The owls beyond the Andes: Divergence between distant populations suggests new species

They might be looking quite identical, while perched above humanised farmlands and grasslands across several continents, but each of the populations of two owl species, living in the opposite hemispheres, might actually turn out to be yet another kind. This suggestion has been made by Dr. Nelson Colihueque and his team from Universidad de Los Lagos, Chile, based on new genetic divergence analyses of the Common Barn and the Short-eared Owl populations from southern Chile and comparing them with those from other geographic areas. The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Although much has been known about the two widespread owl species, the knowledge about them has so far been restricted mainly to aspects such as their diet, conservation status and habitats. On the other hand, their genetic divergence in comparison with populations in distant areas has received little attention. Moreover, their taxonomical status is still based on traditional identification rather than modern methods such as the herein utilised mitochondrial COI sequencing.

Thus, the Chilean research team concluded a significant genetic divergence among the populations of both species from a few distinctive groups. In the case of the Common Barn Owl they compared the new analysis of its South American representatives with already available such data about populations from North America, Northern Europe and Australasia. For the Short-eared Owl, they compared Chilean and Argentinean birds with North American and North Asian.

One of the reasons behind such an evolutionary divergence might be the geographic isolation, experienced by the peripheral South American populations of both owl species. It is a consequence of the Andean Mountains acting as a natural barrier.

“In the case of the Common Barn Owl, the existence of geographic barriers to gene flow among populations on different continents is to be expected, and this in combination with its non-migratory or short-distance migratory behaviour, should contribute to promote the genetic divergence,” further explain the authors.

In conclusion, the researchers call for additional studies to clarify the taxonomic identification of these owl populations.

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Original source:

Colihueque N, Gantz A, Rau JR, Parraguez M (2015) Genetic divergence analysis of the Common Barn Owl Tyto alba (Scopoli, 1769) and the Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus (Pontoppidan, 1763) from southern Chile using COI sequence. ZooKeys 534: 135-146. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.534.5953

Immaculate white: New moth species preferring dry habitats is a rare case for Florida

Spreading its wings over the sandhills and scrub of peninsular Florida, a moth species with immaculately white wings has remained unnoticed by science until Mr. Terhune Dickel brought it to the attention of Dr. James Hayden of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. As a result of their research, published in the open-access journal ZooKeys, the authors have also included a key to facilitate the recognition of different pale-winged moths and their close relatives.

With its taste for much drier habitats such as the sandhills of peninsular Florida, the new species, called Antaeotricha floridella, is a noteworthy case among the moths and butterflies. This kind of endemism is, however, quite common among other groups of insects and spineless animals.

Initially confused with another very similar and widely distributed species, called Antaeotricha albulella, the herein described moth was found to be actually quite different when dissected by co-author Terhune Dickel.

After Mr. Dickel showed specimens to Dr. Hayden, they noticed that its forewings are immaculately white, unlike those of its close relatives within the pale-coloured endemics for the New World. Their wings tend to differ in colouration on a species level and are often spotted, however minute these contrasting patterns might be. While the new species has its forewings always in snow-white on the upper side and its hindwings – in pale gray, its kin, A. albulella, has either one or two black spots of black on its own forewings and white or pale-gray hindwings.

Currently, not much is known about the new moth species’ feeding habits. The evergreen sand live oak is the only plant that it has so far been confirmed to feed on. However, the researchers do not exclude the possibility that the new species could use a wider variety of oaks as hosts.

The occurrence of the moth exclusively in the dry areas of peninsular Florida fits an ecological pattern, and it is likely that more species, currently assigned under incorrect names, will be found in the state’s sandhills and scrub.

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Original source:

Hayden JE, Dickel TS (2015) A new Antaeotricha species from Florida sandhills and scrub (Lepidoptera, Depressariidae, Stenomatinae). ZooKeys 533: 133-150. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.533.6004

The first long-haired ones: New wasp group proposed for 5 new species from India

Long accustomed to parasitising spider eggs, a large worldwide genus of wasps has as few as 24 known representatives in India. However, Dr. Veenakumari, ICAR-National Bureau of Agricultural Insect Resources, and her team have recently discovered five new species of these interesting wasps from different parts of the country. Because of their uniqueness and their strong resemblance to each other, as well to aid taxonomic studies they have been considered as constituting a group of their own. The discoveries and the suggestion of ‘the first long-haired ones’ species group are available in the open-access journal Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift.

