Call for data papers describing datasets from Russia to be published in Biodiversity Data Journal

GBIF partners with FinBIF and Pensoft to support publication of new datasets about biodiversity from across Russia

Original post via GBIF

In collaboration with the Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility (FinBIF) and Pensoft Publishers, GBIF has announced a new call for authors to submit and publish data papers on Russia in a special collection of Biodiversity Data Journal (BDJ). The call extends and expands upon a successful effort in 2020 to mobilize data from European Russia.

Between now and 15 September 2021, the article processing fee (normally €550) will be waived for the first 36 papers, provided that the publications are accepted and meet the following criteria that the data paper describes a dataset:

The manuscript must be prepared in English and is submitted in accordance with BDJ’s instructions to authors by 15 September 2021. Late submissions will not be eligible for APC waivers.

Sponsorship is limited to the first 36 accepted submissions meeting these criteria on a first-come, first-served basis. The call for submissions can therefore close prior to the stated deadline of 15 September 2021. Authors may contribute to more than one manuscript, but artificial division of the logically uniform data and data stories, or “salami publishing”, is not allowed.

BDJ will publish a special issue including the selected papers by the end of 2021. The journal is indexed by Web of Science (Impact Factor 1.331), Scopus (CiteScore: 2.1) and listed in РИНЦ / eLibrary.ru.

For non-native speakers, please ensure that your English is checked either by native speakers or by professional English-language editors prior to submission. You may credit these individuals as a “Contributor” through the AWT interface. Contributors are not listed as co-authors but can help you improve your manuscripts.

In addition to the BDJ instruction to authors, it is required that datasets referenced from the data paper a) cite the dataset’s DOI, b) appear in the paper’s list of references, and c) has “Russia 2021” in Project Data: Title and “N-Eurasia-Russia2021“ in Project Data: Identifier in the dataset’s metadata.

Authors should explore the GBIF.org section on data papers and Strategies and guidelines for scholarly publishing of biodiversity data. Manuscripts and datasets will go through a standard peer-review process. When submitting a manuscript to BDJ, authors are requested to select the Biota of Russia collection.

To see an example, view this dataset on GBIF.org and the corresponding data paper published by BDJ.

Questions may be directed either to Dmitry Schigel, GBIF scientific officer, or Yasen Mutafchiev, managing editor of Biodiversity Data Journal.

The 2021 extension of the collection of data papers will be edited by Vladimir Blagoderov, Pedro Cardoso, Ivan Chadin, Nina Filippova, Alexander Sennikov, Alexey Seregin, and Dmitry Schigel.

This project is a continuation of the successful call for data papers from European Russia in 2020. The funded papers are available in the Biota of Russia special collection and the datasets are shown on the project page.

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Definition of terms

Datasets with more than 5,000 records that are new to GBIF.org

Datasets should contain at a minimum 5,000 new records that are new to GBIF.org. While the focus is on additional records for the region, records already published in GBIF may meet the criteria of ‘new’ if they are substantially improved, particularly through the addition of georeferenced locations.” Artificial reduction of records from otherwise uniform datasets to the necessary minimum (“salami publishing”) is discouraged and may result in rejection of the manuscript. New submissions describing updates of datasets, already presented in earlier published data papers will not be sponsored.

Justification for publishing datasets with fewer records (e.g. sampling-event datasets, sequence-based data, checklists with endemics etc.) will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Datasets with high-quality data and metadata

Authors should start by publishing a dataset comprised of data and metadata that meets GBIF’s stated data quality requirement. This effort will involve work on an installation of the GBIF Integrated Publishing Toolkit.

Only when the dataset is prepared should authors then turn to working on the manuscript text. The extended metadata you enter in the IPT while describing your dataset can be converted into manuscript with a single-click of a button in the ARPHA Writing Tool (see also Creation and Publication of Data Papers from Ecological Metadata Language (EML) Metadata. Authors can then complete, edit and submit manuscripts to BDJ for review.

