Citizen scientists help expose presence of invasive Asian bamboo longhorn beetle in Europe

A worryingly high number of Asian bamboo longhorn beetles turn out to have been emerging across Europe for about a century already, finds an international research team. Curiously, the records of the invasive, non-native to the Old Continent species are mostly sourced from citizen scientists and online platforms, which proves the power of involving the public in species monitoring. The study is published in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal BioRisk.

A worryingly high number of Asian bamboo longhorn beetles (Chlorophorus annularis) turn out to have been emerging across Europe for about a century already, finds an international research team, headed by researchers from the Center of Natural History, University of Hamburg, Germany. Curiously, the recent records of the invasive, non-native to the Old Continent species are mostly sourced from citizen scientists and online platforms, which proves the power of involving the public in species monitoring. The study is published in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal BioRisk.

In our globalised world, which has already become victim to climate change and biodiversity loss, non-native species present a further threat to our ecosystems. Thus, the rising accounts of newly recorded alien species are of serious concern to both scientists and (inter)national institutions. However, surveying non-native species remains limited to a small fraction of species: those known to be particularly invasive and harmful.

One of the multitude of non-native species that are currently lacking efficient and coordinated surveying efforts is the Asian bamboo longhorn beetle (Chlorophorus annularis). Naturally occurring in temperate and tropical Southeast Asia, the insect feeds on a variety of plants, but prefers bamboo. Thus, due to the international trade of bamboo and the insects ‘travelling’ with the wood, the species has continuously been expanding its distribution around the world. Its first appearance in Europe was recorded back in 1924, when it was identified in England.

Bamboo longhorn beetle captured in Braintree, United Kingdom
Photo by Stephen Rolls

Back to our days, during a fieldwork practice for students at the University of Hamburg, held within the city because of the COVID-19 travelling restrictions, the team stumbled across a longhorn beetle, later identified by scientists as the Asian bamboo borer. Furthermore, it became clear that there were even more recent records published across different citizen science platforms, such as iNaturalist, iRecord and Waarneming.nl. Having taken the contacts of the citizen scientists from there, the researchers approached them to ask for additional collection details and images, which were readily provided. As a result, the researchers formally confirmed the presence of the Asian bamboo borer in Belgium and the Netherlands. In total, they reported thirteen new introductions of the species in Europe, which translates to a 42% increase of the records of the species for the continent.

“In light of the warming climate and a growing abundance of ornamental bamboo plants in Europe, the beetle might get permanently established. Not only could it become a garden pest, but it could also incur significant costs to the bamboo-processing industry,”

comments Dr Matthias Seidel, lead author of the study.

Having realised the potential of citizen science for bridging the gaps in invasive species monitoring, the researchers now propose for specialised platforms to be established with the aim to familiarise non-professional scientists with non-native species of interest and provide them with more sophisticated reporting tools. The aim is to speed up the identification of important alien species by collating records of specific species of interest, which are flagged and regularly exported from other citizen science databases and platforms. 

Bamboo longhorn beetle captured in Lincoln, United Kingdom
Photo by Sheena Cotter

Original source: 

Seidel M, Lüttke M, Cocquempot C, Potts K, Heeney WJ, Husemann M (2021) Citizen scientists significantly improve our knowledge on the non-native longhorn beetle Chlorophorus annularis (Fabricius, 1787) (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae) in Europe. BioRisk 16: 1–13. https://doi.org/10.3897/biorisk.16.61099

Failure to respond to a coral disease epizootic in Florida: causes and consequences

By 2020, losses of corals have been observed throughout Florida and into the greater Caribbean basin in what turned out to be likely the most lethal recorded case of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. A Perspectives paper, published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal Rethinking Ecology, provides an overview of how Florida ended up in a situation, where the best that could be done is rescuing genetic material from coral species at risk of regional extinction.

Guest blog post by William F. Precht

A colony of the large grooved brain coral, Colpophyllia natans, infected by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. The photo shows the progressive, rapid advance of disease, left-to-right, across the colony.
Image by William Precht.

Dredging projects conducted in association with coral reefs typically generate concern by environmental groups, resulting in careful monitoring by government agencies. Even though the aim of those dredge projects is to widen or deepen existing ship channels, while minimizing damage to coral reef resources, there are often the intuitive negative assumptions that dredging kills corals.

The recent Port Miami Dredge Project started as an uncomplicated case story. However, significant problems arose, caused by a concurrent and unprecedented coral disease epidemic that killed large numbers of corals, which was initiated following a regional thermal anomaly and coral bleaching event.

