Mosquito populations give a new insight into the role of Caucasus in evolution

We know that the Caucasus is a relatively large mountainous region, situated between Black and the Caspian seas. In its turn, it is divided into three subregions: Ciscaucasia, Greater Caucasus and Transcaucasia, also known as South Caucasus.

A closer look into the chromosome structure of mosquito larvae of a curious group of species (Chironomus “annularius” sensu Strenzke (1959)), collected from the three localities, has allowed Dr Mukhamed Karmokov of the Tembotov Institute of Ecology of Mountain territories at the Russian Academy of Science to figure out how the specificity of the Caucasian region has simultaneously unified its fauna geographically, yet has divided it evolutionarily. His paper is published in the open access journal Comparative Cytogenetics.

Having collected a sufficient amount of mosquito larvae, the researcher managed to study the chromosome structure, rearrangements and possible peculiarities of the separate Caucasian populations, in order to compare them.

Additionally, he analysed their relations to earlier known populations from Europe, Siberia, Kazakhstan and North America.

Amongst the curious peculiarities Karmokov identified in the chromosome structure of the studied larvae were some rearrangements which appear unique to Caucasus. Furthermore, he found that despite the close geographic proximity, the genetic distance between the Caucasian populations is quite significant, even While not enough to determine them as separate species, it could prove them as separate subspecies.

In conclusion, the scientist notes that the obtained data confirm that the Caucasian populations of the studied species have complex genetic structure and provide evidence for microevolution processes in the region.

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Original source:

Karmokov MKh (2018) Karyotype characteristics and chromosomal polymorphism of Chironomus “annularius” sensu Strenzke (1959) (Diptera, Chironomidae) from the Caucasus region. Comparative Cytogenetics 12(3): 267-284. https://doi.org/10.3897/CompCytogen.v12i3.25832

How many sharks, chimaeras, skates, and rays inhabit Mexico?

Worldwide, Mexico is well-known for a lot of things: its cuisine, tequila, mariachis, pyramids, and beaches, as well as being the country with the most Spanish-speaking residents (more than 120 million people).

In contrast, however, little is known for the country’s chondrichthyan fauna: a class of fishes containing the sharks, chimaeras, rays, and skates.

To fill the gap in the knowledge of the Mexican marine fauna, scientists from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional – Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas  (IPN-CICIMAR) conducted a multidisciplinary study on the extant species of the country’s Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) and, as a result, reported a total of 217 extant chondrichthyan species. Their findings are published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

In their updated taxonomic list, the team of Dr. José De La Cruz-Agüero, Dr. Jorge Guillermo Chollet-Villalpando, and Venezuelan graduate students Lorem González-González and Nicolás R. Ehemann report eight chimaeras, 111 sharks and 98 ray and skate species. These numbers equate to 18% of the world’s chondrichthyans.

Split between the Mexican coasts there are 92 species recorded from the Mexican Pacific and the Gulf of California, whereas 94 fishes are identified for the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Additionally, 31 species are known from both coasts.

“The species richness will undoubtedly continue to increase, due to the current investigations in progress, as well as the exploration of deep-water fishing areas in the EEZ,” comment the scientists.

Considered to be primitive fishes, sharks, skates, chimaeras, and rays are believed to have been inhabiting the planet for the last 420-450 million years. To put it in perspective, the earliest evidence of our species – Homo sapiens – is pretty ‘young’ at 315,000 years.

Not only do these species are peculiar with their lack of a bony skeleton when compared to the more recently evolved fishes, but they also have an unusual digestive system, featuring a spiral valve, where the lower intestine is twisted like a corkscrew to increase the surface area. They don’t have a swimming bladder either. Further, there are about 650 extant species, whereas the known bony fishes are estimated to be over 35,000.  

Most of the chondrichthyans are considered either ‘Critically Endangered’ (a classification a step below ‘Extinct’) or ‘Endangered’, according to the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The majority are also featured in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

As if to make matters worse, these fishes are also particularly susceptible to overfishing and have a low rate of growth and fecundity (females give birth to between 1 and 25 pups a year).

