Diversity and Wildlife Management: The legacy of PPG Biologia Unisinos was edited by former professors and students of PPG Biologia Unisinos, and features eight articles focused on the Neotropical region. Each study was conducted by the research teams of the program, or was only made possible with their help. It serves as a testament to the importance of the program.
On 21 July 2022, Unisinos, a private institution in southern Brazil, announced that it would discontinue 12 of its postgraduate programs, including PPG Biologia Unisinos. The program specialised in diversity and wildlife management and was the birthplace of the journal Neotropical Biology and Conservation in 2006.
The closure of the programs was explained by Unisinos as a measure to maintain the university’s financial stability. However, this decision is widely seen as a significant setback for Brazilian research. It has disrupted the work of many professors and graduate students and is expected to have a noticeable negative impact on Brazilian research in the coming years.
“PPG Biologia Unisinos was a resilient postgraduate program with amazing professors that always did their best to keep the high quality of their research even when facing adversities such as budget cuts.
“We hope that this special issue helps raise awareness on the importance of biological research and encourages researchers from other institutions to defend their programs and advocate for more investment in biological research.”
Piter Boll, Neotropical Biology and Conservation’s editor-in-chief and former student of PPG Biologia Unisinos
Notable research featured in the issue includes a review of the management effectiveness of nature conservation units in southern Brazil, and a paper discussing the consequences of the program’s closure.
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A Brazilian network of female zoologists aims to oppose gender disparity in science
Guest blog post by Veronica Slobodian
Scientists are part of a rather sexist society and, therefore, ruled by a rather sexist social conduct. Nevertheless, women scientists attempt to thrive despite all setbacks provided by structural sexism (both explicit and implicit).
Sadly, female scientists are more likely to suffer from harassment, be deprived from recognition for their work, and be more overburdened with household chores compared to their male counterparts. All these situations are being reinforced by social gender stereotypes.
As a result, many women leave academia because of these hindrances and prejudice in a phenomenon known as “leaking pipeline”. To properly address those setbacks, we must first recognize the structural inequalities in academia, and then provide strategies to recruit, retain and promote students and faculty from underrepresented groups.
In a rebuttal to an article published in Nature Communications (AlShebli et al. 2020, now retracted), which suggested that female protégés reap more benefits when mentored by men and, therefore, policies to promote female mentors need to be revisited, our group of female zoologists wrote the opinion paper “Why we shouldn’t blame women for gender disparity in academia: Perspectives of Women in Zoology“, now published in the open-access scientific journal Zoologia. Quickly supported by over 500 signatories from all around the world, the piece soon grew into the Women in Zoology network, which brings together zoologists from underrepresented people in the scientific field groups, especially women.
In this reply, we pointed to the methodological flaws and addressed the inherently problematic conclusions of AlShebli et al. (2020). We also demonstrated the gendered academic settings that systematically prejudices women and presented how some of the current diversity policies are positively changing the zoological field in Brazil. While writing our response, we realized these challenges and aches were in fact much more common in the field, so we decided to broaden the network to encompass all female zoologists who want a more fair and diverse Zoology. So, with the “Women in Zoology” network, our aim is to promote female zoologists, investigate their underrepresentation in Brazilian zoology, and propose policies to balance the situation.
Slobodian V, Soares KDA, Falaschi RL, Prado LR, Camelier P, Guedes TB, Leal LC, Hsiou AS, Del-Rio G, Costa ER, Pereira KRC, D’Angiolella AB, de A Sousa S, Diele-Viegas LM (2021) Why we shouldn’t blame women for gender disparity in academia: perspectives of women in zoology. Zoologia 38: 1-9. https://doi.org/10.3897/zoologia.38.e61968
When, in 2014, Brazilian researchers stumbled across a never-before-seen red-eyed leafhopper feeding inside the rosettes of bromeliads, growing in the restingas of southeastern Brazil, they were certain it was a one-of-a-kind discovery. Described as new-to-science species, as well as genus (Cavichiana bromelicola) and added to the sharpshooter tribe Cicadellini, it became the first known case of a leafhopper feeding on otherwise nutrition-poor bromeliads in their natural habitat.
Several years later, however, a team of entomologists from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro carried out fieldwork in a mountainous area of southeastern Brazil and, as a result, another bromelicolous leafhopper species of the genus was discovered: Cavichiana alpina. Only, the new one appeared even more spectacular.