The coral disease, known as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD), was first observed in September 2014 near Virginia Key, Florida. In roughly six years, the disease has spread throughout Florida and into the greater Caribbean basin. The high prevalence of SCTLD and the resulting high mortality in coral populations, coupled with the large number of susceptible species affected, suggest that this disease outbreak is one of the most lethal ever recorded on contemporary coral reefs. The disease is still presently active and continues to ravage coral reefs throughout the region.

The initial response to this catastrophic disease by resource managers with purview over the ecosystem in Southeast Florida was slow. There is generally a noticeably short window of opportunity to intervene in disease amelioration or eradication in the marine environment. This slow response enabled the disease to spread unchecked. Why was the response to the loss of our coral reefs to a coral disease epidemic such a massive failure? This includes our failure as scientists, regulators, resource managers, local media, and policy makers alike. With this Perspectives paper, published in Rethinking Ecology, my intention was to encapsulate the numerous reasons for our failures during the first few years of the outbreak, reminiscent of the early failures in the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, the Port Miami dredging project was ongoing when the coral disease epidemic began. Some managers and local environmental groups blamed dredging, rather than SCTLD for the coral losses, reported in the project’s compliance monitoring program. Second, this blame was amplified in the media, because dredging projects are intuitively assumed to be bad for coral reefs. Third, during this same time, the State of Florida prohibited government employees from acknowledging global warming in their work. This was problematic because ocean warming is a proximal cause of many coral diseases.

As a result, some managers ignored the well-known links between warming and coral disease. A consequence of this policy was that the dredging project provided an easy target to blame for the coral mortality noted in the monitoring program, despite convincing data that suggested otherwise. 

Specifically, the intensive compliance monitoring program, conducted by trained scientific divers, was statistically significant. SCTLD that was killing massive numbers of corals throughout the region was also killing corals at the dredge site. Further, this was happening in the same proportions and among the same suite of species. 

Finally, when the agencies responded to the outbreak, their efforts were too little and much too late to make a meaningful difference. While eradication of the disease was never a possibility, early control measures may have slowed its spread, or allowed for the rescue of significant numbers of large colonies of iconic species. Because of the languid management response to this outbreak, we are now sadly faced with a situation where much of our management efforts are focused on the rescue of genetic material from coral species already at risk of regional extinction.

The delayed response to this SCTLD outbreak in Southeast Florida has many similarities to the COVID-19 pandemic response in the United States and there are lessons learned from both that will improve disease response outcomes in the future, to the benefit of coral reefs and human populations.

Publication:

Precht W (2021) Failure to respond to a coral disease epizootic in Florida: causes and consequences. Rethinking Ecology 6: 1-47. https://doi.org/10.3897/rethinkingecology.6.56285

Eurasian eagle owl diet reveals new records of threatened giant bush-crickets

Bird diets provide a real treasure for research into the distribution and conservation of their prey, conclude scientists after studying the Eurasian Eagle Owl in southeastern Bulgaria. In their paper, published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Travaux du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle “Grigore Antipa”, they report the frequent presence of the threatened Big-Bellied Glandular Bush-Cricket, and conclude that studies on the Eurasian Eagle Owl could be used to identify biodiversity-rich areas in need of protection.

Male specimen of the Big-Bellied Glandular Bush-Cricket (Bradyporus macrogaster)
Photo by Dragan Chobanov

Bird diets provide a real treasure for research into the distribution and conservation of their prey, such as overlooked and rare bush-cricket species, point out scientists after studying the diet of the Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) in southeastern Bulgaria.

In their paper, published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Travaux du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle “Grigore Antipa”, Dr Dragan Chobanov (Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research, Bulgaria) and Dr Boyan Milchev (University of Forestry, Bulgaria) report the frequent presence of the threatened with extinction Big-Bellied Glandular Bush-Cricket (Bradyporus macrogaster) in the diet of Eurasian Eagle Owls, and conclude that the predatory bird could be used to identify biodiversity-rich areas in need of protection.

While the Balkan Peninsula has already been recognised as the area with the highest diversity of orthopterans (grasshoppers, crickets and bush-crickets) in Europe and one of the generally most biologically diverse areas in the whole Palearctic realm, it is also home to a worrying number of threatened species. Additionally, a thorough and updated country assessment of the conservation status of the orthopterans found in Bulgaria is currently lacking. This is why the Bulgarian team undertook a study on the biodiversity of these insects by analysing food remains from pellets of Eurasian Eagle Owls, collected from 53 breeding sites in southeastern Bulgaria.