 

Original source:

Ehemann NR, González-González LV, Chollet-Villalpando JG, Cruz-Agüero JDL (2018) Updated checklist of the extant Chondrichthyes within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Mexico. ZooKeys 774: 17-39. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.774.25028

New ‘scaly’ snails species group following striking discoveries from Malaysian Borneo

Six new species of unique land snails whose shells are covered with what look like scales have been described from the biodiversity hotspot of Malaysian Borneo by scientists Mohd Zacaery Khalik, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Kasper Hendriks, University of Groningen, Jaap Vermeulen, JK Art & Science, and Prof Menno Schilthuizen, Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Their paper is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Thanks to their conspicuous structures, the mollusks have been added to a brand new species group of land snails to be commonly known as the ‘scaly’ snails, so that they can be set apart from the rest in the genus Georissa. Why it is that only some of the species in the genus sport the unique ‘scales’, remains unknown.

Fascinated with the minute ‘scaly’ snail fauna of Borneo, the researchers carried out fieldwork between 2015 and 2017 to find out how these curious shells evolved. In addition, they also examined material deposited in museum and private snail collections.

Apart from DNA data, which is nowadays commonly used in species identification, the team turned to yet-to-become-popular modern tools such as 3D modelling, conducted through X-ray scanning. By doing so, the researchers managed to look at both the inner and outer surfaces of the shells of the tiny specimens from every angle and position, and examine them in great detail.

The researchers note that to identify the ‘scaly’ snails to species level, one needs a combination of both DNA and morphological data:

“Objective species delimitation based solely on molecular data will not be successful for the ‘scaly’ snails in Georissa, at least if one wishes for the taxonomy to reflect morphology as well.”

The six new species are all named after the localities they have been originally collected from, in order to create awareness for species and habitat conservation.

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Watch rotation and cross-section of the 3D models of the studied species here.

Original source:

Khalik MZ, Hendriks K, Vermeulen JJ, Schilthuizen M (2018) A molecular and conchological dissection of the “scaly” Georissa of Malaysian Borneo (Gastropoda, Neritimorpha, Hydrocenidae). ZooKeys 773: 1-55. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.773.24878

First-ever fern checklist for Togo to help decision makers in the face of threats to biodiversity

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum schweinfurthii) occurring in dense forests.

Ferns and their allied species, which together comprise the pteridophytes, are vascular non-flowering plants that reproduce via spores. Many of their species are admired for their aesthetics.

However, despite being excellent bioindicators that allow for scientists and decision-makers to monitor the state of ecosystems in the face of climate change and global biodiversity crisis, these species are too often overlooked due to their relatively small size and lack of vivid colours.

Spike moss (Selaginella versicolor) with a preference for very humid and shaded forests.

To bridge the existing gaps in the knowledge about the diversity of ferns and their allied species, while also seeking to identify the ways these plants select their habitats and react to the changes occurring there later on, a research team from Togo and France launched an ambitious biodiversity project in 2013. As for the setting of their long-term study, they chose Togo – an amazingly species-rich country in Western Africa, whose flora expectedly turned out to be hugely understudied.

Having concluded their fern project in 2017, scientists Komla Elikplim Abotsi and Kouami Kokou from the Laboratory of Forestry Research, University of Lomé, Togo, who teamed up with Jean-Yves Dubuisson and Germinal Rouhan, both affiliated with the Institute of Systematics Evolution and Biodiversity (UMR 7205), France, have their first findings published in a taxonomic paper in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.

In this first-of-a-kind checklist of Togolese ferns, the researchers record as many as 73 species previously not known to inhabit the country, including 12 species introduced for horticultural purposes. As a result of their 4-year study, the pteridophyte diversity of Togo – a country barely taking up 56,600 km² – now counts a total of 134 species.

Still, the authors believe that there are even more species waiting to be discovered on both national and global level.

“Additional investigations in the difficult to access areas of the far north of the country, and Togo Mountains are still needed to fill possible biodiversity data gaps and enable decision-makers to make the right decisions,” say the researchers.

The triangular staghorn species Platycerium stemaria living on a coffee tree branch.

In addition to their taxonomic paper, the authors are also set to publish an illustrated guide to the pteridophytes of Togo, in order to familiarise amateur botanists with this fascinating biodiversity.