The new species, described and illustrated in the open-access journal Zoologia, is known from Itatiaia National Park (southeastern Brazil), where it can be found at altitudes above 1,800 m a.s.l. In fact, its characteristic mountainous habitat came to determine its species name (alpina). In contrast, its relative was originally described exclusively from sea level regions, even though the latest field trips have recorded it from a site located at 1,250 m a.s.l.
Slightly larger than the previously known C. bromelicola and similarly red-eyed, what most remarkably sets apart the newly-described species is its colouration. Rather than a single large yellow blotch contrasting against the dark-brown to black back of the insect, this sharpshooter sports a motley amalgam of red and blue covering most of its upper side.
In conclusion, the researchers explain that the peculiarity of the two known Cavichiana species is best attributed to a putative common ancestor that had likely once been widely distributed in southeastern and southern Brazil. Later, they speculate, a vicariant event, such as the uplift of the southeastern Brazilian mountain ranges during the latest Eocene and Oligocene, might have caused its diversification into two separate species.
Original source: Quintas V, Takiya DM, Côrte I, Mejdalani G (2020) A remarkable new species of Cavichiana (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae: Cicadellinae) from southeastern Brazil. Zoologia 37: 1-8. https://doi.org/10.3897/zoologia.37.e38783
To better understand how primates modify their behaviour to adapt to the increasing presence of humans, a research team monitored 17 robust capuchin monkeys for a year and a half.
Confined to a small green area, surrounded by houses and small corn and soy plantations in the municipality of Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil), the primates were frequented by both city government officers and casual visitors. It was found that the monkeys spent more time roaming around in search for food, but less in feeding, resting and socialising. This is considered to be the result of a diet comprising predominantly of human-provided food and restriction of dispersal due to a fragmented habitat.
Capuchin monkeys are omnivorous primates with flexible social and feeding behaviour inhabiting Central and South America. Living in multi-male, multi-female groups of 3 to 30 individuals, they are heavily dependent on their social interactions, both agonistic and affiliative (grooming, social play, alloparental carrying etc.) However, they allocate their time according to many factors, including season, daytime, social status, sex and age. Their pronounced adaptability is also seen in their behavioural repertoire, which can rapidly increase in response to new stimuli in the environment.
In late 2011, the researchers began their study by spending three months familiarising the monkeys to the presence of human observers. Then, they conducted regular visits between January 2012 and June 2013, when they would monitor the population for a total of 10 hours a day. Thus, they obtained 15,208 behavioural records and noted 2,538 events of social interaction.
While the monkeys were seen to feed on the fruits of the native and exotic trees present in the habitat, as well as food provided by the city government officers and the passers-by, according to the data, their diet comprised 71% human-provided food, mostly given by casual visitors. The monkeys seemed to have accepted the scattered and unpredictable nature of their primary source, resulting in more time spent in searching for food (80%), when compared to populations in larger fragments and continuous forest. It could also be that the animals were spending extra time travelling to explore the many objects left behind by people.
Naturally, more time spent in searching for food results in less time left for social interactions. Additionally, roaming animals are staying apart from each other for longer periods of time.
On the other hand, the monkeys were reported to spend less time eating, which is considered to be a consequence of the human-provided food being much higher in energy content and availability, thus satisfying individual demands with less effort and smaller amounts.
To the surprise of the researchers, the capuchins were not found to spend more time resting, which is a commonly observed phenomenon in animals regularly fed by humans. The team attributes the deviation to pedestrians frequently disturbing the monkeys by using the forest patch as shortcuts.
As a result of food abundance, the monkeys were rarely seen to act in a hostile manner with each other. Alternatively, it could be that the population favours affiliative and cooperative social interactions since the fragmented habitat had led to well-pronounced kinship in the group.
“In conclusion, we found deviations in activity budget and social interactions of capuchins living in the studied small urban fragment, possibly influenced by the availability of anthropic food and the restrictions for dispersion imposed by the urban matrix,” say the scientists.
“These kind of studies are very important in Primate Conservation Biology, because we have an urgent demand to understand how primates adapt around human beings, as the contact between human and nonhuman primates are an inescapable aspect today.”