Datasets with geographic coverage in Russia

In correspondence with the funding priorities of this programme, at least 80% of the records in a dataset should have coordinates that fall within the priority area of Russia. However, authors of the paper may be affiliated with institutions anywhere in the world.

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Check out the Biota of Russia dynamic data paper collection so far.

Follow Biodiversity Data Journal on Twitter and Facebook to keep yourself posted about the new research published.

Scientists discover bent-toed gecko species in Cambodia

Originally published by North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

A new species of bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis) has been described from Cambodia’s Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary by Wild Earth Allies Biologist Thy Neang in collaboration with North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences‘ Herpetologist Bryan Stuart. This new species is described in ZooKeys.

The species was discovered by Thy Neang during Wild Earth Allies field surveys in June-July 2019 on an isolated mountain named Phnom Chi in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary when he encountered an unusual species of bent-toed gecko. “It was an extremely unexpected discovery. No one thought there were undescribed species in Prey Lang,” said Neang.

The geckos were found to belong to the C. irregularis species complex that includes at least 19 species distributed in south¬ern and central Vietnam, eastern Cambodia, and southern Laos. This is the first member of the complex to be found west of the Mekong River, demonstrating how biogeographic barriers can lead to speciation. Additionally, the geckos were unique in morphological characters and mitochondrial DNA, and distinct from C. ziegleri to which they are most closely related. Researchers have named the species Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis after Phnom Chi mountain where it was found.

A new species of bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis) has been discovered in Cambodia’s Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary by Wild Earth Allies Biologist Thy Neang in collaboration with Bryan Stuart of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Photo by Thy Neang

Bent-toed geckos of the genus Cyrtodactylus are one of the most species-diverse genera of gekkonid lizards, with 292 recognized species. Much of the diversity within Cyrtodactylus has been described only during the past decade and from mainland Southeast Asia, and many of these newly recognized species are thought to have extremely narrow geographic ranges. As such, Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis is likely endemic to Phnom Chi, which consists of an isolated small mountain of rocky outcrops (peak of 652 m elevation) and a few associated smaller hills, altogether encompassing an area of approximately 4,464 hectares in Kampong Thom and Kratie Provinces within the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia.

The forest habitat in Phnom Chi remains in relatively good condition, but small-scale illegal gold extraction around its base threatens the newly discovered species. A second species of lizard, the scincid Sphenomorphus preylangensis, was also recently described from Phnom Chi by a team of researchers including Neang. These new discoveries underscore the importance of Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary for biodiversity conservation and the critical need to strengthen its management.

Habitat at Phnom Chi, the type locality of the newly described bent-toed gecko.
Photo by Thy Neang

Further, an assessment of C. phnomchiensis is urgently warranted by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2020) because of its small area of occupancy, status as relatively uncommon, and ongoing threats to its habitat.

“This exciting discovery adds another reptile species to science for Cambodia and the world. It also highlights the global importance of Cambodia’s biodiversity and illustrates the need for future exploration and biological research in Prey Lang,”

said Neang.

“When [Neang] first returned from fieldwork and told me that he had found a species in the C. irregularis group so far west of the Mekong River in Cambodia, I did not believe it. His discovery underscores how much unknown biodiversity remains out there in unexpected places. Clearly, Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary is important for biodiversity and deserves attention,”

said Neang’s co-author Stuart of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

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Original source:

Neang T, Henson A, Stuart BL (2020) A new species of Cyrtodactylus (Squamata, Gekkonidae) from Cambodia’s Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary. ZooKeys 926: 133-158. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.926.48671

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For more information on Wild Earth Allies, please visit: http://www.wildearthallies.org.

For more information on the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, please visit:http://www.naturalsciences.org.

The first bioluminescent click beetle known from Asia represents a new subfamily

A remarkable bioluminescent click beetle was discovered in the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests in southwest China. Having prompted the description of a brand new subfamily, the species is the very first bioluminescent click beetle known from the continent.