 

Original source:
Abotsi KE, Kokou K, Dubuisson J-Y, Rouhan G (2018) A first checklist of the Pteridophytes of Togo (West Africa). Biodiversity Data Journal 6: e24137. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.6.e24137

How did coyotes conquer North America?

Coyotes now live across North America, from Alaska to Panama, California to Maine. But where they came from, and when, has been debated for decades.

Using museum specimens and fossil records, researchers from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University have produced a comprehensive (and unprecedented) range history of the expanding species that can help reveal the ecology of predation as well as evolution through hybridization. Their findings are published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The geographic distribution of coyotes has dramatically expanded since 1900, spreading across much of North America in a period when most other mammal species have been declining. Although this unprecedented expansion has been well-documented at the state/provincial scale, continent-wide picture of coyote spread been coarse and largely anecdotal. A more thorough compilation of available records was needed.

“We began by mapping the original range of coyotes using archaeological and fossil records,” says co-author Dr. Roland Kays, Head of the Museum’s Biodiversity Lab and Research Associate Professor in NC State’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. “We then plotted their range expansion across North America from 1900 to 2016 using museum specimens, peer-reviewed reports, and game department records.”

In all, Kays and lead author James Hody, a graduate student at NC State University, reviewed more than 12,500 records covering the past 10,000 years for this study.

 Their findings indicate that coyotes historically occupied a larger area of North America than generally suggested in the literature. Previous maps, as it turns out, had ancient coyotes only located across the central deserts and grasslands. However, fossils from across the arid west link the distribution of coyotes from 10,000 years ago to specimens collected in the late 1800s, proving that their geographic range was not only broader but had been established for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, which also contradicts some widely-cited descriptions of their historical distribution.

 It wasn’t until approximately 1920 that coyotes began their expansion across North America. This was likely aided by an expansion of human agriculture, forest fragmentation, and hybridization with other species. Eastern expansion, in particular, was aided by hybridization with wolves and dogs, resulting in size and color variation among eastern coyotes.

Before too long, coyotes may no longer be just a North American species. Kays notes that coyotes are continually expanding their range in Central America, having crossed the Panama Canal in 2010. Active camera traps are now spotting coyotes approaching the Darien Gap, a heavily forested region separating North and South America, suggesting that they are at the doorstep of South America.

 “The expansion of coyotes across the American continent offers an incredible experiment for assessing ecological questions about their roles as predators, and evolutionary questions related to their hybridization with dogs and wolves,” adds Hody.

“By collecting and mapping these museum data we were able to correct old misconceptions of their original range, and more precisely map and date their recent expansions.”

“We hope these maps will provide useful context for future research into the ecology and evolution of this incredibly adaptive carnivore,” he concludes.

 

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(Originally published on Eurekalert! by North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.)

 

Original source:

Hody JW, Kays R (2018) Mapping the expansion of coyotes (Canis latrans) across North and Central America. ZooKeys 759: 81–97. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.759.15149

What is a species? British bird expert develops a math formula to solve the problem

Two different kinds of Lachrymose Mountain-Tanager (Anisognathus lacrymosus) occurring in Colombia on different mountain ranges (left: Santa Marta; right: Yariguies). Their measurements and songs were as distinct as those in the group which co-occur. Therefore, they can therefore be treated as different species.

Nature is replete with examples of identifiable populations known from different continents, mountain ranges, islands or lowland regions. While, traditionally, many of these have been treated as subspecies of widely-ranging species, recent studies relying on molecular biology have shown that many former “subspecies” have in fact been isolated for millions of years, which is long enough for them to have evolved into separate species.

Being a controversial matter in taxonomy – the science of classification – the ability to tell apart different species from subspecies across faunal groups is crucial. Given limited resources for conservation, relevant authorities tend only to be concerned for threatened species, with their efforts rarely extending to subspecies.

Figuring out whether co-habiting populations belong to the same species is only as tough as testing if they can interbreed or produce fertile offspring. However, whenever distinct populations are geographically separated, it is often that taxonomists struggle to determine whether they represent different species or merely subspecies of a more widely ranging species.

