Iranian coastal waters: New home to a rarely seen venomous sea snake

Günther’s sea snake (Microcephalophis cantoris), a rarely seen venomous sea snake with distribution thought to stretch from the Malay Peninsula to Pakistan, has now been recorded from Iranian coastal waters off the western Gulf of Oman, more than 400 kilometers away from the westernmost boundary of its previously known range.

In 1864, German-born British zoologist, Albert Günther (1830-1914), discovered a new species of highly venomous viviparous (giving live birth) sea snakes, thereafter named Günther’s sea snake. The species is famous because it has a very small head, compared to its body and is, therefore, sometimes called Günther’s narrow/small-headed sea snake. It is a rare species, and, since its discovery, it has only been recorded from the coastal waters of a few countries in the western Malay Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent.

Scientists Mohsen Rezaie-Atagholipour, Qeshm Environmental Management Office, Qeshm Island, Iran, Parviz Ghezellou, Medicinal Plants and Drugs Research Institute, Shahid Beheshti University, Iran, Dr. Nicolas Vidal, Département Systématique & Evolution, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, France, and three Iranian fellows, are collaborating on a project on the biodiversity of sea snakes in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.

During their survey, an adult Günther’s sea snake was caught by a fishing trawler (a fishing vessel pulling a baglike net) in Iranian coastal waters off the western Gulf of Oman. This was the first record of this rarely seen venomous viviparous sea snake in the area. The specimen is deposited and available in the Zoological Museum at the Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman, Iran.

As a result, the researchers have now published a checklist of the sea snake species in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, including this new record, in the open access journal ZooKeys.image1

There are about 60 living species of highly venomous viviparous sea snakes in the world, distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific region. Out of them, nine have been previously recorded from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Following the discovery of the Günther’s sea snake, the total number of sea snakes in the area is ten.

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Original source:

Rezaie-Atagholipour M, Ghezellou P, Hesni MA, Dakhteh SMH, Ahmadian H, Vidal N (2016) Sea snakes (Elapidae, Hydrophiinae) in their westernmost extent: an updated and illustrated checklist and key to the species in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. ZooKeys 622: 129-164. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.622.9939

Mayflies of Turkey: Two new records for the country species and an annotated catalogue

Mayflies (the insect order Ephemeroptera) are a fascinating group, which represents the oldest winged insects, estimated to have been existing on the Earth since the lower Carboniferous, or, approximately for 350 million years. They are characterized by exclusively aquatic larvae, a unique fully winged subimaginal stage (the stage right before the young mayfly transforms into a sexually mature adult) and, typically, rather short life as an adult.

While identification has generally been considered difficult, and good research collections are to be found in relatively few specialised institutions, three biologists from Turkey and Austria have recently concluded a review of the Turkish mayfly fauna, in which they also add two species newly recorded from the country.

They also list 157 mayfly taxa representing 33 genera and 14 families, including 24 species considered endemic to Anatolia. With their annotated overview of the present state of knowledge concerning mayflies in Turkey, the authors aim to facilitate future research.

Synthesis of all previous records of mayflies from Turkey together with new records, a map of provinces and pertinent literature, are all included in the latest paper published by scientists Dr Ali Salur, Hitit University, Çorum, Turkey, Dr Mustafa Cemal Darilmaz, Aksaray University, Aksaray, Turkey, and Dr Ernst Bauernfeind, Natural History Museum Vienna, Austria, in the open access ZooKeys.

The data in the review are based on a detailed study of literature on Ephemeroptera in Turkey as well as on hitherto unpublished material housed in the Natural History Museum Vienna. Unpublished theses have not been considered. By 2015, there have been well over 70 scientific papers and books published on Ephemeroptera in Turkey from both Turkish and foreign researchers.image-2-collected-in-1863-rhithrogena-tibialis-syntype-male-imago-natural-history-museum-vienna

Distribution of species-group taxa in Turkey have been listed and referenced according to publication dates. National distribution records (without specific data at least on province level) have been listed under ‘Turkey’. Type locality of species were only provided if the taxon had originally been based on material from Turkey. Remarks on different taxonomic opinions and nomenclature have been added under ‘Comment’ whenever appropriate.

