Scientists conceptualize a species ‘stock market’ to put a price tag on actions posing risks to biodiversity

“…the most realistic and tangible way out of the looming biodiversity crisis is to put a price tag on species and thereby a cost to actions that compromise them.”

So far, science has described more than 2 million species, and millions more await discovery. While species have value in themselves, many also deliver important ecosystem services to humanity, such as insects that pollinate our crops. 

Meanwhile, as we lack a standardized system to quantify the value of different species, it is too easy to jump to the conclusion that they are practically worthless. As a result, humanity has been quick to justify actions that diminish populations and even imperil biodiversity at large.

In a study, published in the scholarly open-science journal Research Ideas and Outcomes, a team of Estonian and Swedish scientists propose to formalize the value of all species through a conceptual species ‘stock market’ (SSM). Much like the regular stock market, the SSM is to act as a unified basis for instantaneous valuation of all items in its holdings.

However, other aspects of the SSM would be starkly different from the regular stock market. Ownership, transactions, and trading will take new forms. Indeed, species have no owners, and ‘trade’ would not be about transfer of ownership rights among shareholders. Instead, the concept of ‘selling’ would comprise processes that erase species from some specific area – such as war, deforestation, or pollution.

“The SSM would be able to put a price tag on such transactions, and the price could be thought of as an invoice that the seller needs to settle in some way that benefits global biodiversity,”

explains the study’s lead author Prof. Urmas Kõljalg (University of Tartu, Estonia).

Conversely, taking some action that benefits biodiversity – as estimated through individuals of species – would be akin to buying on the species stock market. Buying, too, has a price tag on it, but this price should probably be thought of in goodwill terms. Here, ‘money’ represents an investment towards increased biodiversity. 

“By rooting such actions in a unified valuation system it is hoped that goodwill actions will become increasingly difficult to dodge and dismiss,”

adds Kõljalg.

Interestingly, the SSM revolves around the notion of digital species. These are representations of described and undescribed species concluded to exist based on DNA sequences and elaborated by including all we know about their habitat, ecology, distribution, interactions with other species, and functional traits. 

For the SSM to function as described, those DNA sequences and metadata need to be sourced from global scientific and societal resources, including natural history collections, sequence databases, and life science data portals. Digital species might be managed further by incorporating data records of non-sequenced individuals, notably observations, older material in collections, and data from publications.

The study proposes that the SSM is orchestrated by the international associations of taxonomists and economists. 

“Non-trivial complications are foreseen when implementing the SSM in practice, but we argue that the most realistic and tangible way out of the looming biodiversity crisis is to put a price tag on species and thereby a cost to actions that compromise them,”

says Kõljalg.

“No human being will make direct monetary profit out of the SSM, and yet it’s all Earth’s inhabitants – including humans – that could benefit from its pointers.”

Original source

Kõljalg U, Nilsson RH, Jansson AT, Zirk A, Abarenkov K (2022) A price tag on species. Research Ideas and Outcomes 8: e86741. https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.8.e86741

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Nature Conservation opens “Restoration of Wetlands” collection

The permanent topical article collection aims to bring together key insights into restoration of wetlands and coastal marine systems, thereby facilitating exchange among different disciplines.

The “Restoration of Wetlands” permanent topical article collection in the open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal Nature Conservation is now open for submissions, with the aim to bring together a wide spectrum of knowledge necessary to inform scientists, policy-makers and practitioners about key insights into restoration of wetlands and coastal marine systems, thereby facilitating exchange among different disciplines.

Being a permanent collection means that it is to welcome contributions indefinitely, whereas papers will progress to publication as soon as they are accepted by the editors. While they will be accessible from a central point: the collection, which is also assigned with its own DOI, the articles themselves will feature in different journal volumes, depending on their publication date.

Find more about the specificity of Special issues and Topical collections on the journal’s website.

The issue is managed by an international team of scientists:

“Worldwide, the loss of biodiversity in wetlands, like rivers and their floodplains and peatland but also in deltas and estuaries is dramatic,”

the guest editors explain.
Photo by Mathias Scholz.

Due to intensive land-use, including farming, urbanisation, drainage, construction of levees or bank stabilisation or straightening of river courses and coastlines, wetlands are losing their typical functions, such as carbon storage and habitat provision. As a result, the ecosystem services they provide are declining and so is the coastal biodiversity as a whole.

However, various restoration measures have been carried out to revitalise wetlands over the last decades, on a global scale. Some of those have already proved successful, while others are still on their way to improve wetland biodiversity and related ecosystem functions and services. For all these efforts, the end goal is to implement international biodiversity actions and policies for adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

Among others, the “Restoration of Wetlands” article collection in the Nature Conservation journal seeks to attract contributions addressing issues, such as the roles of society and planning, as well as biology in restoration; indicators to monitor and measure restoration success; the synergies between wetland restoration and climate change adaptation; and hands-on expertise in restoration.

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Find more about the “Restoration of Wetlands” collection on the Nature Conservation’s journal website. 

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One Ecosystem calls for papers that report ecosystem accounts

To help implement ecosystem accounts, the One Ecosystem journal provides a platform for scientists and statisticians to publish newly compiled accounting tables.

In March 2021, the UN Statistical Commission adopted the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA).

SEEA EA is a spatially-based, integrated statistical framework for organising biophysical information about ecosystems, measuring ecosystem services, tracking changes in ecosystem extent and condition, valuing ecosystem services and assets and linking this information to measures of economic and human activity. 