British bird expert Thomas Donegan has dedicated much of his life to studying birds in South America, primarily Colombia. To address this age-long issue of “what is a species?”, he applied a variety of statistical tests, based on data derived from bird specimens and sound recordings, to measure differences across over 3000 pairwise comparisons of different variables between populations.

Having analyzed the outcomes of these tests, he developed a new universal formula for determining what can be considered as a species. His study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Essentially, the equation works by measuring differences for multiple variables between two non-co-occurring populations, and then juxtaposing them to the same results for two related populations which do occur together and evidently belong to different “good” species. If the non-co-occurring pair’s differences exceed those of the good species pair, then the former can be ranked as species. If not, they are subspecies of the same species instead.

The formula builds on existing good taxonomic practices and borrows from optimal aspects of previously proposed mathematical models proposed for assessing species in particular groups, but brought together into a single coherent structure and formula that can be applied to any taxonomic group. It is, however, presented as a benchmark rather than a hard test, to be used together with other data, such as analyses of molecular data.

Thomas hopes that his mathematical formula for species rank assessments will help eliminate some of the subjectivity, regional bias and lumper-splitter conflicts which currently pervade the discipline of taxonomy.

“If this new approach is used, then it should introduce more objectivity to taxonomic science and ultimately mean that limited conservation resources are addressed towards threatened populations which are truly distinct and most deserving of our concern,” he says.

The problem with ranking populations that do not co-occur together was first identified back in 1904. Since then, most approaches to addressing such issues have been subjective or arbitrary or rely heavily upon expert opinion or historical momentum, rather than any objectively defensible or consistent framework.

For example, the American Herring Gull and the European Herring Gull are lumped by some current taxonomic committees into the same species (Herring Gull), or are split into two species by other committees dealing with different regions, simply because relevant experts at those committees have taken different views on the issue.

“For tropical faunas, there are thousands of distinctive populations currently treated as subspecies and which are broadly ignored in conservation activities,” explains Thomas. “Yet, some of these may be of conservation concern. This new framework should help us better to identify and prioritize those situations.”

Two different kinds of Three-striped Warblers (Basileuterus tristriatus) occurring in South America (left: East Andes of Colombia; right: a recently discovered population from the San Lucas mountains of Colombia). Note the differences in plumage coloration. While somewhat differing in voice, plumage and some measurements, the couple did not diverge as much as other related warblers that actually co-occur did. These are about as close as subspecies occurring on different mountain ranges could be. However, they marginally failed the proposed new benchmark for species rank.

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Original source:

Donegan TM (2018) What is a species? A new universal method to measure differentiation and assess the taxonomic rank of allopatric populations, using continuous variables. ZooKeys 757: 1-67. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.757.10965

Additional information:

Donegan’s proposals were first presented orally at a joint meeting for members of the Neotropical Bird ClubBritish Ornithologists’ Club and Natural History Museum in London.

Scientists dive into museum collections to reveal the invasion route of a small crustacean

Biological invasions are widely recognised as one of the most significant components of global change. Far-reaching and fast-spreading, they often have harmful effects on biodiversity.

Therefore, acquiring knowledge of potentially invasive non-native species is crucial in current research. In particular, it is important that we enhance our understanding of the impact of such invasions.

To do so, Prof Sabrina Lo Brutto and Dr Davide Iaciofano, both working at the Taxonomy Laboratory of the University of Palermo, Italy, performed research on an invasive alien crustacean (Ptilohyale littoralis) known to have colonised the Atlantic European Coast. Their findings are published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The studied species belongs to a group of small-sized crustaceans known as amphipods. These creatures range from 1 to 340 mm in length and feed on available organic matter, such as dead animals and plants. Being widely distributed across aquatic environments, amphipods have already been proven as excellent indicators of ecosystem health.

While notable for their adaptability and ecological plasticity, which secure their abundance in various habitats, these features also make amphipods especially dangerous when it comes to playing the role of invaders.

Having analysed specimens stored at the Museum of Natural History of Verona and the Natural History Museum in Paris, the scientists concluded that the species has colonised European waters 24 years prior to the currently available records.