A remarkable bioluminescent click beetle was discovered in the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests in southwest China. Scientists Mr. Wen-Xuan Bi, Dr. Jin-Wu He, Dr. Xue-Yan Li, all affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Kunming), Mr. Chang-Chin Chen of Tianjin New Wei San Industrial Company, Ltd. (Tianjing, China) and Dr. Robin Kundrata of Palacký University (Olomouc, Czech Republic) published their findings in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Even though the family of click beetles (Elateridae) contain approximately 10,000 species worldwide, it is only about 200 species able to emit light, and they inhabit Latin America and Oceania. Interestingly, the position of the luminous organs varies amongst the different click beetle lineages. In some, they are found on the foremost of the three thoracic segments of the body (prothorax), in others – on both the prothorax and the abdomen, and in few – only on the abdomen.

Luminescent behavior of Sinopyrophorus schimmeli gen. et sp. nov.
Video by Mr Wen-Xuan Bi.

“In 2017, during an expedition to the western Yunnan in China, we discovered a dusk-active bioluminescent click beetle with a single luminous organ on the abdomen, ” recalls lead scientist Mr. Wen-Xuan Bi.

Since no bioluminescent click beetle had previously been recorded in Asia, the team conducted simultaneous morphological and molecular analyses in order to clarify the identity of the new species and figure out its relationship to other representatives of its group.

Co-author Dr. Xue-Yan Li explains:

“The morphological investigation in combination with the molecular analysis based on 16 genes showed that our taxon is not only a new species in a new genus, but that it also represents a completely new subfamily of click beetles. We chose the name Sinopyrophorus for the new genus, and the new subfamily is called Sinopyrophorinae.”

In conclusion, the discovery of the new species sheds new light on the geographic distribution and evolution of luminescent click beetles. The authors agree that as a representative of a unique lineage, which is only distantly related to the already known bioluminescent click beetles, the new insect group may serve as a new model in the research of bioluminescence within the whole order of beetles.

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Original source:

Bi W-X, He J-W, Chen C-C, Kundrata R, Li X-Y (2019) Sinopyrophorinae, a new subfamily of Elateridae (Coleoptera, Elateroidea) with the first record of a luminous click beetle in Asia and evidence for multiple origins of bioluminescence in Elateridae. ZooKeys 864: 79-97. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.864.26689

Tiny habitant from Abrolhos bank (Brazil) sheds light on tropical Atlantic biogeography

For the first time, the bivalve mollusc Guyanella clenchi has been reported from Abrolhos Bank, Brazil.

For the first time, the bivalve mollusc Guyanella clenchi has been reported from Abrolhos Bank, Brazil. This almost unknown bivalve had previously been reported solely from the Caribbean region. Apart from being the southernmost record for the species, its presence also helps the experts to determine the way the marine fauna from the Caribbean interacts with its South American relatives.

The bivalve, which is a minute mollusc of only a few millimetres, had been known from Suriname, Guadeloupe, Colombia and French Guiana for nearly half a century. However, it is almost absent from the bibliographical registers and zoological collections.

Then, unexpectedly, during recent cruises to Abrolhos Bank (Bahia, Brazil), carried out as part of the Pro-Abrolhos project at Instituto Oceanografico da Universidade de Sao Paulo (IO-USP), enough specimens were retrieved to document the mysterious species from the Brazilian site.

The resulting study is published in the open-access journal Check List by Dr Barbara Louise Valentas-Romera, Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de Sao Paulo (MZSP), together with MSc Flavia Maria Pereira Costa and Dr Ana Maria Setubal Pires-Vanin, both affiliated to Instituto Oceanografico da Universidade de Sao Paulo (IO-USP).

According to the scientists, the discovery is very important for the understanding of the interaction between the mollusc faunas from the Caribbean and Southern Atlantic regions. While a mixture of these had long been known at both localities, serving as evidence that many species are indeed capable of crossing the geographical barriers between the two oceanic areas, it seems that no one had managed to answer how exactly this is happening. Now, the discovery of the tiny species shows that even small-sized molluscs have the ability to disperse so widely.

Additionally, the discovery of fresh specimens, complete with the body inside the shell, brings to light new information about the anatomy of the species itself, since the existing knowledge had only been derived from dry shells. Now, the secretive bivalve is to finally undergo molecular analyses.