Scientists provide crucial data to prompt further conservation and safety measures at the notorious BR-262 highway
Having systematically monitored wild animals killed on the Brazilian federal highway BR-262, which passes through the Pantanal region, a research team from the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, published their data concerning birds and reptiles in the open access journal Check List.
Apart from information crucial for future conservation activities, the paper provides new and unexpected roadkill records, including the Black-and-white hawk-eagle.
Authored by Wagner Fischer and his colleagues Raquel Faria de Godoi and Antonio Conceição Paranhos Filho, the article is part of the first dataset of vertebrate mortality in the region. A separate paper of theirs is planned to present the data concerning mammals gathered during the same survey, which took place between 1996 and 2000.
Having mapped bird and reptile roadkill on the highway between the cities of Campo Grande and Corumbá in the Brazilian savannah, the team reports a total of 930 animals representing 29 reptile and 47 bird species. In addition, the data provide the first regional geographic record of the colubrid snake Hydrodynastes bicinctus.
The researchers conclude that the species richness observed in the road-killed animals clearly confirms earlier concerns about wildlife-vehicle collisions in the Pantanal region. Such accidents lead to long-term and chronic impact on both wildlife and road safety.
“Mitigation of wildlife-vehicle collisions on this road continues to claim urgency for biodiversity conservation and for human and animal safety and care,” say the authors.
“For managers, the main goal should be to determine target species of greatest concern, focusing on those vulnerable to local extinction or those which represent major risks of serious accidents.”
In the past, the team’s dataset had already been used as a guide to road fauna management. In particular, it was used by government road managers when planning animal overpassess and underpassess equipped with roadside fences as part of the long-term project Programa Estrada Viva: BR-262. So far, however, only some of the less efficient safety methods, such as road signs and lowered speed limits, have been applied at the most critical points.
Over the past several years, a few independent studies have been conducted to monitor roadkill in a similar manner. Two of them (2010 and 2017) looked into mammal-vehicle collisions, while the third recorded reptiles and birds as well. All of them serve to demonstrate that BR-262 continues to be a major cause for the regional wildlife mortality, which in turn increases the risks of serious accidents.
“BR-262 keeps its inglorious fame as a highway to hell for human and wild lives,” points out lead author Wagner Fischer.
Fischer W, Godoi RF, Filho ACP (2018) Roadkill records of reptiles and birds in Cerrado and Pantanal landscapes. Check List 14(5): 845-876. https://doi.org/10.15560/14.5.845
While people tend to describe tropical oceanic islands as ‘paradises on Earth’ and associate them with calm beaches, transparent warm waters and marvellous landscapes, archipelagos are often the product of a fierce natural force – volcanoes which erupt at the bottom of the sea.
Because of their origin, these islands have never been connected to the mainland, thereby it is extremely difficult for species to cross the ocean and populate them.
One such species – the South American guppy (Poecilia vivipara) – is a small freshwater fish which looks nowhere equipped to cross the distance between the mainland and the Fernando de Noronha oceanic archipelago in Northeast Brazil.
To answer these questions, the scientists sequenced a gene of the guppies’ DNA to analyze potential signatures of the island colonization left in the fish DNA. As a result, they concluded that the isolated population was in fact closely related to the fish inhabiting the closest continental drainages.
However, this evidence was not enough to explain how the species turned up on the island in the first place. Was it natural colonization, or rather human introduction?
The most likely scenario, according to the team, leads back to about 60 years ago when the American military had their WWII bases positioned at both Fernando de Noronha and Natal – the closest continental city. Indeed, the soldiers suggested to bring guppies to the island in an attempt to control mosquito population (in this region, guppies are commonly placed in water reservoirs to eat mosquito larvae).
On the other hand, natural dispersion cannot be completely excluded. The biologists remind that, apart for their exuberant colours and shapes, the guppies are well known for their capacity to resist to a wide range of environmental conditions. It could be that a set of circumstances occurring together, such as a favourable sea current, physiological adaptation and a bit of luck, might have brought the guppies to the archipelago.
“Regardless of their means of transportation,” argue the authors, “this guppy population represents a valuable lesson on how small populations manage to colonize and thrive in isolated environments.”
“Despite being visited by thousands of people every year, some of the most intriguing secrets of tropical islands may still be hidden in the DNA of their inhabitants,” they conclude. “These ‘paradises on Earth’ are capable of simultaneously filling our hearts with beauty and our minds – with knowledge.”