The problem was that, back in 1985, when the amphipod was first collected from European coasts, it was misidentified as a species new to science instead of an invader native to the North American Atlantic coast.

A closer look into misidentified specimens stored in museum collections revealed that the species has been successfully spreading along the European coastlines.

Male of the invasive amphipod species (Ptilohyale littoralis), sampled in October 2015, from Bay of Arcachon, France.

Moreover, it was predicted that the amphipod could soon reach the Mediterranean due to the high connectivity between the sea and the eastern Atlantic Ocean through the Straits of Gibraltar – a route already used by invasive marine fauna in the past.

In the event that the invader reaches the Mediterranean, it is highly likely for the crustacean to meet and compete with a closely related “sister species” endemic to the region. To make matters worse, the two amphipods are difficult to distinguish due to their appearance and behaviour both being extremely similar.

However, in their paper, the scientists have also provided additional information on how to distinguish the two amphipods – knowledge which could be essential for the management of the invader and its further spread.

The authors believe that their study demonstrates the importance of taxonomy – the study of organism classification – and the role of natural history collections and museums.

“Studying and monitoring biodiversity can acquire great importance in European aquatic ecosystems and coastal Mediterranean areas, where biodiversity is changing due to climate change and invasions of alien species,” Prof Lo Brutto says. “In this context, specific animal groups play a crucial role in detecting such changes and they, therefore, deserve more attention as fundamental tools in biodiversity monitoring.”

“Regrettably, the steadily diminishing pool of experts capable of accurately identifying species poses a serious threat in this field.”

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Original source:

Lo Brutto S, Iaciofano D (2018) A taxonomic revision helps to clarify differences between the Atlantic invasive Ptilohyale littoralis and the Mediterranean endemic Parhyale plumicornis(Crustacea: Amphipoda). ZooKeys, 754: 47-62. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.754.22884

Five new blanket-hermit crab species described 130 years later from the Pacific

A blanket-hermit crab grasping an anemone.
A blanket-hermit crab grasping an anemone.

Since 1888, a lone crab species living in an extraordinary symbiosis has been considered to be one of its kind

At the turn of the twentieth century, two independent marine scientists – JR Henderson in 1888, and A Alcock in 1899, described two unusual blanket-hermit crabs from the Indo-West Pacific.

Unlike other hermit crabs, these extraordinary crustaceans do not search for empty shells to settle in for protection. Instead, they have developed a symbiotic relationship with sea anemones to cover their soft bellies. To do this, the crabs use highly specialized chelipeds to pull back and forth the anemone’s tissue to cover their soft bodies and heads whenever necessary – much like hiding under a blanket.

Among the numerous specimens collected during the famous HMS Challenger Expedition in 1874, there were two hermit crab specimens obtained from the Philippines. They amazed Henderson with their unusual physical characters, including an abdomen bent on itself rather than spirally curved, and the lack of any trace of either a shell or other kind of protective structure for their body.

As a result, in 1888, JR Henderson established a brand new genus and new species for it as Paguropsis typicus. The ending of the species name was subsequently grammatically corrected to Paguropsis typica.

image 1

A decade later, unaware of the previous discovery, A Alcock stumbled upon hundreds of hermit crab specimens off southern India, which exhibited quite spectacular behaviour. Having observed their symbiotic relations with sea anemones, the researcher also formally described in 1899 a new species and a new genus for his specimens.

However, shortly thereafter and upon learning of JR Henderson’s earlier work, A Alcock concluded that his hermit crab specimens and those of JR Henderson must be one and the same species, so the two scientific names were officially synonymized in 1901 in a publication with his colleague AF McArdle, with JR Henderson’s name taking precedence as required by the principle of priority set forth in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

Now, 130 years later, an international team of scientists, led by invertebrate zoologist Dr Rafael Lemaitre of the National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian Institution, USA, not only found that A Alcock’s Indian specimens were indeed a separate species, leading to the resurrection of its name as Paguropsis andersoni, but that blanket-hermit crabs are not as rare as previously thought.