As a result, the scientists reported three species of bush crickets that have become a significant part of the diet of the studied predatory birds. Curiously enough, all three species are rare or threatened in Bulgaria. The case of the Big-Bellied Glandular Bush-Cricket is of special concern, as it is a species threatened by extinction. Meanwhile, the local decline in mammals and birds that weigh between 0.2 and 1.9 kg, which are in fact the preferred prey for the Eurasian Eagle Owl, has led the highly opportunistic predator to increasingly seek large insects for food. The researchers even suspect that there might be more overlooked species attracting the owls.

Taking into account the hereby reported interconnected inferences of conservation concern, as well as the vulnerability of the Big-Bellied Glandular Bush-Cricket, a species with a crucial role in the food chain, the scientists call for the newly provided data to prompt the designation of a new Natura 2000 site. Additionally, due to the species’ requirements for habitats of low disturbance and high vegetation diversity, and its large size and easy location via singing males, they point out that it makes a suitable indicator for habitat quality and species community health.

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Original source:

Chobanov D, Milchev B (2020) Orthopterans (Insecta: Orthoptera) of conservation value in the Eurasian Eagle Owl Bubo bubo food in Bulgaria. Travaux du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle “Grigore Antipa” 63(2): 161-167. https://doi.org/10.3897/travaux.63.e53867

Scientists took a rare chance to prove we can quantify biodiversity by ‘testing the water’

Recent study conducted at a UK fishery farm provides new evidence that DNA from water samples can accurately determine fish abundance and biomass

Organisms excrete DNA in their surroundings through metabolic waste, sloughed skin cells or gametes, and this genetic material is referred to as environmental DNA (eDNA).

As eDNA can be collected directly from water, soil or air, and analysed using molecular tools with no need to capture the organisms themselves, this genetic information can be used to report biodiversity in bulk. For instance, the presence of many fish species can be identified simultaneously by sampling and sequencing eDNA from water, while avoiding harmful capture methods, such as netting, trapping or electrofishing, currently used for fish monitoring.

While the eDNA approach has already been applied in a number of studies concerning fish diversity in different types of aquatic habitats: rivers, lakes and marine systems, its efficiency in quantifying species abundance (number of individuals per species) is yet to be determined. Even though previous studies, conducted in controlled aquatic systems, such as aquaria, experimental tanks and artificial ponds, have reported positive correlation between the DNA quantity found in the water and the species abundance, it remains unclear how the results would fare in natural environments.

However, a research team from the University of Hull together with the Environment Agency (United Kingdom), took the rare opportunity to use an invasive species eradication programme carried out in a UK fishery farm as the ultimate case study to evaluate the success rate of eDNA sampling in identifying species abundance in natural aquatic habitats. Their findings were published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Metabarcoding and Metagenomics.

“Investigating the quantitative power of eDNA in natural aquatic habitats is difficult, as there is no way to ascertain the real species abundance and biomass (weight) in aquatic systems, unless catching all target organisms out of water and counting/measuring them all,”

explains Cristina Di Muri, PhD student at the University of Hull.
Drained pond after fish translocation.
Photo by Dr. Watson H.V.

During the eradication, the original fish ponds were drained and all fish, except the problematic invasive species: the topmouth gudgeon, were placed in a new pond, while the original ponds were treated with a piscicide to remove the invasive fish. After the eradication, the fish were returned to their original ponds. In the meantime, all individuals were counted, identified and weighed from experts, allowing for the precise estimation of fish abundance and biomass.

“We then carried out our water sampling and ran genetic analysis to assess the diversity and abundance of fish genetic sequences, and compared the results with the manually collected data. We found strong positive correlations between the amount of fish eDNA and the actual fish species biomass and abundance, demonstrating the existence of a strong association between the amount of fish DNA sequences in water and the actual fish abundance in natural aquatic environments,”

reports Di Muri.
Environmental DNA sampling using water collection bottles
Photo by Dr. Peirson G.

The scientists successfully identified all fish species in the ponds: from the most abundant (i.e. 293 carps of 852 kg total weight) to the least abundant ones (i.e. one chub of 0.7 kg), indicating the high accuracy of the non-invasive approach.

“Furthermore, we used different methods of eDNA capture and eDNA storage, and found that results of the genetic analysis were comparable across different eDNA approaches. This consistency allows for a certain flexibility of eDNA protocols, which is fundamental to maintain results comparable across studies and, at the same time, choose the most suitable strategy, based on location surveyed or resources available,”

elaborates Di Muri.

“The opportunity of using eDNA analysis to accurately assess species diversity and abundance in natural environments will drive a step change in future species monitoring programmes, as this non-invasive, flexible tool is adaptable to all aquatic environments and it allows quantitative biodiversity surveillance without hampering the organisms’ welfare.”

