thousands of “conservationist” aquarists, as a judge in a worldwide movement called “Biotope Aquariums,” where people try to simulate, as much as possible, the ecosystems and aquatic biodiversity of their places of origin, for the conservation of their local biodiversity.
In addition, his educational work further includes the “Wild Aquarium”, a new movement and methodology, where he recreates in the same place (in situ), a “Biotope aquarium”, helping local communities (children and adults) learn about local aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity and their conservation.
In addition to his great artistic, informative, and educational work, with the enormous data accumulated in more than 15 years of work and field observations, in the recent years, he has participated in different research projects, publishing books and numerous scientific articles, some of them with us. For this reason, in 2020, he was appointed Associate Researcher of the Museo de Historia Natural La Salle (Caracas) of the Fundación La Salle de Ciencias Naturales, in Venezuela. By the way, we are planning research that we hope to announce soon in various publications.
Regarding Astronotus mikoljii, our good friend and now colleague Ivan Mikolji, was the one who initially proposed that we describe this species that he loves so much. He selflessly supported all the authors throughout the study in diverse ways, even in the field work in Venezuela. Ivan helped us in the search for equipment and materials, in the search for information, in the photographic work, and now in the dissemination of this study. For this reason, the article, in just one week, achieved more than 4,500 downloads, both on ZooKeys and ResearchGate web platforms, a true record for a study of this type.
Most importantly, throughout these years, Ivan has always encouraged us not to lose our course and objective, even in the most difficult moments. After years of knowing him, we have cultivated an excellent friendship. This is why we decided that it was just and necessary to recognize his work, help, companionship, and friendship, naming this beautiful and beloved species in his honor.
Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site, lies in the transition zone from the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the Sichuan Basin in Sichuan Province, China, and occupies an area of 651 km2. The reserve is covered with well-preserved original forests, and numerous alpine lakes. Beautiful and picturesque, it is home to some rare animals, such as the Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and Golden Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana).
The herpetological diversity, in contrast to the mammals, is relatively low in the area due to the harsh alpine environment. To find out more about it, and to investigate the post-earthquake ecological system in the region, a group of researchers conducted a series of investigations in Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve. During their herpetological surveys, they collected some specimens of Gloydius, a genus of venomous pit vipers endemic to Asia, from Zharu Valley.
After running morphological and phylogenetic analyses, the scientists found out that these specimens in fact belonged to a yet-to-be-described species.
“The new species is morphologically similar, and phylogenetically closely related to G. swild, another recently described species from Heishui, Aba, Sichuan, but differs from it by having larger eyes (related to the head) and a continuous regular brown stripe on each dorsolateral side of the body,” explained the corresponding author, Dr Jingsong Shi.
“Thus, we named it after its unique color pattern: Gloydius lateralis.”
The newly described snake feeds on small mammals, such as mice, and “is active on sunny days by the roadside in a hot, dry valley”, the researchers write in their study, which was published in the open-access scientific journal ZooKeys.
“The discovery of G. lateralis provides new insights into the diversity and the distribution patterns of Asian pit vipers”, they write, suggesting that the formation of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau might be one of the key factors to the geographical isolation of the alpine pit vipers in southwest China.
Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, where G. lateralis was found, receives millions of tourists every year. “The only known habitat of the new species is Zharu Valley, and it is now under touristic development,” the researchers point out. “Thus, warning signs are still needed to remind visitors to watch out for the venomous pit viper, since this and another pit viper species, Protobothrops jerdonii, are often found in grass or bushes on both sides of roads.”
Snakes’ thermoregulation needs make them more prone to vehicle collisions, which is why the research team highlights the necessity to remind drivers to slow down in order to avoid road killings.
Zhang M-H, Shi S-C, Li C, Yan P, Wang P, Ding L, Du J, Plenković-Moraj A, Jiang J-P, Shi J-S (2022) Exploring cryptic biodiversity in a world heritage site: a new pitviper (Squamata, Viperidae, Crotalinae) from Jiuzhaigou, Aba, Sichuan, China. ZooKeys 1114: 59–76. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1114.79709
In the world of biodiversity science, 2022 started with some great discoveries and a lot of hope. Here at Pensoft, we get to see a new species (or more!) make an appearance into the scientific world almost every day. The diversity is impressive, but what is even more amazing is how much more remains undiscovered.