In their recent publication in the open access journal ZooKeys, the biologists described a total of five new species and a new genus of closely related blanket-hermit crabs. Furthermore, they expect that other species are to be discovered, since there are many vast marine shelf areas and deep-sea habitats spread across the Indo-West Pacific yet to be sampled.

To develop their exceptional symbiosis with sea anemones, the blanket-hermit crabs have obviously needed just as extraordinary evolutionary adaptations. Perhaps the most remarkable of these are their specialized chelate fourth legs that allow for the crustaceans to effectively grab and stretch the thin-walled body of the anemones to cover themselves. For five of the species, the scientists report and unusual grasping shape for this cheliped that is reminiscent of bear claws, while in the other two the shape resembles ice-block tongs.

Unfortunately, the identity of the sea anemone species involved in the symbiotic relationship with any of the studied blanket-hermit crabs is currently uncertain, and their biology remains unknown.

A blanket-hermit crab 'wearing' an anemone.
A blanket-hermit crab ‘wearing’ an anemone.

So far, the genus described by JR Henderson as Paguropsis, contains five species distributed in the subtropical and tropical Indo-West Pacific, and living at depths ranging from 30 to 1125 m. These include the two species discovered in the 19th century, and three new species, one of which, Paguropsis gigas, is the largest known blanket-hermit crab that reaches a body size of 15 cm when fully stretched (a large size by hermit crab standards).

For two of the newly discovered hermit crabs, the new genus Paguropsina is erected to reflect the numerous similarities between the two species and their Paguropsis relatives. The Latin suffix -ina refers to the comparatively smaller size of the two species. Both blanket-hermit species of Paguropsina are found in the subtropical and tropical western Pacific at depth between 52 and 849 m.

“Here there is no shell to play the part of ‘Sir Pandarus of Troy,’ but the sea-anemone settles upon the hinder part of the young hermit-crab’s tail, and the two animals grow up together, in such a way that the spreading zoophytes form a blanket which the hermit can either draw completely forwards over its head or throw half-back, as it pleases,” Alcock once eloquently described his marine discovery.

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Original source:

Lemaitre R, Rahayu DL, Komai T (2018) A revision of “blanket-hermit crabs” of the genus Paguropsis Henderson, 1888, with the description of a new genus and five new species (Crustacea, Anomura, Diogenidae). ZooKeys 752: 17-97. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.752.23712

A new hope: One of North America’s rarest bees has its known range greatly expanded

The Macropis Cuckoo Bee is one of the rarest bees in North America, partly because of its specialized ecological associations. It is a nest parasite of oil-collecting bees of the genus Macropis which, in turn, are dependent on oil-producing flowers of the genus Lysimachia.

In fact, the cuckoo bee – which much like its feather-bearing counterpart does not build a nest of its own, but lays its eggs in those of other species instead – is so rare that it was thought to have gone extinct until it was collected in Nova Scotia, Canada, in the early 2000s. As a result, the Macropis Cuckoo Bee was brought to the attention of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

Recently, an individual reported from Alberta, Canada, brought new hope for the survival of the species. In addition to previously collected specimens from Ontario, this record greatly expands the known range of the cuckoo.

Scientists Dr Cory S Sheffield, Royal Saskatchewan Museum, Canada, who was the one to rediscover the “extinct” species in Nova Scotia, and Jennifer Heron, British Columbia Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy, present their new data, and discuss the conservation status of this species in their paper, published in the open access journal Biodiversity Data Journal.

“This species has a very interesting biology,” they say, “being a nest parasite – or cuckoo – of another group of bees that in turn have very specialized dietary needs.”

Image 2 Macropis on flower

The hosts, bees of the genus Macropis (which themselves are quite rare) are entirely dependent on plants of the primrose genus Lysimachia. Moreover, they only go after those Lysimachia species whose flowers produce oil droplets, which the insects collect and feed to their larvae. Thus, Macropis bees require these oil-producing flowers to exist just like Macropis cuckoo bees need their hosts and their nests. Curiously, this reliance, as suggested by previous studies on related European species, has made the female cuckoos develop the ability to find their host’s nests by the smell of the floral oils.

“This level of co-dependence between flower, bee, and cuckoo bee, makes for a very tenuous existence, especially for the cuckoo,” the authors comment. “The recent specimen from Alberta lets us know that the species is still out there, and is more widespread than we thought.”