***

Original publication:

Di Muri C, Lawson Handley L, Bean CW, Li J, Peirson G, Sellers GS, Walsh K, Watson HV, Winfield IJ, Hänfling B (2020) Read counts from environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding reflect fish abundance and biomass in drained ponds. Metabarcoding and Metagenomics 4: e56959. https://doi.org/10.3897/mbmg.4.56959

Guest Blog Post: Researchers split the birdcatcher trees (genus Pisonia) into three

Large Cabbage trees (Pisonia grandis) dominate the landscape of a small island in the Pacific Ocean
Photo by Jean-Yves Meyer (Délégation à la Recherche de Polynésie Française, Tahiti, French Polynesia)

Guest blog post by Marcos Caraballo


The birdcatcher trees – genus Pisonia – are infamous for trapping birds with their super-sticky seed pods that would frequently entangle the body of the ‘victim’. Left flightless, the poor feathered creatures eventually die either from starvation or fatigue, or predators. Similarly notorious are the birdcatcher trees for botanists, who have been baffled by their complicated classification for the last three centuries. 

Here’s why myself and graduate student Elson Felipe Rossetto of the Universidade Estadual de Londrina (Brazil) decided to take up the untangling of this issue with our recent taxonomic studies. You can find our research paper published in the open-access scholarly journal PhytoKeys.

Ripe fruits (anthocarps) of the Birdlime tree (Ceodes umbellifera)
Photo by Ching-I Peng [deceased]

We reestablished two genera: Ceodes and Rockia, where both had been previously merged under the name of Pisonia. Now, as a result, there are three distinct lineages of birdcatcher trees from the islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans: Ceodes, Pisonia, and Rockia.

“Previous molecular studies on Pisonia species from around the world showed that species were clustered into three major groups, and here we assign names for each of them. With this new classification, a large number of the species known as Pisonia will be henceforth named Ceodes. This includes the Parapara (Ceodes brunoniana) and the Birdlime (Ceodes umbellifera) trees, both native to many islands, including Hawaii and New Zealand. They are commonly planted in gardens for their lush and sometimes variegated foliage, as well as their fragrant white flowers. However, the Cabbage tree (Pisonia grandis) will still be technically known as Pisonia.”

adds the study’s lead author Felipe Rossetto.
Male (staminate) showy flowers of the Birdlime tree (Ceodes umbellifera)
Photo by Joel Bradshaw (Far Outliers, Honolulu, Hawaii)

Birdcatcher trees have generated much controversy in the popular media because of their seed pods (technically called “anthocarps”) secreting a sticky substance that glues them to the feathers of seabirds or other animals for dispersal. Sometimes, though, too many seed pods can harm or kill birds, especially small ones, by weighing them down and rendering them flightless. This macabre practice has led to many controversies and local campaigns aiming to remove the trees, even illegally.

Brown noddy (Anous stolidus) covered with the sticky fruits (anthocarps) of the Cabbage tree (Pisonia grandis)
Photo by Jean-Yves Meyer (Délégation à la Recherche de Polynésie Française, Tahiti, French Polynesia)

In spite of their forbidding reputation, however, we would like to stress that birdcatcher trees have positive effects on ecosystems and are important components of vegetation, especially for small islands. Sadly, there are many endemic and already endangered species of birdcatcher trees that only exist on a few small islands, where they are effectively placed at the mercy of local people.

Many species of birdcatcher trees are large and, thereby, tolerate harsh environments like seafronts and rocky cliffs, making them prime nesting spots for seabirds. Birdcatcher trees are also ecologically curious and could be regarded as keystone species in small islands, because their soft branches can sustain many types of invertebrates; their flowers are an important food source for bees and ants; their dense leaf litter nourishes the soil; and their roots have intimate interaction with native underground fungi (mycorrhiza).

All in all, clarifying the taxonomy of the birdcatcher trees is the first step to understanding how many species exist and how they relate to each other. 

Although most people relate birdcatcher trees with beaches and coastal habitats, there are species that are only found in mountains or rainforests. For example, the species now allocated to the genus Rockia is endemic to the Hawaiian archipelago. These are small trees able to grow in dry to mesic mountain forests. Using our new classification, future studies can explore in detail the hidden diversity of these enigmatic plants, and find out how trees with high dispersal capabilities evolve into species endemic to small island ecosystems.

Cabbage trees (Pisonia grandis) are important components of the vegetation in small islands due to their massive size
Photo by Jean-Yves Meyer (Délégation à la Recherche de Polynésie Française, Tahiti, French Polynesia)

About the author:

Marcos A. Caraballo-Ortiz is a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C., United States). His research interests include plant systematics and ecology, with a focus on flora of the Caribbean Islands. Dr. Caraballo-Ortiz has experience studying the taxonomy of several groups of tropical plants, with a particular interest in neotropical Mistletoes (Loranthaceae, Santalaceae, Viscaceae) and the Four O’Clock family (Nyctaginaceae). 