The researchers behind the study explain:

“Despite its small size, the new occurrence of Guyanella clenchi brings new key data needed to understand the biogeography of the Caribbean and Southern Atlantic regions and improve our knowledge of the molluscs inhabiting the Brazilian coast, specifically the Abrolhos Bank, which is an important South Atlantic biodiversity hotspot.”

Abrolhos Bank is the largest and most species-rich coral reef in the Southern Atlantic. It is located in the Abrolhos Archipelago area and is part of the Abrolhos Marine National Park. Its most notable peculiarity is the giant coral structures shaped like mushrooms, locally known as “Chapeiroes”. A “chapeirao” can reach up to 25 metres in height and 50 metres in diameter. The region is considered the most biodiverse spot in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, providing home to several species that occur nowhere else.

Abrolhos Bank region (Bahia, Brazil).
Image by Dr Bárbara Louise Valentas-Romera.

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Original source:

Valentas-Romera BL, Costa FMP, Pires-Vanin AMS (2019) Range extension of Guyanella clenchi (Altena, 1968) (Bivalvia, Lucinidae) with new records from Abrolhos Bank, Brazil. Check List15(4): 549-554. https://doi.org/10.15560/15.4.549

New to science New Zealand moths link mythological deities to James Cameron’s films

In an unexpected discovery from New Zealand, two species of narrowly distributed moths were described as new species. Interestingly, both Arctesthes titanica and Arctesthes avatar were named after mythological deities and top-grossing blockbusters by famous filmmaker James Cameron: Titanic and Avatar, respectively.


The newly described moth species Arctesthes avatar in its natural habitat (South Island, New Zealand). Photo by Brian Patrick.

In an unexpected discovery from the South Island (New Zealand), two species of narrowly distributed macro-moths were described as new species. Interestingly, both Arctesthes titanica and Arctesthes avatar were named after mythological deities and top-grossing blockbusters by famous filmmaker James Cameron: Titanic and Avatar, respectively.

Each of the newly described species are believed to be restricted to only a couple of subalpine/alpine localities. Therefore, they are particularly vulnerable to extinction and need to be “considered of very high priority for conservation”, point out New Zealand scientists Brian Patrick (Wildland Consultants Ltd), Hamish Patrick (Lincoln University) and Dr Robert Hoare (Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Researchin their paper in the open-access journal Alpine Entomology.


Male (left) and female (right) specimens of the newly described moth species Arctesthes titanica. Photo by Birgit Rhode.

Because of its relatively large size, one of the new discoveries: A. titanica, was named in reference to the Titans: the elderly gods in Greek mythology and the legendary, if ill-fated, record-breaking passenger ship ‘Titanic’, which became the subject of the famous 1997 American epic romance and disaster film of the same name. Unfortunately, the moth’s small wetland habitat is located in an area that is currently facing a range of damaging farming practices, such as over-sowing, grazing, stock trampling and vehicle damage.

On the other hand, A. avatar received its name after Forest & Bird, the New Zealand conservation organisation that was behind the 2012 BioBlitz at which the new species was collected, ran a public competition where “the avatar moth” turned up as the winning entry. The reference is to the indigenous people and fauna in Avatar. Just like them, the newly described moth is especially vulnerable to habitat change and destruction. In addition, the study’s authors note that the original avatars came from Hindu mythology, where they are the incarnations of deities, including Vishnu, for example, who would transform into Varaha the boar.

In conclusion, the scientists point out that future studies to monitor and further understand the fauna of New Zealand are of crucial importance for its preservation:

“Quantitative studies as well as work on life histories and ecology are particularly needed. Already one formerly common endemic geometrid species, Xanthorhoe bulbulata, has declined drastically and is feared possibly extinct: its life history and host-plant have never been discovered. Without further intensive study of the fauna of modified and threatened New Zealand environments, we will be unable to prevent other species slipping away.”

