Two fish a day keep the mantid coming back to prey: The 1st fishing praying mantis

Commonly known to predate on insects, praying mantises have occasionally been observed to feed on vertebrates, including small birds, lizards, frogs, newts, mice, snakes and turtles. Mostly, such records have either not been scientifically validated or have occurred under induced and human-manipulated circumstances.

Nevertheless, no scientific data of mantises preying on fish existed until the recent study of Roberto Battiston, Musei del Canal di Brenta, Rajesh Puttaswamaiah, Bat Conservation India Trust, and Nayak Manjunath, published in the open access Journal of Orthoptera Research.

Last year, the team observed an adult male hunting and devouring guppies in a pond located in a private roof garden in Karnataka, India. Curiously enough, the predator came back five days in a row and caught a total of nine fish (a minimum of two a day). To reach its prey, the insect would walk on the leaves of water lilies and water cabbage growing on the surface of the pond.

The artificial pond with the praying mantis sitting on a leaf visible to the right.

Apart from being a curious first-of-its-kind, the observation raises three new discussion points worthy of further study, point out the researchers.

Firstly, the fact that praying mantises hunt on vertebrates outside cages in labs confirms that a single invertebrate species is indeed capable of having an impact on a whole ecosystem. In this case, a mantis preys on guppies which, in their turn, feed on aquatic insects.

The mantis eating a guppy starting from the tail, while the fish is still alive and breathing in the water.

Secondly, the discovery questions previous knowledge about the visual abilities of mantises. While the structure of their eyes clearly indicates that they have evolved to prey in daylight, the studied male specimen proved to be an excellent hunter in the dark. The insect managed to catch all nine fish either at sunset or late at night.

Besides visual, mantises might have evolved impressive learning abilities too. The researchers speculate that the observed repetitive behaviour might have been the result of personal experience, utilised to navigate the specimen. Sophisticated cognitive skills, on the other hand, might have allowed the mantis to develop its hunting strategies.

“Remembering the prey’s abundance in a particular site, in relation to their ease of capture and their nutritional content, could be one important factor of this choice and indirectly influence the individual predator’s fitness,” comment the scientists. “This should be investigated in further studies.”

Ready to hunt.

Original source:

Battiston R, Puttaswamaiah R, Manjunath N (2018) The fishing mantid: predation on fish as a new adaptive strategy for praying mantids (Insecta: Mantodea). Journal of Orthoptera Research27(2): 155-158. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.27.28067

Described 28 years post-collection, new grass species makes a strong case for conservation

Originally collected 28 years ago in Ecuador, new species Poa laegaardiana has been just described, only to find out its prospects for surviving in its type location seem bleak nowadays. The study was published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

When roaming in the Cordillera de los Andes of Ecuador, near the village of Facundo Vela, little did Smithsonian scientist and author, Dr. Paul M. Peterson, know that a small grass specimen will not only turn out to be an intriguing new species, but will also make a big statement on the importance of conservation.

Scientific drawing showing what makes new species P. laegaardiana distinct from its congeners

Almost three decades after its original collection the new species P. laegaardiana has finally emerged from its herbarium collection, but the story took an unexpected twist.

It took the authors a single Google Earth search to find out that what used to be the natural habitat of the newly found densely tufted bunchgrass, is now occupied predominantly by small farms.

Heavy agricultural use of the terrain, poses a good possibility for P. laegaardiana to have already been extirpated from this location. With the species currently known only from this area, chances are that this newly described species, might in fact turn out to be already extinct.

“Further studies are needed to search the area and browse collections for specimens from different locations,” explains Dr. Peterson. “But, in fact, it may well be that with our study we are documenting a possible extinction of a species, happening in the space of just 30 years. The story of P. laegaardiana serves to show how human-induced habitat loss can indeed be a major threat to the survival of life on Earth.”

The new species was named after renowned Danish botanist Simon Laegaard, who has made extensive collections in South America, Greenland, Ecuador, and Bolivia (accompanied by the authors) contributing to the documentation of the flora to make informed conservation and management plans.

Google Earth image comparison between the area of collection in 2011 and today. With the area having been plowed, chances of the grass still existing there are small, however it may still be found along the margins of the fields. CREDIT Left: @2018DigitalGlobe; Right: @2018Google @2018CNES/Airbus

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Original Source:

Peterson PM, Soreng RJ (2018) Poa laegaardiana, a new species from Ecuador (Poaceae, Pooideae, Poeae, Poinae). PhytoKeys 100: 141-147. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.100.25387

Pan-European sampling campaign sheds light on the massive diversity of freshwater plankton

In a major pan-European study, a research team from Germany have successfully extracted environmental DNA (eDNA) from as many as 218 lakes to refute a long-year belief that vital microorganisms do not differ significantly between freshwater bodies and geographic regions the way plants and animals do.