With the first half of the year already behind us, here are the stellar new species that took the world by storm as soon as we published them.
The magical fairy wrasse
This rainbow-coloured fish is called Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa, or Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse, and it was found in the Maldives’ reefs. It can live 160 to 500 feet beneath the ocean’s surface in unexplored coral ecosystems dubbed “the twilight zone”.
“Nobody knows these waters better than the Maldivian people,” says senior author and Academy Curator of Ichthyology Luiz Rocha. “Our research is stronger when it’s done in collaboration with local researchers and divers.”
Apart from its striking appearance, Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa also gained popularity as the first new-to-science species to be described by a Maldivian scientist.
“It has always been foreign scientists who have described species found in the Maldives, even those that are endemic, without much involvement from local scientists, says study co-author and Maldives Marine Research Institute biologist Ahmed Najeeb. “This time it is different.”
It is also one of the first species to have its name derived from the local Dhivehi language, ‘finifenmaa’ meaning ‘rose’, a nod to both its pink hues and the island nation’s national flower.
This beautiful fish is already being exploited through the aquarium hobbyist trade, a fact described as “unsettling” by the people who discovered it.
How often is it that a millipede makes top news headlines? Well, Nannaria swiftaesure did.
Scientists Derek Hennen, Jackson Means, and Paul Marek, at Virginia Tech, U.S., described the new species in April, naming it after singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. “Her music helped me get through the highs and lows of graduate school, so naming a new millipede species after her is my way of saying thanks,” Derek Hennen says, admitting he has been her fan for years.
N. swiftae joins 16 other new species of twisted-claw millipedes described from the Appalachian Mountains of the United States. To find them, researchers traveled to 17 US states, checking under leaf litter, rocks, and logs. They then sequenced the DNA of the species they found and described them scientifically. They looked at over 1800 specimens collected on their field study or taken from university and museum collections!
These little-known invertebrates are somewhat tricky to catch, because they tend to remain buried in the soil, sometimes staying completely beneath the surface.
Most twisted-claw millipedes live on the forest floor, where they feed on decaying leaves and other plant matter. They also have a valuable role as decomposers: breaking down leaf litter, they release their nutrients into the ecosystem.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has been namesakes with a frog for half a year now. In 2018, Rainforest Trust celebrated its 30th anniversary by hosting an auction offering naming rights for some new-to-science species, including Pristimantis gretathunbergae, a black-eyed rainfrog from in eastern Panama.
The undisclosed auction winner wanted to name the frog in honor of Thunberg and her work in highlighting the urgency in preventing climate change. She has impressed global leaders and her work is drawing others to action for the climate.
The international team that discovered the new rainfrog was led by Abel Batista, Ph.D. (Panama) and Konrad Mebert, Ph.D. (Switzerland). They found the frog on Mount Chucanti, a sky island surrounded by lowland tropical rainforest in eastern Panama. Reaching its habitat in the cloud forest required access via horseback through muddy trails, hiking up steep slopes, by-passing two helicopters that crashed decades ago, and camping above 1000 m elevation.
Unfortunately, the frog’s remaining habitat is severely fragmented and highly threatened by rapid deforestation for plantations and cattle pasture. Rising temperatures are another threat as they could destroy its small mountain habitat. The Mount Chucanti region already has lost more than 30% of its forest cover over the past 10 years, and the scientists insist that conservation of the remaining habitat is critical to ensure the survival of the frog.
Instantly gaining popularity as Chocolate Frog, Synapturanus danta is a curious little frog that was recently discovered in the Peruvian Amazon. Local people had long known about this tiny, burrowing frog with a long snout; one local name for it is rana danta, “tapir frog”, for its resemblance to the large-nosed Amazonian mammal.
“These frogs are really hard to find, and that leads to them being understudied,” says Michelle Thompson, a researcher in the Keller Science Action Center at Chicago’s Field Museum and one of the authors of the study describing the frog. “It’s an example of the Amazon’s hidden diversity, and it’s important to document it to understand how important the ecosystem functions.”
While the frogs are hard to see, they’re not hard to hear. “We just kept hearing this beep-beep-beep coming from underground, and we suspected it could be a new species of burrowing frog,” says Thompson. “But how do we get to it?”