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Original source:

Patrick BH, Patrick HJH, Hoare RJB (2019) Review of the endemic New Zealand genus Arctesthes Meyrick (Lepidoptera, Geometridae, Larentiinae), with descriptions of two new range-restricted species. Alpine Entomology 3: 121-136. https://doi.org/10.3897/alpento.3.33944

Medicinal mushroom newly reported from Thailand helps reveal optimum growth conditions

Globally recognised medicinal mushroom is reported for the first time in Thailand. The study also presents the first assessment of the optimum growth conditions for the species.

A species of globally recognised medicinal mushroom was recorded for the first time in Thailand. Commonly referred to as lingzhi, the fungus (Ganoderma tropicum) was collected from the base of a living tree in Chiang Rai Province, Northern Thailand. Additionally, the study reports the first assessment of the optimum conditions needed for the species to grow its mycelia (the vegetative part of a fungus consisting of a branching network of fine, thread-like structures) and spread its colony.

The discoveries are published in the open-access journal MycoKeys by a research team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, University of Chinese Academy of SciencesWorld Agroforestry CentreKunming Institute of Botany (China) and Center of Excellence in Fungal ResearchMae Fah Luang University (Thailand), led by Thatsanee Luangharn.

Over the last centuries, the studied mushroom and its related species in the genus Ganoderma have been used extensively in traditional Asian medicines due to their natural bioactive compounds, including polysaccharides, triterpenoids, sterols, and secondary metabolites, which are used in the treatment of various diseases. Other compounds derived from lingzhi, such as the studied species, also demonstrate antimicrobial activities. The medicinal use of these mushrooms is recognised by the World Health Organization and they are featured in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia.

The studied mushroom belongs to a group known to be parasitic or pathogenic on a wide range of tree species. The species is characterised with strongly laccate fruiting bodies and a cap with distinctly dark brown base colour and reddish shades. It grows to up to 7-12 cm in length, 4-8 cm in width and is up to 1.5 cm thick. While the mushroom has so far been widely reported from tropical areas, including mainland China, Taiwan and South America, it had never been recorded from Thailand.

During their research, the scientists found that mycelial production for Ganoderma tropicum is most successful on Potato Dextrose Agar, Malt Extract Agar, and Yeast extract Peptose Dextrose Agar, at a temperature of 25-28 °C and 7-8 pH. Unfortunately, mushroom fruiting was not achieved in the experiment.

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Original source:

Luangharn T, Karunarathna SC, Mortimer PE, Hyde KD, Thongklang N, Xu J (2019) A new record of Ganoderma tropicum (Basidiomycota, Polyporales) for Thailand and first assessment of optimum conditions for mycelia production. MycoKeys 51: 65-83. https://doi.org/10.3897/mycokeys.51.33513

As uniform as cloned soldiers, new spiders were named after the Stormtroopers in Star Wars

One of the newly described bald-legged spider species Stormtropis muisca. It is also the highest altitudinal record for the family. Image by Carlos Perafan.

The new species are amongst the very first bald-legged spiders recorded in Colombia

Despite being widely distributed across north and central South America, bald-legged spiders had never been confirmed in Colombia until the recent study by the team of Drs Carlos Perafan and Fernando Perez-Miles (Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay) and William Galvis (Universidad Nacional de Colombia). Published in the open-access journal ZooKeys, their research paper describes a total of six previously unknown species inhabiting the country.

Four of the novel spiders were unable to fit into any already existing genus, so the scientists had to create a brand new one for them, which they called Stormtropis in reference to the Star Wars‘ clone trooper army known as Stormtroopers.

Considered to be amongst the most enigmatic in the group of mygalomorphs, the bald-legged spiders are a family of only 11 very similarly looking, small- to medium-sized species, whose placement in the Tree of Life has long been a matter of debate. In fact, it is due to their almost identical appearance and ability for camouflage that became the reason for the new bald-legged spider genus to be compared to the fictional clone troopers.

One of the most striking qualities of the bald-legged spiders (family Paratropididae) is their ability to adhere soil particles to their cuticle, which allows them to be camouflaged by the environment.