Their new-age approach to biodiversity studies resulted in the largest freshwater dataset along with a study published in the open access journal Metabarcoding and Metagenomics.

Surface freshwaters are of critical importance for terrestrial life and, in particular, human life and welfare. However, these vital ecosystems are severely understudied, as compared to terrestrial or oceanic biomes, and so are the microbial organisms living in them.

Image 2On the other hand, it is these invisible to the naked eye creatures, called protists, that are responsible for keeping our ecosystems running. Their diversity and their high metabolic rates maintain ecosystem stability. In fact, microbes are the major source of the worlds oxygen.

In 2012, the team of Prof. Jens Boenigk, University of Duisburg-Essen, undertook the sampling campaign to study the distribution pattern of microbial organisms on a continental scale and the impact of Europe’s climatic history on their present-day whereabouts.

They sampled freshwater lakes and ponds from sites in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Austria, Italy, France, Spain and Switzerland. Site selection focused on the European orogens, specifically the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Apennine, the High Tatras, the southern Scandinavian mountains and the connecting flatlands.

Thanks to the excellent collaboration both within the team and with a number of scientific institutions across Europe, which gave their support as access points for re-stocking sampling equipment and immediate sample preservation, the campaign delivered groundbreaking results illuminating the hidden diversity of the microbial biosphere.

The scientists reported that plankton diversity was highly partitioned between lakes which bear distinct biological fingerprints. In particular, high mountain ranges imprinted the microbial communities on both regional and continental scale. Ecological factors, such as temperature and nutrient concentrations, are well accepted factors structuring plankton communities.

Beyond the high plankton diversity and the associated highly specific community composition in distinct lakes, the plankton community composition revealed signals of the past, i.e. since the last glaciation some 12,000 years ago.

While this expedition yielded many new scientific findings, the scientists note that these are only the first results of this continental survey.

“We are well aware that we have only just begun our exploration of the hidden diversity of plankton diversity,” they conclude.

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Original source:Probennahme

Boenigk J, Wodniok S, Bock C, Beisser D, Hempel C, Grossmann L, Lange A, Jensen M (2018) Geographic distance and mountain ranges structure freshwater protist communities on a European scale. Metabarcoding and Metagenomics 2: e21519. https://doi.org/10.3897/mbmg.2.21519

Three new species of zoantharians described from coral reefs across the Indo-Pacific

One of them was named after the president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, in honour of his and the nation’s support to the authors and marine conservation

Three new species of zoantharians were discovered by researchers from the University of the Ryukyus and Kagoshima University, Japan, and the Palau International Coral Reef Center. Despite not being previously known, all three species were found widely across the Indo-Pacific, with at least two species found in the Red Sea, the Maldives, Palau, and southern Japan.

Zoantharians, or colonial anemones, include species popular in the pet trade such as Zoanthus or Palythoa, but the new species are all much more cryptic, living in marine caves, cracks, or at depths below most recreational SCUBA diving (>20 m). The research was published December 29, 2017, in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The three new species belong to the genus Antipathozoanthus, which contains species that only live on top of black coral colonies. However, surprisingly, one of the new species does not live on black corals, but instead in narrow cracks in coral reefs.

obscurus“We think that the new species, Antipathozoanthus obscurus, has evolved away from needing to be on top of black corals to take advantage of the available space in coral reef cracks”, said lead researcher Hiroki Kise.

“This is yet another example of how much diversity is right underneath our noses, but we still know nothing about it.”

Coral reefs, which are widely threatened by rising temperatures from global warming, are generally believed to harbour very high numbers of species, including yet many undescribed or unknown species.

Amongst the other two new species is Antipathozoanthus remengesaui, named after the current president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau.

“Much of our work was based in Palau”, said senior author Dr. James Reimer, “and we wished to acknowledge the fantastic support we have received from the nation. Palau is considered at the forefront of marine conservation, and much of this is thanks to President Remengesau’s vision.”

While the new discoveries shed more light on our understanding of coral reef biodiversity, this work is far from done. In fact, the researchers themselves estimate they still have up to ten more zoantharian species to describe from the waters of Palau and Okinawa.

“Marine diversity of coral reefs is amazing, with new surprises all the time”, said Kise, “and biodiversity scientists still have a lot more work to do.”