Among the unique features that bring together the new five species, discovered by Drs. Veenakumari Kamalanathan, Prashanth Mohanraj and F. R. Khan, are the long hair-like structures along the margins of both of their wings. This is also the reason behind the authors’ choice of naming the proposed group adikeshavus, meaning ‘first one to have long hairs’ in Sanskrit.

Within this parasitic superfamily of wasps each group has been long accustomed to a specific host. The tribe to which the new five wasp species belong, for instance, is characterised by its exclusive preference for spider eggs. Parallel evolution accounts for the tiny wings of these wasps which allows them to slip through the silk strands of the egg sacs which are deposited in leaf litter by the spiders. Furthermore, all these species have a uniform length of 1 to 2 mm as a result of their getting used to parasitising relatively medium-sized spider eggs.

With over a thousand species supposed to exist in this genus the scientists suggest that their clustering into groups is a necessity to facilitate future studies.

The authors conclude that it is highly likely that this group of wasps will yield a much larger number of species of parasitoids attacking spider eggs in India.

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Original source:

Kamalanathan V, Mohanraj P, Khan FR (2015) ‘The adikeshavus-group’: A new species group of Idris Förster (Hymenoptera, Platygastridae) from India, with descriptions of five new species. Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift 62(2): 247-260. doi: 10.3897/dez.62.6219

Novel cybercatalog of flower-loving flies suggests the digital future of taxonomy

Charting Earth’s biodiversity is the goal of taxonomy and to do so the scientists need to create an extensive citation network based on several hundred million pages of scientific literature. By providing a novel taxonomic ‘cybercatalog’ of southern African flower-loving (apiocerid) flies, Drs. Torsten Dikow and Donat Agosti demonstrate how the network of taxonomic knowledge can be made available through links provided to online data providers. Their work is available in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal.

The present research showcases that the information cannot only be made available to the reader who follows the links, but also to machines that use the growing number of digital, online resources that are linked through persistent identifiers.

Primary data providers for taxonomic information such as species names (ZooBank), specimen images (Morphbank), species descriptions (Plazi), and digitized literature (BHL, Biodiversity Heritage Library; BioStor; and BLR, Biodiversity Literature Repository) play an important role in making data on species available in electronic form. Aggregators such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and the Encyclopedia of Life (EoL) gather this information automatically to distribute it even further to audiences beyond the reach of the life sciences.

In contrast to previous species catalogs, in cybercatalogs access to information is provided through links to open-access, online data repositories such as the ones listed above. Taxonomists and other users can now access this literature, species descriptions, and specimen records immediately without a search in a natural history library or collection. The cybercatalog takes advantage of a new publishing platform within the Biodiversity Data Journal that makes it easy to upload species information and links to data about these species through a CheckList template. Furthermore, the Biodiversity Data Journal now allows future updates and re-publications of the cybercatalog with the new unique persistent identifier (DOI, Digital Object Identifier) whenever a new species is described or other taxonomic changes take place.

The authors argue that cybercatalogs are indeed the future of taxonomic catalogs since the online data in them are easily accessible to anyone.

“It is a taxonomist’s dream to have online access to all previously published information on a species and through this step the discipline of taxonomy can (re-)position itself as a central resource within the life sciences and beyond to the public and society at large,” add the authors. “Online access will also help to narrow the gap between the South and the North as a fantastic example of unhindered access to our knowledge of the global biological diversity, which is increasingly under pressure from human populations.”

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For the realization of this project Plazi and Pensoft were partially supported by the EC-FP7 EU BON project (ENV 30845) (Building the European Biodiversity Observation Network).

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Original source:

Dikow T, Agosti D (2015) Utilizing online resources for taxonomy: a cybercatalog of Afrotropical apiocerid flies (Insecta: Diptera: Apioceridae). Biodiversity Data Journal 3: e5707. doi: 10.3897/BDJ.3.e5707

One new fly species, zero dead bodies: First insect description solely from photographs

The importance of collecting dead specimens or not when verifying a new species has been a hot ongoing discussion for quite a while now. Amid voiced opinions ranging from specimen collection being “no longer required” to relying on anything but physical evidence being defined as mere “malpractice,” science is now witnessing the first description of an insect species based solely on high-resolution photographs.

The unequivocally new bee fly species belongs to an extremely rare genus and was described by Drs. Stephen A. Marshall from the University of Guelph, Canada, and Neal Evenhuis from the Bishop Museum, Hawaii. Their research along with their commentary on the controversial topic are published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The authors in no way denounce dead specimen collection and dissection and even speak of it as the “gold standard” in new species description, they stress the fact that given the continued increased difficulty in obtaining permits to collect in many areas, and the resulting low probability of collecting and preserving specimens, there ought to be an alternative.