A bald-legged spider of the genus Paratropis in its natural habitat. Image by Carlos Perafan.

“The stormtroopers are the soldiers of the main ground force of the Galactic Empire. These soldiers are very similar to each other, with some capacity for camouflage, but with unskillful movements, like this new group of spiders,” explain the researchers.

“We wanted to make a play on words with the name of the known genus, Paratropis, and of course, we also wanted to pay tribute to one of the greatest sagas of all time”, they add.

One of the new ‘stormtrooper’ species (Stormtropis muisca) is also the highest altitudinal record for the family. It was recorded from an elevation of at least 3,400 m in the central Andes. However, the authors note that they have evidence of species living above 4,000 m. These results are to be published in future papers.

In the course of their fieldwork, the researchers also confirmed previous assumptions that the bald-legged spiders are well adapted to running across the ground’s surface. The spiders were seen to stick soil particles to their scaly backs as a means of camouflage against predators. More interestingly, however, the team records several cases of various bald-legged species burrowing into ravine walls or soil – a type of behaviour that had not been reported until then. Their suggestion is that it might be a secondary adaptation, so that the spiders could exploit additional habitats.

In conclusion, not only did the bald-legged spiders turn out to be present in Colombia, but they also seem to be pretty abundant there. Following the present study, three genera are currently known from the country (AnisaspisParatropis and Stormtropis).

A bald-legged spider (Paratropis elicioi) in its natural habitat. Image by Carlos Perafan.

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Original source:

Perafan C, Galvis W, Perez-Miles F (2019) The first Paratropididae (Araneae, Mygalomorphae) from Colombia: new genus, species and records. ZooKeys 830: 1-32. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.830.31433

FAIR biodiversity data in Pensoft journals thanks to a routine data auditing workflow

 

Data audit workflow provided for data papers submitted to Pensoft journals.

To avoid publication of openly accessible, yet unusable datasets, fated to result in irreproducible and inoperable biological diversity research at some point down the road, Pensoft takes care for auditing data described in data paper manuscripts upon their submission to applicable journals in the publisher’s portfolio, including Biodiversity Data JournalZooKeysPhytoKeysMycoKeys and many others.

Once the dataset is clean and the paper is published, biodiversity data, such as taxa, occurrence records, observations, specimens and related information, become FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable), so that they can be merged, reformatted and incorporated into novel and visionary projects, regardless of whether they are accessed by a human researcher or a data-mining computation.

As part of the pre-review technical evaluation of a data paper submitted to a Pensoft journal, the associated datasets are subjected to data audit meant to identify any issues that could make the data inoperable. This check is conducted regardless of whether the dataset are provided as supplementary material within the data paper manuscript or linked from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) or another external repository. The features that undergo the audit can be found in a data quality checklist made available from the website of each journal alongside key recommendations for submitting authors.

Once the check is complete, the submitting author receives an audit report providing improvement recommendations, similarly to the commentaries he/she would receive following the peer review stage of the data paper. In case there are major issues with the dataset, the data paper can be rejected prior to assignment to a subject editor, but resubmitted after the necessary corrections are applied. At this step, authors who have already published their data via an external repository are also reminded to correct those accordingly.

“It all started back in 2010, when we joined forces with GBIF on a quite advanced idea in the domain of biodiversity: a data paper workflow as a means to recognise both the scientific value of rich metadata and the efforts of the the data collectors and curators. Together we figured that those data could be published most efficiently as citable academic papers,” says Pensoft’s founder and Managing director Prof. Lyubomir Penev.
“From there, with the kind help and support of Dr Robert Mesibov, the concept evolved into a data audit workflow, meant to ‘proofread’ the data in those data papers the way a copy editor would go through the text,” he adds.
“The data auditing we do is not a check on whether a scientific name is properly spelled, or a bibliographic reference is correct, or a locality has the correct latitude and longitude”, explains Dr Mesibov. “Instead, we aim to ensure that there are no broken or duplicated records, disagreements between fields, misuses of the Darwin Core recommendations, or any of the many technical issues, such as character encoding errors, that can be an obstacle to data processing.”