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Original source:

Kise H, Fujii T, Masucci GD, Biondi P, Reimer JD (2017) Three new species and the molecular phylogeny of Antipathozoanthus from the Indo-Pacific Ocean (Anthozoa, Hexacorallia, Zoantharia). ZooKeys 725: 97-122. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.725.21006

Special issue: Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure

The focus is on the case-law of the European Court of Justice and the German Federal Administrative Court

With over 27,500 sites, Natura 2000 is the greatest nature conservation network in the world. It covers more than 18 percent of the land area in the European Union and around 395,000 km2 of its marine territory.

Projects and plans within those sites or in their vicinity require an appropriate assessment to ensure that they will not have a significant impact on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site, according to Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. The Natura 2000 appropriate assessment is the central statutory instrument for the protection of the network, in addition to the general prohibition of deterioration.

An assessment must take place prior to the authorisation and implementation of a project or a plan. As a result of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) having maximised the effectiveness of the assessment by a stringent legal interpretation, a project or a plan must be rejected by the competent authorities if there is any remaining reasonable scientific doubt that it might adversely affect the integrity of the site.

Nevertheless, in accordance with the European principle of proportionality, the Habitats Directive does not intend to ban all human activity in Natura 2000 sites. This is the reason why, on the one hand, only significant adverse impacts on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site are relevant and, on the other, according to Article 6(4) Habitats Directive, a derogating authorisation is possible in favour of public interests.

However, numerous questions, which are relevant in practice, have so far only been considered by national courts. A special issue recently published with the open access journal Nature Conservation features a comprehensive review of the relevant case-law of the German Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG), which has thoroughly dealt with the Natura 2000 regime in a long series of judgements.

The author, Dr. Stefan Möckel of the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research GmbH, Germany, is a long standing specialist in European and German nature conservation law. Within the four articles comprising the issue, he analyses the scope, procedural steps and requirements of the appropriate assessment and the derogation procedure. He also comments on the interpretations and practical solutions found by the ECJ and the BVerwG.

The first article explains the main steps and demands of the appropriate assessment. Questions on the scope of the terms “project” and “plan”, as well as determining significant impacts are discussed in greater detail in the second and third article. The fourth paper explores the requirements needed for a derogation to be approved.

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Original source:

Möckel S (2017) The European ecological network “Natura 2000” and the appropriate assessment for projects and plans under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 1-29. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13599

Möckel S (2017) The terms “project” and “plan” in the Natura 2000 appropriate assessment. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 31-56. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13601

Möckel S (2017) The assessment of significant effects on the integrity of “Natura 2000” sites under Article 6(2) and 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 57-85. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13602

Möckel S (2017) The European ecological network “Natura 2000” and its derogation procedure to ensure compatibility with competing public interests. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 87-116. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13603

Conservation and nameless earthworms: Assessors in the dark?

Species that live exclusively in a single region are at a particular risk of extinction. However, for them to be protected, thorough assessments of the environmental impacts need to be performed.

There are more than 100 earthworm species living in the soil and dead wood of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Most of them live exclusively in small regions in the province, which makes them extremely vulnerable.

To scientists Dr Adrian J. Armstrong, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and Ms Thembeka Nxele, KwaZulu-Natal Museum, the problem is twofold. Firstly, they note that the expression “out of sight, out of mind” is very suitable for the case of the endemic earthworms in South Africa. Secondly, they point out that the lack of common names for these species is a stumbling block that hinders their inclusion in conservation assessments.

As a result, the researchers try to rectify this situation by assigning standardised English names to the endemic earthworms in KwaZulu-Natal. Their article is published in the open access journal African Invertebrates.

Scientific names are often intractable to non-specialists, and the lack of common names leaves environmental assessors in the dark when they need to figure out which earthworms may occur at a development site. In the meantime, it has been found that about 50% of the native vegetation in KwaZulu-Natal has already been removed as a result of infrastructure construction and the figure is rising.

“The indigenous earthworms generally don’t survive in developed areas,” say the authors.

For instance, the informal use of an English name (green giant wrinkled earthworm) for the species Microchaetus papillatus, has facilitated the inclusion of this species in environmental impact assessments in KwaZulu-Natal.

While the green giant wrinkled earthworm does occur in a relatively large and rapidly developing area in KwaZulu-Natal, other species live in smaller areas that have been urbanised even more.