The newly described bee fly species, called Marleyimyia xylocopae, is a huge fly with a remarkable resemblance to a co-occurring carpenter bee. The new species might be a parasite of the bee, but not much is known about its behaviour. Therefore, the scientists stress that more observations are needed, something that will be encouraged by the availability of a name and an associated image.

Speaking of their own experience while studying their presently described new species, the scientists point out that relying on several high-resolution photographs has not only increased their knowledge of the biodiversity of the area and the genus, but has also provided some “interesting ecological and biological information”.

“As these image collections become curated just as dead specimens are curated today, the digital specimens will find their way into the work of practicing taxonomists, and they will need names,” the team explained. “It is unrealistic to think that distinct and diagnosable new taxa known only from good photographs and appropriate associated metadata should be organized and referred to only as “undescribed species” when they can and should be organized and named using the existing rules of nomenclature.”

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Original source:

Marshall SA, Evenhuis NL (2015) New species without dead bodies: a case for photo-based descriptions, illustrated by a striking new species of Marleyimyia Hesse (Diptera, Bombyliidae) from South Africa. ZooKeys 525: 117-127. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.525.6143

Saucer-like shields protect 2 new ‘door head’ ant species from Africa and their nests

Shaped like saucers, or concave shields, and covered with camouflaging layers of debris, the heads of two “door head” ant species are found to differentiate them as new taxa. They use their peculiar features to block the entrances of their nests against intruders like other predatory ants and invertebrates.

Being only the second case of such highly specialized morphologies discovered in Africa, the new representatives of the genus Carebara have been retrieved from sifted leaf-litter collected in rainforests in Western Kenya and the Ivory Coast.

Because of difficulties usually met while studying and identifying ants through dry specimens retrieved from standardised, passive collection methods, the two new species have so far been taxonomically misplaced. The new discovery was made by an international research team, led by Dr. Georg Fischer and Prof. Evan Economo, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, Japan. The findings are available in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The “door head” ant individuals are a special worker subcaste that stands out among the other ant colony’s workers, who are responsible for vital tasks such as foraging and brood care. Dr. Georg Fischer and his colleagues analysed the herein described species with next-generation DNA sequencing to show that all different subcastes belong to the same species, despite their highly differing morphologies.

To assure the safety of their nestmates, the queen and the larvae, the two new species have evolved the special worker subcaste with heads covered by a layer of debris such as soil or even organic material, so that they blend in with their surroundings. While the shape of their heads allows them to perfectly fit into the nest entrance, the special armor shields their vulnerable eyes, antennae and mouthparts, as well as highly reduces the chance of enemies intruding into the nest.

The new Carebara species have been given the names C. phragmotica and C. lilith. The former is derived from the term phragmosis, in relation to the special function of their head shape, while the latter comes from the name of a female demon in Jewish mythology.

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Original source:

Fischer G, Azorsa F, Hita Garcia F, Mikheyev AS, Economo EP (2015) Two new phragmotic ant species from Africa: morphology and next-generation sequencing solve a caste association problem in the genus Carebara Westwood. ZooKeys 525: 77-105. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.525.6057

Night calls reveal two new rainforest arboreal frog species from western New Guinea

Tracked by their calls at night after heavy rains, two species of narrow-mouthed frogs have been recorded as new. During the examinations it turned out that one of the studied specimens is a hermaphrodite and another one represents the first record of the genus Cophixalus for the Misool Island.

The field work, conducted by Steve Richards, South Australian Museum, Adelaide, and his team, took place in the Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesian part of New Guinea. Their findings, compiled by Dr. Rainer Guenther, Museum fur Naturkunde, Berlin, are available in the open access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

Belonging to the narrow-mouthed frog genus Cophixalus that occurs mainly in New Guinea and northern Australia, the two new species have been differentiated by their morphological features along with the specificity of their advertisement calls, produced by males to attract their partners. Both are characterised by small and slender bodies, measuring less than 23 mm in length.

Curious enough, when dissected one of the male specimens, assigned to the new species C. salawatiensis, revealed a female reproductive system with well-developed eggs. Simultaneously, neither its sound-producing organs, nor its calls differed in any way from the rest of the observed males from the same species. Therefore, it is to be considered a hermaphrodite.

Both new frog species have been retrieved from logged lowland rainforests. There the scientists noted that after heavy rains at night the males perched on leaves of bushes and produced sounds, characteristic for each species.

All specimens have been placed in the collection of the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (MZB) in Cibinong (Bogor), Indonesia.