Websites http://www.faunaturkey.com and http://www.faunaturkey.org (launched in 2013) are meant to contribute more information on research about the fauna of Turkey. The data provided in the present study will also be added to the websites following publication.

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Original source:

Salur A, Darilmaz MC, Bauernfeind E (2016) An annotated catalogue of the mayfly fauna of Turkey (Insecta, Ephemeroptera). ZooKeys 620: 67-118. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.620.9405

New Chinese leaf-roller weevil does not know how to roll leaves

A long-term project on insect-seed interactions, currently being carried out by researchers of the Institute of Zoology (Chinese Academy of Sciences) in a subtropical forest near Dujiangyan City, Sichuan, China, revealed the presence of larvae of an unknown weevil species eating the seeds in the pods of a shrubby legume.

Scientists from the Institute of Zoology, China, Xiangyang Lv, Zhishu Xiao, Zhiliang Wang, Runzhi Zhang, and Miguel A. Alonso-Zarazaga, also affiliated with the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), Spain, published the description of the new genus and species, named Evemphyron sinense, and added data on its biology in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Because of its peculiar features, it was difficult to locate the closest relatives of this new species. However, a few characteristic traits of the body and genitalia, strongly pointed to its placement within the tribe Deporaini.

The closest, although seemingly rather far-related to the new species, beetles are considered to be a genus with scattered distribution, stretching from the Russian Far East to the Indian Himalaya.

However, they are smaller weevils whose females cut shoots to lay their eggs. On the other hand, the males in both genera share a peculiar patch of hairs, probably related to pheromone dispersal. Likewise, each species is associated with legumes.

The curious feature of this weevil group (Deporaini) is that the vast majority of its species are leaf-rollers. The females cut a hardwood leaf in a peculiar and mathematical way and roll it, laying one egg inside each one. This behaviour, which is known in other far-related weevils of the same family, seems to have appeared independently in different evolutionary branches. In the case of Deporaini, this behavioural trait evolved after the new genus became a distinct one.Figure 5 large

As a result, the new genus is considered to be one of the two most primitive within the tribe. In fact, it might be the most primitive one, taking into account a number of morphological traits as well.

It could be that the new beetle never knew how to roll a leaf to make nests and shelter its offspring.

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Original source:

Lv X, Alonso-Zarazaga MA, Xiao Z, Wang Z, Zhang R (2016) Evemphyron sinense, a new genus and species infesting legume seedpods in China (Coleoptera, Attelabidae, Rhynchitinae).ZooKeys 600: 89-101. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.600.6709

More than just hippos and crocs: The hidden biodiversity of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the sub-tropical north-eastern corner of South Africa has become famous for its birdlife, crocodiles and hippopotamuses that frolic in the warm estuarine waters of Lake St Lucia. However, there’s more to the park than the “big and hairy”, according to aquatic ecologist Prof Renzo Perissinotto at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth, whose research is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

“Although we have spent several decades focusing on life in the estuary, we only recently came to realise that much of the wealth of biodiversity in the park exists in the small freshwater ponds that are adjacent to, but disconnected from, the main lake,” he says.Image 1

The St Lucia lake itself is generally brackish and is located on a large sandy expanse known as the Maputaland coastal plain. Dotted across the landscape of this coastal foreland are numerous temporary freshwater ponds, seeps and small streams that are disconnected from the brackish lake body.

A team of self-proclaimed “beetle nerds”, led by Prof Perissinotto, got together from NMMU and Plymouth University (UK) and uncovered more species of water beetles in these tiny water bodies than is known for any other similar-sized region in southern Africa.