In conclusion, the authors suggest that continuing to monitor for populations of rare bees, and documenting historic records, are crucial for conservation status assessments of at-risk species.

Biodiversity Data Journal provides a great venue to share this type of information with our colleagues for regional, national, and international efforts for species conservation,” they note.

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Original source:

Sheffield C, Heron J (2018) A new western Canadian record of Epeoloides pilosulus (Cresson), with discussion of ecological associations, distribution and conservation status in Canada. Biodiversity Data Journal 6: e22837. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.6.e22837

The Alps are home to more than 3,000 lichens

Historically, the Alps have always played an emblematic role, being one of the largest continuous natural areas in Europe. With its numerous habitats, the mountain system is easily one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in Europe.

Lichens are curious organisms comprising a stable symbiosis between a fungus and one or more photosynthetic organisms, for example green algae and/or cyanobacteria. Once the symbiosis is established, the new composite organism starts to function as a whole new one, which can now convert sunlight into essential nutrients and resist ultraviolet light at the same time.

A common fruticose lichen in the Alps (Flavocetraria nivalis). Photo: Dr Peter O. Bilovitz
A common fruticose lichen in the Alps (Flavocetraria nivalis).
Photo: Dr Peter O. Bilovitz

Being able to grow on a wide range of surfaces – from tree bark to soil and rock, lichens are extremely useful as biomonitors of air quality, forest health and climate change.

Nevertheless, while the Alps are one of the best studied parts of the world in terms of their biogeography, no overview of the Alpine lichens had been provided up until recently, when an international team of lichenologists, led by Prof. Pier Luigi Nimis, University of Trieste, Italy, concluded their 15-year study with a publication in the open access journal MycoKeys.

Sunrise in the Julian Alps. Photo: Dr Pier Luigi Nimis
Sunrise in the Julian Alps.
Photo: Dr Pier Luigi Nimis

The scientists’ joint efforts produced the first ever checklist to provide a complete critical catalogue of all lichens hitherto reported from the Alps. It comprises a total of 3,138 entries, based on data collected from eight countries – Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia and Switzerland. In their research paper, the authors have also included notes on the lichens’ ecology and taxonomy.

A common lichen in the Alps (Xanthoria elegans). Photo: Dr Tomi Trilar
A common lichen in the Alps (Xanthoria elegans).
Photo: Dr Tomi Trilar

They point out that such catalogue has been missing for far too long, hampering research all over the world. The scientists point out that this has been “particularly annoying”, since the data from the Alps could have been extremely useful for comparisons between mountainous lichen populations from around the globe. It turns out that many lichens originally described from the Alps have been later identified in other parts of the world.

It was a long and painstaking work, which lasted almost 15 years, revealing a surprisingly high number of yet to be resolved taxonomic problems that will hopefully trigger further research in the coming years,” say the authors.

We think that the best criterion to judge whether a checklist has accomplished its task for the scientific community is the speed of it becoming outdated,” they conclude paradoxically.

The new checklist is expected to serve as a valuable tool for retrieving and accessing the enormous amount of information on the lichens of the Alps

A widespread alpine lichen (Thamnolia vermicularis). Photo: Dr Peter O. Bilovitz
A widespread alpine lichen (Thamnolia vermicularis).
Photo: Dr Peter O. Bilovitz

that has accumulated over centuries of research. It offers a basis for specimen revisions, critical re-appraisal of poorly-known species and further exploration of under-explored areas. Thus, it could become a catalyst for new, more intensive investigations and turn into a benchmark for comparisons between mountains systems worldwide.

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Original source:

Nimis PL, Hafellner J, Roux C, Clerc P, Mayrhofer H, Martellos S, Bilovitz PO (2018) The lichens of the Alps – an annotated checklist. MycoKeys 31: 1-634. https://doi.org/10.3897/mycokeys.31.23568

Lichenologists at work in the Carnic Alps. Photo: Dr Pier Luigi Nimis
Lichenologists at work in the Carnic Alps.
Photo: Dr Pier Luigi Nimis