At Pensoft, the publication of openly accessible, easy to access, find, re-use and archive data is seen as a crucial responsibility of researchers aiming to deliver high-quality and viable scientific output intended to stand the test of time and serve the public good.

To explain how and why biodiversity data should be published in full compliance with the best (open) science practices, the team behind Pensoft and long-year collaborators published a guidelines paper, titled “Strategies and guidelines for scholarly publishing of biodiversity data” in the open science journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal).

New species of stiletto snake capable of sideways strikes discovered in West Africa

The first discovered specimen of the newly described species (Atractaspis branchi or Branch’s Stiletto Snake) in its natural habitat. Photo by Mark-Oliver Roedel.

Following a series of recent surveys in north-western Liberia and south-eastern Guinea, an international team of researchers found three stiletto snakes which were later identified as a species previously unknown to science.

The discovery, published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution by the team of Dr Mark-Oliver Roedel from the Natural History Museum, Berlin, provides further evidence for the status of the western part of the Upper Guinea forest zone as a center of rich and endemic biodiversity.

Curiously, stiletto snakes have unusual skulls and venom delivery system, allowing them to attack and stab sideways with a fang sticking out of the corner of their mouths. While most of these burrowing snakes are not venomous enough to kill a human – even though some are able to inflict serious tissue necrosis – this behaviour makes them impossible to handle using the standard approach of holding them with fingers behind the head. In fact, they can even stab with their mouths closed.

The new species, called Atractaspis branchi or Branch’s Stiletto Snake, was named to honor to the recently deceased South African herpetologist Prof. William Roy (Bill) Branch, a world leading expert on African reptiles.

The first specimen was found at night, moving along the steep slope on the left bank of the small creek (Liberia). Photo by Mark-Oliver Roedel.

The new species lives in primary rainforest and rainforest edges in the western part of the Upper Guinea forests. Branch’s Stiletto Snake is most likely endemic to this area, a threatened biogeographic region already known for its unique and diverse fauna.

The first specimen of the new species was collected at night from a steep bank of a small rocky creek in a lowland evergreen rainforest in Liberia. Upon picking it up, the snake tried to hide its head under body loops, bending it at an almost right angle, so that its fangs were partly visible on the sides. Then, it repeatedly stroke. It is also reported to have jumped distances almost as long as its entire body. The other two specimens used for the description of the species were collected from banana, manioc and coffee plantations in south-eastern Guinea, about 27 km apart.

“The discovery of a new and presumably endemic species of fossorial snake from the western Upper Guinea forests thus is not very surprising,” conclude the researchers. “However, further surveys are needed to resolve the range of the new snake species, and to gather more information about its ecological needs and biological properties.”

Close up of the Branch’s Stiletto Snake in its natural habitat. Photo by Mark-Oliver Roedel.

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Original source:

Rödel M, Kucharzewski C, Mahlow K, Chirio L, Pauwels OSG, Carlino P, Sambolah G, Glos J (2019) A new stiletto snake (Lamprophiidae, Atractaspidinae, Atractaspis) from Liberia and Guinea, West Africa. Zoosystematics and Evolution 95(1): 107-123. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.95.31488

Star Wars and Asterix characters amongst 103 beetles new to science from Sulawesi, Indonesia

From left to right: Trigonopterus asterix, T. obelix and T. idefix, three newly described species from Sulawesi (Indonesia). Image by Alexander Riedel.

The Indonesian island of Sulawesi has been long known for its enigmatic fauna, including the deer-pig (babirusa) and the midget buffalo. However, small insects inhabiting the tropical forests have remained largely unexplored.

Such is the case for the tiny weevils of the genus Trigonopterus of which only a single species had been known from the island since 1885. Nevertheless, a recent study conducted by a team of German and Indonesian scientists resulted in the discovery of a total of 103 new to science species, all identified as Trigonopterus. The beetles are described in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

“We had found hundreds of species on the neighboring islands of New Guinea, Borneo and Java – why should Sulawesi with its lush habitats remain an empty space?” asked entomologist and lead author of the study Dr Alexander Riedel, Natural History Museum Karlsruhe (Germany).