Local guides who were familiar with the frogs led the researchers to peatland areas– wetlands carpeted with nutrient-rich turf made of decaying plant matter. “After 15 to 20 minutes of digging and looking for them, I heard Michelle screaming, and to me that could only mean that she and David had found the first adult,” says Germán Chávez, a researcher at Peru’s Instituto Peruano de Herpetología and the study’s first author.
The researchers used the physical specimens of the frogs, along with the recordings of their calls and an analysis of the frogs’ DNA, to confirm that they were a new species. They named them Synapturanus danta – Synapturanus is the name of the genus they belong to, and danta is the local word for “tapir.”
This magnificent non-venomous snake, previously unknown to science, was discovered in Paraguay. It belongs to the genus Phalotris, a group of snakes from central South America noted for their striking coloration with red, black, and yellow patterns.
Jean-Paul Brouard, one of the involved researchers, came across an individual of the new species by chance while digging a hole at Rancho Laguna Blanca in 2014. Together with his colleagues Paul Smith and Pier Cacciali, he described the discovery, naming the new snake Phalotris shawnella.
The species name recognizes two children – Shawn Ariel Smith Fernández and Ella Bethany Atkinson – who were born in the same year as the Fundación Para La Tierra (2008). They inspired the founders of the NGO to work for the conservation of Paraguayan wildlife, in the hope that their children can inherit a better world.
This new Phalotris snake is particularly attractive and can be distinguished from other related species in its genus by its red head in combination with a yellow collar, a black lateral band and orange ventral scales with irregular black spots.
Only known from three individuals, this species is endemic to the Cerrado forests of the department of San Pedro in east Paraguay. Its extreme rarity led the authors to consider it as “Endangered”, according to the conservation categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means it is in imminent danger of extinction in the absence of measures for its protection.
Public involvement is an important component of many invasive species programmes. Volunteers perform early detection of invasive species, track their spread, and also play active roles in their capture, control and removal. Their involvement helps raise awareness of invasive species and encourages support for their management. Finding, recruiting and retaining a corps of committed volunteers, however, can be a challenge. Understanding the reasons why people participate in invasive species projects is critical for successful volunteer recruitment and the long-term sustainability of volunteer-driven projects.
A multidisciplinary team of invasion biologists and social scientists from the AlienCSI network funded by the COST programme, led by Ana Anđelković, used a meta-synthesis approach to analyze volunteer motivations in the monitoring and control of invasive alien species. They published their study in the open-access journal NeoBiota.
“Citizen participation in invasion monitoring and control is clearly a booming business. Yet almost nothing is known about why volunteers engage in such programmes. We wanted to close that knowledge gap and make recommendations to project managers to keep their volunteer armies engaged, which is often as hard as tackling the invasive species itself. For this, we mined the literature for motivation statements”, explains Anđelković.
Searching through literature, the team found 264 motivations, which they then classified into 15 broader motivations. Generally, motivations fit three broad themes: reflecting environmental concerns, social motivations, and personal reasons.
“Some motivations, such as being in the great outdoors, making friends, taking care of a particular nature reserve, learning something new and having fun, are in line with other forms of environmental volunteering. They apply to many projects where citizen-scientists help to record sightings of invasive species around the world. But volunteers in invasive species projects seem to be unique in their desire to take part in the control and eradication of these species, to protect native biodiversity in the places they value,” says Anđelković.
“For instance, on Scottish seabird islands, people helped remove invasive tree mallow to protect the breeding puffins. In South Africa, volunteers want to rid the unique Fynbos of invasive trees. In some regions of the world people also take part in harvest management for food provision, as is the case with lionfish in the Caribbean or common carp in Australia.”
However, the relative lack of published studies and invasive species projects that have actually measured volunteer motivations was striking. “Motivations change over time and the reasons why people remain active in invasive species management are often not the same as their initial self-reported motivation,” they comment. “Also, the social implications for people taking part in eradication campaigns that involve the killing of invasive animals, or the cutting of trees to prevent the spread of insect pests, are not sufficiently understood.”
In conclusion, the authors call upon researchers and project managers to gather data on participant motivations in collaboration with social scientists, especially when volunteers are also involved in control. This way, projects can be inclusive of diverse groups of people, tailoring tasks and roles to everyone’s interests and capabilities.