Berbel-Filho WM, Barros-Neto LF, Dias RM, Mendes LF, Figueiredo CAA, Torres RA, Lima SMQ (2018) Poecilia vivipara Bloch & Schneider, 1801 (Cyprinodontiformes, Poeciliidae), a guppy in an oceanic archipelago: from where did it come? ZooKeys 746: 91-104. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.746.20960
“As soon as I saw those bulging legs, I knew I had to name this one after Arnold,” says Brown. “Not only is he a major cultural icon and an important person in the political realm, his autobiography gave me some hope that I could improve my body as a skinny teenager.” For these reasons, Brown says, the former governor deserves to have the new fly named in his honor.
The fly is impressive in other ways, Brown explains. “It is known only from one female specimen that we almost overlooked because it is so incredibly small.”
In fact, it is the world’s smallest known fly, according to Brown, who should know, since he had previously described what was formerly the world’s smallest fly, at 0.400 mm in body length. The new fly, named Megapropodiphora arnoldi, is just a fraction smaller, coming in at 0.395 mm.
However, unlike the enlarged forelegs that prompted the naming, the mid- and hind legs appear to be highly reduced, and the wings reduced to tiny stubs.
Even though the fly has not been observed in the wild, Brown concludes that it is clearly a parasitoid, probably of ants or termites, based on its pointed, sharp ovipositor. He further speculates that these flies probably grab onto the hosts and “hold on for dear life” until they reach a nest or colony where they can parasitize their victims more effectively.
Brown has had considerable success finding new species of tiny flies, which he says are “the continuing frontier for insect discovery.”
Some of the more obvious, larger insects might have already been described, but by looking at smaller specimens, especially from remote, tropical sites, the entomologist finds that almost everything is new.
Even in his home city of Los Angeles, Brown and collaborators found that almost half of the phorid flies were previously unknown.
For example, it was last year that they finally figured why a secretive fly had been observed around mushrooms with no clear explanation for nearly 30 years. The revelation occurred when L.A. Bed & Breakfast owners Patsy Carter and Lisa Carter-Davis decided to alert entomologists about a phenomenon happening in their yard.
A new species and genus (Cecidonius pampeanus) of primitive monotrysian micromoth from the Brazilian Pampa biome has been recently discovered to induce scarcely noticeable galls under the swollen stems of the Uruguayan pepper tree.
Gall-inducing moths lay their eggs in the tree bark, where the larvae form the characteristic roundish swellings as they grow larger. In their turn, these galls attract various parasitoids and inquiline wasps – wasps that have lost the ability to form galls for their own eggs – and so they take advantage of the galls of other species, while under development. The inquilines modify the galls into larger ones which subsequently last longer and attract even more attention. As a result, even though abundant as young, the new moth’s larvae rarely survive and their density in the field later in life is low.
While free-living gall moths are generally rare, the studied genus pupates on the ground, resulting in its being overlooked for over a century. Furthermore, the galls fall to the ground where the last instar larvae undergo a period of suspended development for months. They stay motionless within their gall until pupation and emerge as adults in the next growing season.
After all this time, this species has finally been recognised in the open access journal ZooKeysby an international research team, led by Dr. Gilson Moreira, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. In their paper, the scientists describe the gall, immature stages and adults of the moth. They also provide information on its natural history in conjunction with one of the associated parasitoid and inquiline wasps.
“It took several years to obtain a small number of C. pampeanus pupae and adults to use for the description,” say the authors.
“The existence of these galls has been known for more than a century. However, biologists believed they are induced by the inquiline wasps,” they explain. “Consequently, it turned out that the wasps do not induce galls, but rather modify them early in development into large and colourful, visually appealing galls.”
The study also provides strong evidence that the species is under threat of extinction and the scientists suggest that protective measures need to be taken to conserve it.
In fact, they found strikingly low levels of gene flow amongst populations of C. pampeanus. In their paper, the team also emphasises that, in case of extinction of the primary gall inducer, a whole insect community associated with their galls will follow. This could happen even before science becomes familiar with all of these species.
Open savannahs of southern Brazil, where populations of the new moth’s host plant (the Uruguayan pepper tree) are found, have been suffering from anthropic impact for decades, mostly caused by agriculture and cattle ranching.