For more information about his projects, visit marcoscaraballo.com.

Research paper:

Rossetto EFS, Caraballo-Ortiz MA (2020) Splitting the Pisonia birdcatcher trees: re-establishment of Ceodes and Rockia (Nyctaginaceae, Pisonieae). PhytoKeys 152: 121-136. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.152.50611


Scientists unravel the evolution and relationships for all European butterflies in a first

For the first time, a complete time-calibrated phylogeny for a large group of invertebrates is published for an entire continent. A German-Swedish team of scientists provide a diagrammatic hypothesis of the relationships and evolutionary history for all 496 European species of butterflies currently in existence. Their study provides an important tool for evolutionary and ecological research, meant for the use of insect and ecosystem conservation.

For the first time, a complete time-calibrated phylogeny for a large group of invertebrates is published for an entire continent. 

The figure shows the relationships of the 496 extant European butterfly species in the course of their evolution during the last 100 million years.
Image by Dr Martin Wiemers

In a recent research paper in the open-access, peer-reviewed academic journal ZooKeys, a German-Swedish team of scientists provide a diagrammatic hypothesis of the relationships and evolutionary history for all 496 European species of butterflies currently in existence. Their study provides an important tool for evolutionary and ecological research, meant for the use of insect and ecosystem conservation.

In order to analyse the ancestral relationships and history of evolutionary divergence of all European butterflies currently inhabiting the Old continent, the team led by Martin Wiemers – affiliated with both the Senckenberg German Entomological Institute and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, mainly used molecular data from already published sources available from NCBI GenBank, but also contributed many new sequences, some from very local endemics for which no molecular data had previously been available.

The phylogenetic tree also includes butterfly species that have only recently been discovered using molecular methods. An example is this Blue (Polyommatus celina), which looks similar to the Common Blue. It used to be mistaken for the Common Blue in the Canary Islands and the southwestern part of the Mediterranean Region.
Photo by Dr Martin Wiemers

Butterflies, the spectacular members of the superfamily Papilionoidea, are seen as an important proponent for nature conservation, as they present an excellent indicator group of species, meaning they are capable of inferring the environmental conditions of a particular habitat. All in all, if the local populations of butterflies are thriving, so is their habitat.

Furthermore, butterflies are pollinating insects, which are of particular importance for the survival of humans. There is no doubt they have every right to be recognised as a flagship invertebrate group for conservation.

While many European butterflies are seriously threatened, this one: Madeiran Large White (Pieris wollastoni) is already extinct. The study includes the first sequence of this Madeiran endemic which was recorded in 1986 for the last time. The tree demonstrates that it was closely related to the Canary Island Large White (Pieris cheiranthi), another threatened endemic butterfly, which survives only on Tenerife and La Palma, but is already extinct on La Gomera.
Photo by Dr Martin Wiemers

In recent times, there has been a steady increase in the molecular data available for research, however, those would have been only used for studies restricted either to a selected subset of species, or to small geographic areas. Even though a complete phylogeny of European butterflies was published in 2019, also co-authored by Wiemers, it was not based on a global backbone phylogeny and, therefore, was also not time-calibrated.

In their paper, Wiemers and his team point out that phylogenies are increasingly used across diverse areas of macroecological research, such as studies on large-scale diversity patterns, disentangling historical and contemporary processes, latitudinal diversity gradients or improving species-area relationships. Therefore, this new phylogeny is supposed to help advance further similar ecological research.

The study includes molecular data from 18 localised endemics with no public DNA sequences previously available, such as the Canary Grayling (Hipparchia wyssii), which is only found on the island of Tenerife (Spain).
Photo by Dr Martin Wiemers

Original source: 

Wiemers M, Chazot N, Wheat CW, Schweiger O, Wahlberg N (2020) A complete time-calibrated multi-gene phylogeny of the European butterflies. ZooKeys 938: 97-124. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.938.50878

Ten years of ecosystem services matrix: Review of a (r)evolution

In recent years, the concept of Ecosystem Services (ES): the benefits people obtain from ecosystems, such as pollination provided by bees for crop growing, timber provided by forests or recreation enabled by appealing landscapes, has been greatly popularised, especially in the context of impeding ecological crises and constantly degrading natural environments. 

Hence, there has been an increasing need for robust and practical methodologies to assess ES, in order to provide key stakeholders and decision-makers with crucial information. One such method to map and assess ES: the ES Matrix approach, has been increasingly used in the last decade.