Anđelković AA, Lawson Handley L, Marchante E, Adriaens T, Brown PMJ, Tricarico E, Verbrugge LNH (2022) A review of volunteers’ motivations to monitor and control invasive alien species. NeoBiota 73: 153-175. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.73.79636
Ask any scientist — for every “Eureka!” moment, there’s a lot of less-than-glamorous work behind the scenes. Making discoveries about everything from a new species of dinosaur to insights about climate change entails some slogging through seemingly endless data and measurements that can be mind-numbing in large doses.
Community science shares the burden with volunteers who help out, for even just a few minutes, on collecting data and putting it into a format that scientists can use. But the question remains how useful these data actually are for scientists.
A new study, authored by a combination of high school students, undergrads and grad students, and professional scientists showed that when museum-goers did a community science activity in an exhibit, the data they produced were largely accurate, supporting the argument that community science is a viable way to tackle big research projects.
“We were able to combine a small piece of the Field Museum’s vast collections, their scientific knowledge and exhibit creation expertise, the observational skills of biology interns at Northeastern Illinois University (USA), led by our collaborator Tom Campbell, and our Roosevelt University student’s data science expertise. The creation of this set of high-quality data was a true community effort!”
The study focuses on an activity in an exhibition at the Field Museum, in which visitors could partake in a community science project. In the community science activity, museumgoers used a large digital touchscreen to measure the microscopic leaves photographs of plants called liverworts.
These tiny plants, the size of an eyelash, are sensitive to climate change, and they can act like a canary in a coal mine to let scientists know about how climate change is affecting a region. It’s helpful for scientists to know what kinds of liverworts are present in an area, but since the plants are so tiny, it’s hard to tell them apart. The sizes of their leaves (or rather, lobes — these are some of the most ancient land plants on Earth, and they evolved before true leaves had formed) can hint at their species. But it would take ages for any one scientist to measure all the leaves of the specimens in the Field’s collection. Enter the community scientists.
“Drawing a fine line to measure the lobe of a liverwort for a few hours can be mentally strenuous, so it’s great to have community scientists take a few minutes out of their day using fresh eyes to help measure a plant leaf. A few community scientists who’ve helped with classifying acknowledged how exciting it is knowing they are playing a helping hand in scientific discovery,”
says Heaven Wade, a research assistant at the Field Museum who began working on the MicroPlants project as an undergraduate intern.
Community scientists using the digital platform measured thousands of microscopic liverwort leaves over the course of two years.
“At the beginning, we needed to find a way to sort the high quality measurements out from the rest. We didn’t know if there would be kids drawing pictures on the touchscreen instead of measuring leaves or if they’d be able to follow the tutorial as well as the adults did. We also needed to be able to automate a method to determine the accuracy of these higher quality measurements,”
To answer these questions, Pivarski worked with her students at Roosevelt University to analyze the data. They compared measurements taken by the community scientists with measurements done by experts on a couple “test” lobes; based on that proof of concept, they went on to analyze the thousands of other leaf measurements. The results were surprising.
“We were amazed at how wonderfully children did at this task; it was counter to our initial expectations. The majority of measurements were high quality. This allowed my students to create an automated process that produced an accurate set of MicroPlant measurements from the larger dataset,”
The researchers say that the study supports the argument that community science is valuable not just as a teaching tool to get people interested in science, but as a valid means of data collection.
Pivarski M, von Konrat M, Campbell T, Qazi-Lampert AT, Trouille L, Wade H, Davis A, Aburahmeh S, Aguilar J, Alb C, Alferes K, Barker E, Bitikofer K, Boulware KJ, Bruton C, Cao S, Corona Jr. A, Christian C, Demiri K, Evans D, Evans NM, Flavin C, Gillis J, Gogol V, Heublein E, Huang E, Hutchinson J, Jackson C, Jackson OR, Johnson L, Kirihara M, Kivarkis H, Kowalczyk A, Labontu A, Levi B, Lyu I, Martin-Eberhardt S, Mata G, Martinec JL, McDonald B, Mira M, Nguyen M, Nguyen P, Nolimal S, Reese V, Ritchie W, Rodriguez J, Rodriguez Y, Shuler J, Silvestre J, Simpson G, Somarriba G, Ssozi R, Suwa T, Syring C, Thirthamattur N, Thompson K, Vaughn C, Viramontes MR, Wong CS, Wszolek L (2022) People-Powered Research and Experiential Learning: Unravelling Hidden Biodiversity. Research Ideas and Outcomes 8: e83853. https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.8.e83853