The extinction of these earthworms is not only undesirable from the point of view of biodiversity advocates – the role of this group of soil organisms is impossible to replace fully with non-native earthworms. For example, some of the large indigenous earthworms (more than 1 m in length) burrow much deeper than the non-native species, thereby enriching and aerating the soil at greater depth.

The authors are hopeful that by giving the indigenous earthworms in KwaZulu-Natal common names, the threatened and endemic species will be conserved through inclusion in environmental impact assessments. Furthermore, they believe that earthworms could draw attention to the areas where they occur whenever a choice for new protected areas is to be made.

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Original source:

Armstrong AJ, Nxele TC (2017) English names of the megadrile earthworms (Oligochaeta) of KwaZulu-Natal. African Invertebrates 58(2): 11-20. https://doi.org/10.3897/AfrInvertebr.58.13226

New species of Brazilian copepod suggests ancient species diversification and distribution

A new species of groundwater copepod has been discovered in the rocky savannas of Brazil – an ecosystem suffering from heavy anthropogenic impact. Upon description, the tiny crustacean turned out to also represent a previously unknown genus. It is described by Dr. Paulo H. C. Corgosinho, Montes Claros State University, Brazil, and his team in the open access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

Prior to the discovery of the new species, named Eirinicaris antonioi, only one genus of its subfamily (Parastenocaridinae) had been recorded in the Neotropical region, which comes to show that related species had already spread across a huge range when the ancient supercontinent Gondwana split apart.

The new copepod measures about 0,300 mm and can be told apart by its morphological characteristics, including unusual sensorial structures at the rear part of the body, as well as unique sexual dimorphism.

The copepods of the family Parastenocarididae are adapted to life in groundwater, where they thrive between sand grains. These tiny creatures measure less than 1 mm, ranging between 0,200 and 0,400 mm in length. They can be found in various microbiotopes along rivers, lakes and human-made structures, such as dug or artesian wells. Alternatively, these copepods might be associated with mosses and other semi-terrestrial environments.

“This is the first species described from Goiás state, Central Brazil,” explain the authors. “With the discovery of this new species our knowledge about the geographical distribution of the copepod family Parastenocarididae is increased. Our project highlights the vast amounts of undiscovered biodiversity of the Brazilian rocky savannas, which are under high anthropogenic threat.”

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Original source:

Corgosinho PHC, Schizas NV, Previattelli D, Falavigna da Rocha CE, Santos-Silva EN (2017) A new genus of Parastenocarididae (Copepoda, Harpacticoida) from the Tocantins River basin (Goiás, Brazil), and a phylogenetic analysis of the Parastenocaridinae. Zoosystematics and Evolution 93(1): 167-187. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.93.11602

American scientists discover the first Antarctic ground beetle

Fossilised forewings from two individuals, discovered on the Beardmore Glacier, revealed the first ground beetle known from the southernmost continent. It is also the second beetle for the Antarctic insect fauna with living descendants. The new species, which for now is also the sole representative of a new genus, is to be commonly known as Ball’s Antarctic Tundra Beetle. Scientists Dr Allan Ashworth, North Dakota State University, and Dr Terry Erwin, Smithsonian Institution, published their findings in the open access journal ZooKeys.10535_image-3

The insect fauna in Antarctica is so poor that today it consists of only three species of flightless midges, with one of them having been probably introduced from the subantarctic island of South Georgia. The absence of biodiversity is considered to be a result of lack of moisture, vegetation and low temperatures.

10535_image-2Following their study, the authors conclude that the beetle must have inhabited the sparsely-vegetated sand and gravel banks of a meltwater-fed stream that was once part of an outwash plain at the head of a fjord in the Transantarctic Mountains. Plants associated with the extinct beetle include southern beech, buttercup, moss mats, and cushion plants, all typical for a tundra ecosystem. The species may or may not have been able to fly.

The closest modern relatives to the extinct species live in South America, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Tasmania and Australia. Tracking the ancient lineage of this group of beetles, known as the carabid beetle tribe Trechini, confirms that they were once widely distributed in Gondwana, the supercontinent that used to unite what today we recognise as Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar, Australia, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Subcontinent. Ball’s Antarctic Tundra Beetle is also an evidence that even after Gondwana broke apart, the tundra ecosystem persevered in Antarctica for millions of years.

“The conflicting signals both in anatomical attributes and biogeography, and in ecological setting as well, leave open the question of relationships, thus giving us no alternative but to flag the species represented by fossil evidence through erection of new genus status, hence drawing attention to it and the need for further paleontological studies in Antarctica,” speak of their discovery the authors.