The ES Matrix approach is based on the use of a lookup table consisting of geospatial units (e.g. types of ecosystems, habitats, land uses) and sets of ES, meant to be assessed for a specific study area, which means that the selection of a particular study area is the starting point in the assessment. Only then, suitable indicators and methods for ES quantification can be defined. Based on this information, a score for each of the ES considered is generated, referring to ES potential, ES supply, ES flow/use or demand for ES. 

Originally developed in a 2009 paper by a team, led by Prof Dr Benjamin Burkhard (Leibniz University Hannover and Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research ZALF), the ES Matrix allows the assessment of the capacity of particular ecosystem types or geospatial units to provide ES.

Ten years later, a research led by Dr C. Sylvie Campagne (Leibniz University Hannover, Germany), Dr Philip Roche (INRAE, France), Prof Dr Felix Muller (University of Kiel, Germany) and Prof Dr Benjamin Burkhard conducted a review of 109 published studies applying the ES matrix approach to find out how the ES matrix approach was applied and whether this was done in an oversimplified way or not.

In their recent paper, published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal One Ecosystem, the review confirms the method’s flexibility, appropriateness and utility for decision-making, as well as its ability to increase awareness of ES. Nevertheless, the ES matrix approach has often been used in a “quick and dirty” way that urges more transparency and integration of variability analyses, they conclude.

“We analysed the diversity of application contexts, highlighted trends of uses and proposed future recommendations for improved applications of the ES matrix. Amongst the main patterns observed, the ES matrix approach allows for the assessment of a higher number of ES than other ES assessment methods. ES can be jointly assessed with indicators for ecosystem condition and biodiversity in the ES matrix,”

explains Campagne.

“Although the ES matrix allows us to consider many data sources to achieve the assessment scores for the individual ES, these were mainly used together with expert-based scoring (73%) and/or ES scores that were based on an already-published ES matrix or deduced by information found in related scientific publications (51%),”

she elaborates. 

In 29% of the studies, an already existing matrix was used as an initial matrix for the assessment and in 16% no other data were used for the matrix scores or no adaptation of the existing matrix used was made. 

“Nevertheless, we recommend to use only scores assessed for a specific study or, if one wishes to use pre-existing scores from another study, to revise them in depth, taking into account the local context of the new assessment,”

she points out.

The researchers also acknowledge the fact that 27% of the reviewed studies did not clearly explain their methodology, which underlines the lack of method elucidation on how the data had been used and where the scores came from. Although some studies addressed the need to consider variabilities and uncertainties in ES assessments, only a minority of studies (15%) did so. Thus, the team also recommends to systematically report and consider variabilities and uncertainties in each ES assessment.

“We emphasise the need for all scientific studies to describe clearly and extensively the whole methodology used to score or evaluate ES, in order to be able to rate the quality of the scores obtained. The increasing number of studies that use the ES matrix approach confirms its success, appropriateness, flexibility and utility to generate information for decision-making, as well as its ability to increase awareness of ES, but the application of the ES matrix has to become more transparent and integrate more variability analyses,”

concludes the research team.

Original source:
Campagne CS, Roche P, Müller F, Burkhard B (2020) Ten years of ecosystem services matrix: Review of a (r)evolution. One Ecosystem 5: e51103. https://doi.org/10.3897/oneeco.5.e51103

Field research in Turkmenistan’s highest mountain reveals high biological diversity

Camera trap image of male Markhor Capra falconeri at the Koytendag State Nature Reserve
Photo by Koytendag State Nature Reserve

New open-access book presents a comprehensive report on the remarkable ecosystems of the Koytendag nature reserve

Situated in the extreme south-east of Turkmenistan: on the border with Uzbekistan and close to the border with Afghanistan, Koytendag presents one of the most distinct landscapes in Central Asia. Reaching elevations of up to 3,137 m, this is also the highest mountain in Turkmenistan.

Location of Koytendag
Image by Atamyrat Veyisov

Koytendag State Nature Reserve and its three Wildlife Sanctuaries: Hojapil, Garlyk and Hojaburjybelent, were established between 1986 and 1990 to protect and preserve the mountain ecosystem of the Koytendag region and maintain the ecological balance between the environment and increasing economic activities.

Since 2013, a series of scientific expeditions and assessments were coordinated and funded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to pave the way for the protection and preservation of the unique landscape and rare wildlife the site is recognised for.

As a result, the efforts of the conducted field studies of multidisciplinary international research teams are brought together in a comprehensive report, which is now openly available as an Advanced Book from the scientific publisher and technology provider Pensoft, edited by Geoff Welch (RSPB) and Prof. Pavel Stoev (National National Museum of Natural History of Bulgaria and Pensoft). Soon, the book will also be available in Russian.