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Original source:

Guenther R, Richards S, Tjaturadi B, Krey K (2015) Two new species of the genus Cophixalusfrom the Raja Ampat Islands west of New Guinea (Amphibia, Anura, Microhylidae).Zoosystematics and Evolution 91(2): 199-213.doi: 10.3897/zse.91.5411

Diggers from down under: 11 new wasp species discovered in Australia

After being mostly neglected for more than a hundred years, a group of digger wasps from Australia has been given a major overhaul in terms of species descriptions and identification methods. This approach has led to an almost 50% rise in the number of recognized species of these wasps on the continent. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

They call them with names like “Great Golden Digger” or “Great Black Wasp” in the US and there is a good reason behind it. However, some of these digger wasp species do not impress solely with their looks, but also with their wide range of distribution. Members of the wasp genusSphex can be found in almost every area of the world. Two researchers from the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Thorleif Dörfel and Dr. Michael Ohl, have now reexamined the species diversity of Sphex in Australia.

More than a century has passed since the last revision of this group in the Down Under. Using pinned, dried individuals from museum collections all over the world, Dörfel and Ohl inspected over 900 specimens and recorded the morphological characters that they deemed most useful for species differentiation.

A very different lifestyle sets apart some species in the genus Sphex from the common idea that most people evoke on hearing the term “wasp”. Not being eusocial, each female constructs a separate, subterranean nest for their offspring, which is then filled with grasshoppers (or other insects, depending on the wasp species) that have been paralyzed by a sting as a food supply for the larvae. These wasps avoid contact with humans and generally do not show aggressive behavior toward us.

With 23 species known from Australia before this study, now the number has risen to 34. Most of these newly discovered species come from large quantities of material which had not been identified up to species level before. Dörfel and Ohl’s work also provides an up-to-date identification key, both in a regular and in an interactive form, that covers all known Australian species of the genus. Specifically designed to be easily usable and containing many helpful images, it can be utilized by anyone with even minimal prior training.

“Many insect groups are in urgent need of a revision or reclassification”, explained Thorleif Dörfel. “Our understanding of ecosystems depends on the ability to identify the species that are a part of them. The focus of this study was merely a single continent, but we are currently preparing a follow-up project in which we plan to examine representatives of this wasp genus from every major geographic area. Hopefully, this is going to help everybody who works on these animals, whether now or in another one hundred years.”

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Original source:

Dörfel TH, Ohl M (2015) A revision of the Australian digger wasps in the genus Sphex(Hymenoptera, Sphecidae). ZooKeys 521: 1-104. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.521.5995

Flickr and a citizen science website help in recording a sawfly species range expansion

Social network Flickr and citizen science website BugGuide have helped scientists to expand the known range of a rarely collected parasitic woodwasp, native to the eastern United States. Partially thanks to the two online photograph platforms, now the species’ distribution now stretches hundreds of miles west of previous records. Previously known from only 50 specimens mainly from the Northeast, now the species was discovered in the Ozark Mountains by researchers from the University of Arkansas. Their study is published it in the open access journal Biodiversity Data Journal.

Spurred on by the find, Michael Skvarla, a Ph.D. candidate at the university, contacted retired sawfly expert David Smith who alerted him to a hundred unpublished specimens housed in the United States National Entomology Collection at the Smithsonian, many of which were collected as bycatch in surveys that targeted invasive species like emerald ash borer andAsian longhorned beetle. Additional specimens from Iowa, Minnesota, and Manitoba, which also represent significant western range expansions, were found after users posted photos of the species on the social network Flickr and the citizen science website BugGuide.

“We used two resources – photos on social media and bycatch from large trapping surveys – which are often underutilized and I was really happy we could work both of them into the paper,” said Skvarla, the lead author. “This work highlights their utility, as well as the importance of maintaining biological collections like the U.S. National Collection and continuing to collect in undersampled regions like the Ozark Mountains.”

Parasitic woodwasps attack the immature stages of longhorned beetles, jewel beetles, and other woodwasps which bore into wood and have long fascinated entomologists because of this parasitoid nature, which is unique among woodwasps, and rarity in collections. The Arkansas specimens, which belong to the species Orussus minutus and motivated the initial research into the group, were collected as part of a larger survey of the insect fauna around the Buffalo National River.

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Original Source:

Skvarla, M.J., Tripodi, A., Szalanski, A., Dowling, A.P.G. 2015. New records of Orussus minutusMiddlekauff, 1983 (Hymenoptera: Orussidae) represent a significant western range expansion. Biodiversity Data Journal, 3: e35793. doi: 10.3897/BDJ.3.e5793