Curiously, the present study is the first in Brazil to suggest that a micromoth and its associated fauna should be subjected to conservation measures.
Extant populations of the new species are distant and isolated from each other, being restricted to a small geographic area in the northeast Southern Brazilian “Campos” (= Pampean savannah), a neglected biome from a nature preservation perspective. Most of the moths have retreated to higher elevations, such as hilltops and hill slopes interspersed with small bushes, where they get shelter from the anthropic influence.
Moreira GRP, Eltz RP, Pase RB, Silva GT, Bordignon SAL, Mey W, Gonçalves GL (2017) Cecidonius pampeanus, gen. et sp. n.: an overlooked and rare, new gall-inducing micromoth associated with Schinus in southern Brazil (Lepidoptera, Cecidosidae). ZooKeys 695: 37-74. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.695.13320
Characterised with its immense biodiversity and high levels of endemism, the Atlantic Tropical Forest has been facing serious anthropogenic threats over the last several decades, demanding for such activities and their effects to be closely studied and monitored as part of the forest dynamics.
Cattle farming, expanding agricultural land areas and mining have reduced the Atlantic Forest to many small patches of vegetation. As a result, important ecosystem services, such as carbon stock, are steadily diminishing as the biomass decreases.
The team surveyed two stands within the forest to present variations in the structure and diversity of the plants over time, along with their dynamics, including mortality and establishment rates. They based their findings on the most abundant tree species occurring within each stand.
At the forest stands, the most abundant and important species for biomass accumulation are concluded to be trees larger than 20 cm in diameter, which characterise advanced successional stage within the forest.
“It is fundamental that opportunities to monitor conserved sites of the Atlantic Forest are taken, so that studies about their dynamics are conducted in order to better understand how they work,” note the scientists.
“The information from such surveys could improve the knowledge about the dynamics at anthropised and fragmented sites compared with protected areas.”
In order to encourage further research into the composition, diversity and structure of the Atlantic Forest over time and the subsequent contributions to the preservation of this threatened ecosystem, the authors made their data publicly available. The datasets, including species occurrences, are now openly accessible via the Global Biodiversity Information Facility(GBIF) and the biodiversity informatics data standard Darwin Core.
Diniz ES, Carvalho W, Santos R, Gastauer M, Garcia P, Fontes M, Coelho P, Moreira A, Menino G, Oliveira-Filho A (2017) Long-term monitoring of diversity and structure of two stands of an Atlantic Tropical Forest. Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e13564. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e13564
It is a well-known fact that environmental factors such as soil texture and drainage determine to a very large degree the vegetation appearance, richness and composition at any site. However, there has been little research on how these variables influence the flora in the marvellous savannas – large open areas characterised by a complex and unique network of natural resources and life forms.
Consequently, a Brazilian research team, led by Dr. Maria Aparecida de Moura Araújo, Universidade Federal de Roraima, investigated the hydro-edaphic conditions in the savanna areas in the northern Brazilian Amazonia. Their study, complete with an openly available and ready for re-use dataset, is published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.
In the course of the Program for Biodiversity Research, managed by the Brazilian government, the scientists sampled 20 permanent plots in two savanna areas in the state of Roraima, located in the northern of the Brazilian Amazon. As a result, the team reports a total of 128 plant species classified into 34 families from three savanna habitats with different levels of hydro-edaphic restrictions.
Amongst the various factors playing a role in the soil characteristics of the area, are the tectonic events and past climatic fluctuations which have occurred in the most recent period of the Cenozoic era. Paleo, as well as modern fires are likely to be other culprits for the specific conditions.
In conclusion, the authors suggest that the most restrictive savanna habitats – the wet grasslands, represent the home to less structurally complex plants, compared to the well-drained shrubby localities.
“The present study highlights the environmental heterogeneity and the biological importance of Roraima’s savanna regarding the conservation of natural resources from the Amazon,” say the scientists.
“In addition, it points out the need for greater investment in floristic inventories associated with greater diversification of sites, since this entire ecosystem has been rapidly modified by agribusiness.”
Original source: Araújo M, Rocha A, Miranda I, Barbosa R (2017) Hydro-edaphic conditions defining richness and species composition in savanna areas of the northern Brazilian Amazonia. Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e13829. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e13829