Pandemic-inspired discoveries: New insect species from Kosovo named after the Coronavirus

While the new Coronavirus will, hopefully, be effectively controlled sooner rather than later, its latest namesake is here to stay – a small caddisfly endemic to a national park in Kosovo that is new to science.

The new species Potamophylax coronavirus

Potamophylax coronavirus was collected near a stream in the Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park in Kosovo by a team of scientists, led by Professor Halil Ibrahimi of the University of Prishtina. After molecular and morphological analyses, it was described as a caddisfly species, new to science in the open-access, peer-reviewed Biodiversity Data Journal.

 Male and female of the new species Potamophylax coronavirus, in copulation. Photo by Halil Ibrahimi 

Ironically, the study of this new insect was impacted by the same pandemic that inspired its scientific name. Although it was collected a few years ago, the new species was only described during the global pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2. Its name, P. coronavirus, will be an eternal memory of this difficult period.

The locality where P. coronavirus was discovered. Photo by Halil Ibrahimi and Astrit Bilalli

In a broader sense, the authors also wish to bring attention to “another silent pandemic occurring on freshwater organisms in Kosovo’s rivers,” caused by the pollution and degradation of freshwater habitats, as well as the activity increasing in recent years of mismanaged hydropower plants. Particularly, the river basin of the Lumbardhi i Deçanit River, where the new species was discovered, has turned into a ‘battlefield’ for scientists and civil society on one side and the management of the hydropower plant operating on this river on the other.

The locality where P. coronavirus was discovered. Photo by Halil Ibrahimi and Astrit Bilalli

The small insect order of Trichoptera, where P. coronavirus belongs, is very sensitive to water pollution and habitat deterioration. The authors of the new species argue that it is a small-scale endemic taxon, very sensitive to the ongoing activities in Lumbardhi i Deçanit river. Failure to understand this may drive this and many other species towards extinction.

Interestingly, in the same paper, the authors also identified a few other new species from isolated habitats in the Balkan Peninsula, which are awaiting description upon collection of further specimens. The Western Balkans and especially Kosovo, have proved to be an important hotspot of freshwater biodiversity. Several new insect species have been discovered there in the past few years, most of them being described by Professor Halil Ibrahimi and his team.

New caddisfly species discovered in the Balkan biodiversity hotspot of Kosovo

The Republic of Kosovo turns out to be a unique European biodiversity hotspot after a second new species of aquatic insect has been described from the Balkan country. The new caddisfly was discovered by Prof. Halil Ibrahimi from the University of Prishtina, Kosovo, and international research team. They have their finding published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The new caddisfly species was found during a field trip, undertaken by the scientists in Sharr National Park in Kosovo. The aquatic insect belongs to the highly diverse genusDrusus, which, unfortunately, is under threat of extinction because of the ongoing pollution activities and mismanagement of freshwater ecosystems.

Called Drusus sharrensis, the new caddisfly has been named after the mountains where it was found. Thus, it is yet another example for a species, either animal or plant, bearing the same combination of names, and highlighting this range of mountains as a highly rich in rare and endemic species.

“Even though just discovered, the species may be already threatened by illegal logging, water extraction from springs, expansion of touristic activities and several other anthropogenic factors,” points out the author, “such as limestone and rock quarries operating in the Sharr Mountains in the vicinity of aquatic ecosystems potentially causing severe siltation.”

“Additionally, recent development of a winter tourism facility at Brezovice, close to the type locality of the new species, may enhance local degradation of terrestrial and, particularly, aquatic ecosystems in the Sharr Mountains,” he further explains. “The Brezovica Touristic Centre Development Project was designed by the Government of the Republic of Kosovo with support from the European Union to promote the touristic appeal and thus, economic importance of the area. This project will impact a total area of roughly 3,700 ha.”

This is the second aquatic insect species discovered from Kosovo for the last twelve months and probably more are to be expected in this highly under-investigated area of the European continent.

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Original source:

Ibrahimi H, Vitecek S, Previši? A, Kučini? M, Waringer J, Graf W, Balint M, Keresztes L, Pauls SU (2016) Drusus sharrensis sp. n. (Trichoptera, Limnephilidae), a new species from Sharr National Park in Kosovo, with molecular and ecological notes. ZooKeys 559: 107-124. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.559.6350

How did the stonefly cross the lake? The mystery of stoneflies recolonising a US island

Massive glaciers once covered an island in one of the Great Lakes, USA, leaving it largely devoid of life. Its subsequent recolonisation by insects triggered the curiosity of entomologist R. Edward DeWalt and graduate student Eric J. South of the Illinois Natural History Survey and Department of Entomology. Not only did they prove there were significantly fewer species, compared to the mainland, but also that smaller stonefly species appeared to be more capable of recolonizing the island. This study was published in the open-access journal ZooKeys .

Isle Royale is a large island and national park in the middle of Lake Superior, isolated from the mainland by 22 — 70 km distance. As recently as 8,000 — 10,000 years ago, glaciers completely covered the island making it almost uninhabitable.

Over the last 10 millennia mammals as large as moose and wolves, swam, floated, flew, or walked on ice bridges to the island. Therefore, it seemed logical that it was the larger size that allowed some species to cross the water. However, as far as stoneflies are concerned, the results turned out quite different.

“We sampled stoneflies (Plecoptera), mayflies (Ephemeroptera), and caddisflies (Trichoptera), because they are important water quality indicators. Our laboratory has expertise in the taxonomy and ecology of these important species and we know that national parks potentially provide us with wilderness quality conditions,” says DeWalt.

Being much better fliers, the mayflies and caddisflies did not show a particular relation between a species’ body size and their ability to recolonise the island. Conversely, stoneflies on the island were considerably smaller than their mainland counterparts.

“Stoneflies are clumsy fliers, especially the larger species. Large ones are not very aerodynamic and because of this they don’t have the energy reserves to cover the distance to the island. Few species of stoneflies can actually live in the lake, so most could not swim to the island,” explains DeWalt. “Mayflies and caddisflies, on the other hand, are known to be better fliers and tolerant of lake conditions, which would allow for more of the mainland species and similarly sized species to reach Isle Royale.

“Smaller stoneflies have probably used updrafts from the mainland and prevailing winds to get to the island,” the scientist suggests. “The wind just held them up until they reached the island.”

Future research is to use molecular techniques to identify the possible mainland origin for several species inhabiting Isle Royale National Park.

 

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Original source:

DeWalt RE, South EJ (2015) Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera on Isle Royale National Park, USA, compared to mainland species pool and size distribution. ZooKeys 532: 137-158.doi: 10.3897/zookeys.532.6478