In fact, Riedel knew better. Back in 1990, during a survey of the fauna living on rainforest foliage in Central Sulawesi, he encountered the first specimens that would become the subject of the present study. Over the next years, a series of additional fieldwork, carried out in collaboration with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), managed to successfully complete the picture.

“Our survey is not yet complete and possibly we have just scratched the surface. Sulawesi is geologically complex and many areas have never been searched for these small beetles,” said Raden Pramesa Narakusumo, curator of beetles at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (MZB), Indonesian Research Center for Biology.

Dense mountain forest of Central Sulawesi, where some of the new species have been found. Image by Alexander Riedel.

 

Why have all these beetles remained overlooked for so long?

Unlike the all-time favourite stag beetles or jewel beetles, tiny beetles that measure no more than 2-3 millimeters seem to have been attracting little interest from entomologists. Their superficial resemblance does not help identification either.

In fact, the modern taxonomic approach of DNA sequencing seems to be the only efficient method to diagnose these beetles. However, the capacity for this kind of work in Indonesia is very limited. While substantial evidence points to thousands of undescribed species roaming the forests in the region, there is only one full-time position for a beetle researcher at the only Indonesian Zoological Museum near Jakarta. Therefore, international collaboration is crucial.

103 newly discovered species of the genus Trigonopterus from Sulawesi. Image by Alexander Riedel.

103 beetle names

Coming up with as many as 103 novel names for the newly described species was not a particularly easy task for the researchers either. While some of the weevils were best associated with their localities or characteristic morphology, others received quite curious names.

A small greenish and forest-dwelling species was aptly named after the Star Wars character Yoda, while a group of three species were named after Asterix, Obelix and Idefix – the main characters in the French comics series The Adventures of Asterix. Naturally, Trigonopterus obelix is larger and more roundish than his two ‘friends’.

Other curious names include T. artemis and T. satyrus, named after two Greek mythological characters: Artemis, the goddess of hunting and nature and Satyr, a male nature spirit inhabiting remote localities.

Additionally, the names of four of the newly described beetles pay tribute to renowned biologists, including Charles Darwin (father of the Theory of Evolution), Paul D. N. Hebert (implementer of DNA barcoding as a tool in species identification) and Francis H. C. Crick and James D. Watson (discoverers of the structure of DNA).

 

Six-legged déjà vu

Back in 2016, in another weevil discovery, Dr Alexander Riedel and colleagues described four new species from New Britain (Papua New Guinea), which were also placed in the genus Trigonopterus. Similarly, no weevils of the group had been known from the island prior to that study. Interestingly, one of the novel species was given the name of Star Wars’ Chewbacca in reference to the insect’s characteristically dense scales reminiscent of Chewie’s hairiness. Again, T. chewbacca and its three relatives were described in ZooKeys.

The flightless beetle species Trigonopterus chewbacca, described as new to science in 2016. Image by Alexander Riedel.

 

On the origin of Trigonopterus weevils

Sulawesi is at the heart of Wallacea, a biogeographic transition zone between the Australian and Asian regions. The researchers assume that Trigonopterus weevils originated in Australia and New Guinea and later reached Sulawesi. In fact, it was found that only a few populations would one day diversify into more than a hundred species. A more detailed study on the rapid evolution of Sulawesi Trigonopterus is currently in preparation.

 

Future research

To help future taxonomists in their work, in addition to their monograph paper in ZooKeys, the authors have uploaded high-resolution photographs of each species along with a short scientific description to the website Species ID.

“This provides a face to the species name, and this is an important prerequisite for future studies on their evolution,” explained the researchers.

“Studies investigating such evolutionary processes depend on names and clear diagnoses of the species. These are now available, at least for the fauna of Sulawesi.”

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Original Source:

Riedel A, Narakusumo RP (2019) One hundred and three new species of Trigonopterus weevils from Sulawesi. ZooKeys 828: 1-153. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.828.32200