The beetle collection trips were done over a 16-month period and revealed 68 species of predaceous water beetles alone, termed more formally as the “Hydradephaga”. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park houses approximately 20% of the total number of known species for this beetle group in the whole of southern Africa. Of the species collected during their expeditions, five have never been recorded in South Africa before, highlighting our poor understanding of aquatic insect distributions in this part of the world.

Most of the species collected (almost 80%) belonged to the family Dytiscidae, more commonly known as “diving beetles” due to their lifestyle that involves coming up for air and immediately diving back down to the depths to carry on hunting unsuspecting prey, which can be as large as small fish and amphibians.Image 2

Prof Perissinotto and his NMMU colleague Dr Matthew Bird, together with water beetle specialist Prof David Bilton (Plymouth University), collected specimens ranging from 1 mm to almost 5 cm in length (the tadpole eaters). According to Prof Bilton, “Irrespective of size, these water beetles are a crucial component of the iSimangaliso ecosystem in that they are the primary predators in these temporary wetlands, which generally lack fish. Their abundance and diversity can be used to gauge the overall health of wetland ecosystems as they are sensitive to pollution, for instance”.

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Original source:

Perissinotto R, Bird MS, Bilton DT (2016) Predaceous water beetles (Coleoptera, Hydradephaga) of the Lake St Lucia system, South Africa: biodiversity, community ecology and conservation implications. ZooKeys 595: 85-135. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.595.8614

Surprising exotic flies in the backyard: New gnat species from Museum Koenig’s garden

Little did scientists Kai Heller and Björn Rulik expect to discover a new species in Germany’s Alexander Koenig Museum‘s garden upon placing a malaise trap for testing purposes. Not only did an unknown and strikingly coloured gnat get caught, but it turned out to be a species, which showed to have much more in common with its relatives from New Zealand. Their study is published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal (BDJ).

While the genus, which the new dark-winged fungus gnat species belongs to, likely originates from the Australasian region, it was so far represented by only three species in Europe. None of them, however, stands out with the contrasting colouration of the presently announced fourth one.

The new gnat, called Ctenosciara alexanderkoenigi after the German museum’s founder, is described based on a single specimen caught in the framework of the German Barcode of Life Project (GBOL). Over three days, the scientists observed the flying insects getting caught in a malaise trap, placed among the predominantly non-native plants in the Alexander Koenig Museum’s garden. This tent-like structure is designed to catch flying insects. Once they fly into its walls, they get funnelled into a collecting bottle.

Upon noticing the beautiful striking colour of the fly, the two specialists were convinced they had just discovered a new to science species. Most of these flies are bright brownish, and the only other orange European dark-winged fungus gnat – almost uniformly orange. In contrast, the new species stands out with a mixture of reddish, black and yellowish-white hues. Based on the DNA-barcode match with New Zealand specimens, the authors concluded that the species must have arrived from the Australasian region in Europe quite recently.

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“It is a rare occurrence, that a species from the opposite end of the world is represented by a single specimen only and it is not yet clear, whether Ctenosciara alexanderkoenigi has a permanent population in Germany or if it was only introduced casually with plants or soil,” they explain. “Probably, the species was recently introduced from the Australasian Region. If it was a permanent member of the European fauna, a striking species like this would likely have been found earlier.”

In conclusion, the scientists note that modern technologies such as the high quality photo documentation, established as a standard by the BOLD project, DNA barcodes assigned with BINs, as well as facilitated by speedy publishing, have largely aided taxonomists to build on the biodiversity knowledge.

“We believe that the rapid description of Ctenosciara alexanderkoenigi, coupled with the BDJ reviewing system, might be a robust and ground-breaking way to accelerate and stabilise taxonomy in the future,” they finish their paper.