The book is split into eight sections focused on different areas within the study of biodiversity: Flora, Surface dwelling invertebrates, Cave fauna, Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds and Mammals. An additional chapter is dedicated to the hydrogeology of the site because of its key role in supporting both the cave fauna and the local communities.

Entrance to the newly discovered record-breaking underground lake at the Koytendag State Nature Reserve
Photo by Mikhail Pereladov

In the summary of the report, the authors make a list of the most significant findings made during the research. These include the discovery of a cave hosting the largest underground lake in the whole North Eurasia (4,400 m2) and a total of 48 species of higher plants that can only be found in Koytendag. In terms of Koytendag’s surface-dwelling fauna, the report lists a number of species new to science: a scorpion (most likely yet unnamed species currently recognised as a species complex) and a spider. Meanwhile, a total of seven previously unknown species were found underground, including the very first exclusively subterranean animal found in the country: the insect-like ‘marvellous’ dipluran named Turkmenocampa mirabilis, and a strongly adapted to the underground waters of a desert sinkhole Gammarus troglomorphus. Additionally, the annual monitoring, conducted since 1995 by the reserve staff, report an encouraging increase in the populations of the rare markhors and mouflons. An intact predator-prey community was also identified as a result of observations of numerous Eurasian lynxes and grey wolves, as well as prey species.

Entrance of the cave Kaptarhana, (Lebap Province, Eastern Turkmenistan), where scientists discovered the first ever exclusively subterranean dweller for the country (find more here).
Photo by Aleksandr Degtyarev

Stephanie Ward, RSPB Central Asia Partner Development Officer, says:

“RSPB has been working in Turkmenistan under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government since 2004. In that time we have had the privilege of working with a team of talented and dedicated national experts across the diverse and inspiring nature of this fascinating country. Our work in Koytendag has captured the attention and interest of many international scientists who hope that their contemporary biodiversity research will help to deepen the understanding and therefore ensure protection of the unique wonders of this mountain ecosystem. As a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site, we will continue to collaborate with the Turkmen people on the research and promotion of Koytendag State Nature Reserve.

Book editor and member of the research team Prof. Pavel Stoev adds:

“Koytendag Mountain is among the least explored and, simultaneously, one of the most biologically diverse regions in Central Asia. The rapid assessments of its flora and fauna revealed a high number of highly specialised species, all of which have undergone a long evolution to adapt to the harsh environments of the mountain. The establishment of Koytendag State Nature Reserve and the associated wildlife sanctuaries is a step in the right direction for the protection of this unique biota.”

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Cover of the book, available as an open-access Advanced book from: https://doi.org/10.3897/ab.e37858.

Original source:

Welch G, Stoev P (2019) A report of RSPB-supported scientific research at Koytendag State Nature Reserve, East Turkmenistan. Advanced Books. https://doi.org/10.3897/ab.e37858

Additional information:

This work was carried out under the Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment Protection of Turkmenistan and the RSPB, within the Project on “Improvement of the status of birds and other biodiversity in Turkmenistan”.

About Koytendag State Nature Reserve:

Koytendag State Nature Reserve was established in 1986 to protect and preserve the mountain ecosystem of the Koytendag region and maintain the ecological balance between the environment and the increasing anthropogenic activities. Of particular importance was the protection of rare species, such as the markhor; important habitats, including pistachio and juniper forests; and the impressive dinosaur trackways at Hojapil.

Advanced Books publishing by Pensoft:

Launched by Pensoft and powered by the scholarly publishing platform ARPHA, the Advanced Books approach aims to issue new books or re-issue books previously only available in print or PDF. In the Advanced Books format, the publications are semantically enhanced and available in HTML and XML as well, in order to accelerate open access, data publication, mining, sharing and reuse. The Advanced books builds on the novel approaches developed by the Pensoft’s journals.



Be prepared: Prioritising invasive species for strategic prevention in Durban, South Africa

Durban Harbour, used for both commercial and recreational purposes, is an important hub of human activity. The harbour was found to be an important point of first introduction as well as a site for naturalisation for the three species highlighted in this study.
(Photos by Şerban Procheş /left/ and Carl Munsamy /right/)

While exploring the way alien species invade cities around the world, South African PhD student Ashlyn L. Padayachee (University of KwaZulu-Natal, UKZN) and her supervisors, Serban Proches (UKZN) and John Wilson (SANBI and Stellenbosch University) remember suddenly being stricken.

What they realised was that while cities were gradually starting to prepare for climate change, their responses to invasions were rather reactive. Even though management focused on widespread invasive species, which were currently having the most negative impacts on native biodiversity, the researchers noted that if those decision makers had only targeted the next highly damaging invaders ahead of their arrival, the associated costs would have greatly decreased.