The new Ball’s Antarctic Tundra Beetle is scientifically identified as Antarctotrechus balli, where the genus name (Antarctotrechus) refers to its being related to the tribe Trechini, and the species name (balli) honours distinct expert of ground beetles Dr. George E. Ball, who celebrated his 90th birthday on 26th September, 2016.

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Original source:

Ashworth AC, Erwin TL (2016) Antarctotrechus balli sp. n. (Carabidae, Trechini): the first ground beetle from Antarctica. ZooKeys 635: 109-122. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.635.10535

People can simultaneously give a hand to endangered apes and stay at safe distance

Primates claim the highest proportion of endangered species among all mammals, according to the IUCN Red List. Yet, the substantial conservation interference from humans, which is already in place, could itself lead to even greater losses.

Plenty of studies have proven that while researchers and ecotourists raise vital for ape conservation knowledge and funds, it is actually human presence that compromises primates’ well-being due to extremely similar genetics and, thereby, easily transmittable diseases, ranging from common cold to human tuberculosis and Ebola fever.

In a paper published in the open access journal BioRisk, Rhiannon Schultz, Miami University, seeks the golden mean between giving ape species a hand and keeping safe distance. To showcase the impact human have on primates, the scientist makes example of the Mountain gorilla, an endangered species living in the montane forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

Simply being in close proximity to primates, humans can easily transmit a wide range of diseases to the animals, including intestinal parasites, hepatitis, tuberculosis, Typhoid fever, Cholera, and Ebola fever. The transmission can occur as easily as having the two species breathing the same air, or the people leaving a banana peel behind.

Furthermore, threats to the gorilla species are also posed by the humans destroying the primates’ habitats. The result is overlapping populations, where a disease is much easier to transmit among the small gorilla populations. For example, normally an ill individual would be put under a ‘natural quarantine’, which is impossible when the habitat has already been reduced.

In the meantime, banning people, both tourists and scientists, from gorilla habitat is not an option, since knowledge about the populations’ dynamics is essential for the conservation of all primate species. On the other hand, ecotourism is what raises a great part of the resources need for conservation work. Income from gorilla trekking is enough to support the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, while also contributing a significant part to the country’s national budget.

The key, Rhiannon Schultz concludes, is to, firstly, promote understanding of the risk for interspecies disease transmission as a conservation threat, and then, improve on current protocols and regulations.

“It may be difficult to ask tourists to wear masks while visiting animals in the wild, and it may be expensive to maintain a veterinary program for wild populations and to improve healthcare systems for local people, but making these improvements could be the key to preventing disease transmission to not only Mountain gorillas but also to other apes,” sums up the scientist.

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Original source:

Schultz R (2016) Killer Conservation: the implications of disease on gorilla conservation.BioRisk 11: 1-11. doi: 10.3897/biorisk.11.9941

Tracing the ancestry of dung beetles

One of the largest and most important groups of dung beetles in the world evolved from a single common ancestor and relationships among the various lineages are now known, according to new research by an entomologist from Western Kentucky University.

The study by Dr T. Keith Philips, recently published in the open access journal ZooKeys, provides important insights into the evolution and diversity of these dung beetles, which make up about half of the world’s dung beetle fauna.

The two tribes studied, the onthophagines and oniticellines, evolved from a single common ancestor and are found worldwide, except for Antarctica. These dung beetles make up the vast majority of species and dung beetle biomass in many ecosystems, feeding on mammal dung.

Dung beetles are well known to many people because many species are colorful and active in the daytime. Additionally, many taxa have unusual behaviors, such as making and rolling balls of dung away from a dung pile. Often thought of as nature’s garbage collectors, the important ecosystem service offered by dung beetle helps recycle nutrients, reduces parasites, and can even help seeds germinate.

While the two tribes studied do not have species that create balls, they instead have evolved many other diverse behaviors. This includes species that do not feed on dung but specialize on fungi, carrion, and dead millipedes. Many species that evolved from the same common ancestor even live in close association with termites and ants, where they might be feeding on nest debris.

“This is one of the most important groups of dung beetles that finally has a hypothesis on how they evolved and diversified on earth,” Philips notes. “The evolutionary scenario can now be tested and refined in the future with more data.” Although relatively well known, this group still may have as many as 1,000 undiscovered species left for scientists to document.

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Original source:

Philips TK (2016) Phylogeny of the Oniticellini and Onthophagini dung beetles (Scarabaeidae, Scarabaeinae) from morphological evidence. ZooKeys 579: 9-57. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.579.6183.