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Original source:

Heller K & Rulik B (2016) Ctenosciara alexanderkoenigi sp. n. (Diptera: Sciaridae), an exotic invader in Germany? Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e6460. doi: 10.3897/BDJ.4.e6460

Black wattle’s new biogeographic distribution threatens flight safety in China

Black wattle, flowering trees also known as the Australian acacia, have been observed to rapidly spread around local airports in Yunnan province, southwestern China. According to the ecologists, this alien species and its extraordinary pace of invasion are to lead to new threats for both flight safety and local biodiversity. The five Chinese scientists, led by Min Liu, PhD student at Yunnan University, have their findings and suggestions for immediate measures published in the open-access journal Neobiota.

The phenomenon was investigated by the ecologists and botanists, affiliated with Yunnan University and Kunming University of Science and Technology, at Kunming’s Changshui International Airport.

The black wattle is listed as being among the ”Top 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species” by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Native to Australia, the species has been settled across the globe for more than 150 years owing to its multiple uses. However, its distribution and expansion are generally overlooked in China.

It is an evergreen fast growing flowering tree species, which is strongly dependent on sunlight and contributes to nitrogen fixation. This means that due to bacteria in its root system, the tree produces nitrogen compounds that help the plant grow and compete with other plants. Once dead, it would release these compounds to fertilise the soil.

During their investigation, the scientists observed a total seedling spread of 1800 m in 2013, with its peak growth taking place between June and November. Other population features such as number, density, height and ground diameter, also showed that the species had a very high invasion rate.

The authors conclude that black wattle has a strong potential to change the local vegetation structure and increase the risk of bird strikes. It is of urgent need that the situation is further assessed and the potential invasion threat at other airports around China and other parts of the world – evaluated.

“I have never found such a rapid expansion like the one of the black wattle trees at this airport in my career,” said the Head of Bird Strike Prevention Office of Changshui Airport. “These trees grow very fast and provide good shelters for local birds, which eventually increases the probability of bird strikes at our airport. So, they must be controlled.”

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Original source:

Liu M, Yang M, Song D, Zhang Z, Ou X (2016) Invasive Acacia mearnsii De Wilde in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China: a new biogeographic distribution that Threatens Airport Safety.NeoBiota 29: 53-62. doi: 10.3897/neobiota.29.7230

How to catch a small squid? First records for the Gulf of California and southwest Mexico

Often avoiding sampling gear with their capability to detect movements and swim their way out of the nets fast enough, the small squids living in the open-ocean zone have so long gone under-researched. The present study, conducted by Dr. Michel Hendrickx, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, and his team, seems to provide new and first distributional records of five such species for the Gulf of California and in southwestern Mexico. It also significantly expands the currently known southernmost limit of localities of some of these squids in the eastern Pacific. The research is available in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The researched five squid species belong to two genera, Abraliopsis and Pterygioteuthis, which although abundant and diverse, have long been shrouded by taxonomic and distributional controversies. To solve them, the researchers used specimens, collected over the span of thirteen years, comprising eight cruises across 113 locations in the Gulf of California and off the southwestern coast of Mexico.

As a result, the scientists concluded a significantly wider distributional range of the species they found. For instance, squids of the Abraliopsis genus were surprisingly found in water deeper than 600 m during the day.

The studied small squids are of high ecological value due to their vital position in the food web. Members of Abraliopsis are important preys for many fishes and mammals, such as the peruvian hake, the Indo-Pacific sailfish, the common dolphinfish and the local sharks. Meanwhile, the representatives of the other researched genus, Pterygioteuthis, are often consumed by larger cephalopods, sea-birds and fur seals. However, their abundance is strongly dependent on temperature, especially when there are fast and significant changes.

The scientists suggest that additional samplings with more adequate equipment, like faster large-sized mid-water trawls, could further bridge the knowledge gaps about these elusive marine inhabitants.

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Original source:

Hendrickx ME, Urbano B, Zamorano P (2015) Distribution of pelagic squids Abraliopsis Joubin, 1896 (Enoploteuthidae) and Pterygioteuthis P. Fischer, 1896 (Pyroteuthidae) (Cephalopoda, Decapodiformes, Oegopsida) in the Mexican Pacific. ZooKeys 537: 51-64. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.537.6023.