Consequently, the team developed a methodology, based on three key aspects: priority species, points of first introduction and sites of naturalisation, in order to identify the most probable and concerning invasive species for Durban (eThekwini in KwaZulu Natal), a coastal city in South Africa. Furthermore, their work, published in the open-access journal Neobiota provides decision makers from around the world with a new tool, that is easy to use and adjustable to the specificity of different cities.

Firstly, the researchers identified cities with a similar climate to Durban and used existing alien species watch lists, environmental criteria and introduction pathways to identify species, which are not present in South Africa, but are considered of unacceptable risk of invasion. The team continued by figuring out which of those selected species are likely to have pathways facilitating their introduction to the city and developed a climatic suitability model for each. Finally, the scientists linked the climate and pathway information, so that they could identify sites within Durban to be considered as a focus for the contingency planning for particular species.

As a result, the authors identified three alien species as priorities for Durban: Alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides), American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) and the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta).


River systems are ideal habitats for Alligator weed. River systems adjacent to points of first introduction were identified as important sites of first naturalisation of this species.
(Photo by Şerban Procheş)

In terms of points of introductions, the data highlighted the Durban Harbour, especially for the red imported fire ant. Plant nurseries and garden centres, as well as pet and aquarium shops were also identified as important sites for the three studied species. Additionally, suitable habitats located near the points of introduction, such as river systems and built infrastructure, were found in need of monitoring.


The red imported fire ant is usually found in close proximity to human dwellings, which provide ideal habitats for this species. Built infrastructure, especially those adjacent to the Durban Harbour, was identified as an important site of its naturalisation.
(Photo by Şerban Procheş)

In conclusion, the implementation of prioritisation schemes to consider the three aspects (species, pathways, and sites) allows managers to focus resources on those species which pose a greater risk of invasion and impact.

“This will only ever be one part of a broad range of biosecurity efforts, but it is one where, we believe, we can be prepared,” comment the authors.

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Original source:

Padayachee AL, Proches S, Wilson JRU (2019) Prioritising potential incursions for contingency planning: pathways, species, and sites in Durban (eThekwini), South Africa as an example. NeoBiota 47: 1-21. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.47.31959

‘Insectageddon’ is ‘alarmist by bad design’: Scientists point out the study’s major flaws

Many insects species require pristine environments, including old-growth forests. Photo by Atte Komonen.

Earlier this year, a research article triggered a media frenzy by predicting that as a result of an ongoing rapid decline, nearly half of the world’s insects will be no more pretty soon

Amidst worldwide publicity and talks about ‘Insectageddon’: the extinction of 40% of the world’s insects, as estimated in a recent scientific reviewa critical response was published in the open-access journal Rethinking Ecology.

Query- and geographically-biased summaries; mismatch between objectives and cited literature; and misuse of existing conservation data have all been identified in the alarming study, according to Drs Atte Komonen, Panu Halme and Janne Kotiaho of the University of Jyväskylä (Finland). Despite the claims of the review paper’s authors that their work serves as a wake-up call for the wider community, the Finnish team explain that it could rather compromise the credibility of conservation science.

The first problem about the paper, titled “Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers” and published in the journal Biological Conservation, is that its authors have queried the Web of Science database specifically using the keywords “insect”, “decline” and “survey”.

“If you search for declines, you will find declines. We are not questioning the conclusion that insects are declining,” Komonen and his team point out, “but we do question the rate and extent of declines.”

Many butterflies have declined globally. Scolitantides orion, for example, is an endangered species in Finland. Photo by Atte Komonen.

The Finnish research team also note that there are mismatches between methods and literature, and misuse of IUCN Red List categories. The review is criticised for grouping together species, whose conservation status according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is Data Deficient with those deemed Vulnerable. By definition, there are no data for Data Deficient species to assess their declines.

In addition, the review paper is seen to use “unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper,” as the Finnish researchers quote a recent news story published in The Guardian. Having given the words dramatic, compelling, extensive, shocking, drastic, dreadful, devastating as examples, they add that that such strong intensifiers “should not be acceptable” in research articles.

“As actively popularising conservation scientists, we are concerned that such development is eroding the importance of the biodiversity crisis, making the work of conservationists harder, and undermining the credibility of conservation science,” the researchers explain the motivation behind their response.

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Original source:

Komonen A, Halme P, Kotiaho JS (2019) Alarmist by bad design: Strongly popularized unsubstantiated claims undermine credibility of conservation science. Rethinking Ecology 4: 17-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/rethinkingecology.4.34440