To help implement ecosystem accounts, the One Ecosystem journal provides a platform for scientists and statisticians to publish newly compiled accounting tables. 

The “Ecosystem Accounts” permanent collection welcomes articles that describe and report ecosystem accounting tables, compiled following the standards set by the SEEA EA. The current version of the framework is fully described in United Nations et al. (2021). System of Environmental-Economic Accounting—Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA), available as a white cover publication, pre-edited text subject to official editing at: https://seea.un.org/ecosystem-accounting.

This collection does not accept research papers on ecosystem accounting that solely report new developments on accounting methods, such as new models for ecosystem services, new indicators for ecosystem condition or new techniques for monetary valuation of ecosystems. 

The inclusion of a compiled ecosystem accounting table is mandatory for this collection. Otherwise, papers will be diverted to the regular issue of One Ecosystem. In such cases, the authors may also choose to submit their contributions to another topical collection. 

Detailed instructions for authors

Submitting authors need to select One Ecosystem as a journal and “Ecosystem Accounting table” as an article template in ARPHA Writing Tool

Submissions to this collection shall respect the following requirements:

Introduction:

  • The introduction makes clear reference to the type (or types) of account(s) submitted, the accounting area, and the accounting period. The introduction should contain a clear reference to the SEEA EA. 
  • The following accounting tables can be published with data referring to a specific accounting area and for a given accounting period:
  • Ecosystem extent account – physical terms: Total extent of area of one or more ecosystem types 
  • Ecosystem condition account – physical terms: (Aggregated) data on selected ecosystem characteristics and optionally the distance from a reference condition.
  • Ecosystem services flow account – physical terms: Physical supply of final ecosystem services by ecosystem assets and the use of those services by economic units.
  • Ecosystem services flow account – monetary terms: The monetary estimate of final ecosystem services by ecosystem assets and the use of those services by economic units.
  • Monetary ecosystem asset account – monetary terms: Stocks and changes in stocks (additions and reductions) of ecosystem assets in monetary terms.

Data and methods

  • This section describes which typologies or classifications have been used to classify ecosystems, ecosystem condition indicators, ecosystem services, or economic sectors. Preference should be given to different typologies proposed by SEEA EA, but deviations or other typologies are acceptable as well. 
  • The section provides a list of all ecosystem types, variables, indicators, or economic sectors used in the accounting tables and it provides references to the data sources used to quantify them. 
  • Optionally, papers justify the use of variables and indicators making reference to specific selection criteria. 
  • For ecosystem service accounts, this section describes or refers to the methods used to quantify ecosystem services.
  • For monetary accounts, this section describes or refers to the methods used to assign monetary values to ecosystem services.
  • The use of supplementary materials is recommended in case the description of data and methods is too long. In that case, this section contains a summary of the data and methods. 

Accounting tables and results

  • This section presents the accounting table(s). Ideally, this section presents the most aggregated version of the accounting table(s), while detailed versions with a high number of rows and columns can be easily published as a spreadsheet in the supplement section of the paper.
  • Stylised versions of accounting tables are available in the SEEA EA guidelines. A stylized example for each ecosystem accounting table is available in MS Excel. It is highly recommended to follow these examples to the maximum possible extent. 
  • Graphs or maps that illustrate the accounting tables or that provide key results used to compile the accounting table can be published as well in this section. 

Discussion 

In this section, authors are invited to add at least one of the following topics:

  • A short interpretation of the results: are the reported data comparable to other published data on ecosystem extent, condition or services or do they deviate substantially. 
  • Critique or comments on the SEEA EA framework. Identify issues with application of the framework. Highlight areas for improvement or further research.
  • Demonstration of how the accounts have been or can be used to support policy and decision making or implementation. Particular cases of interest are (however, not restricted to) agricultural, forestry, fishery and biodiversity policies, biodiversity and ecosystem monitoring and reporting, ecosystem restoration projects, demonstrating values of ecosystems, or environmental impact assessments.

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NeoBiota invites risk analysis studies in a new Special Issue on advancements in the screening of freshwater and terrestrial non-native species

The “Recent advancements in the risk screening of freshwater and terrestrial non-native species” Special Issue in the open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal NeoBiota is now open for submissions. The deadline for submission is 30 April 2022, with the issue scheduled for publication in August 2022.

The “Recent advancements in the risk screening of freshwater and terrestrial non-native species” Special Issue in the open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal NeoBiota is now open for submissions.

The issue is managed by the international team of guest editors of Dr Daniela Giannetto (Mugla Sitki Kocman University, Turkey), Prof. Marina Piria (University of Zagreb, Croatia), Prof. Ali Serhan Tarkan (Mugla Sitki Kocman University, Turkey) and Dr Grzegorz Zięba (University of Lodz, Poland).

Update: The deadline for submission has been extended to 30 April 2022, with the issue expected to be published in August 2022. 

The new special issue is expected to collate prominent contributors from the field of invasive ecology, thereby addressing existing gaps in the knowledge about both freshwater and terrestrial non-native species and their management.

The editors note that despite the current efforts and measures to monitor and tackle the spread of non-native species, and especially those posing imminent threat to local biodiversity and ecosystems, further expansion of such populations has increasingly been recorded in recent years. Of special concern are developing countries, where legislation for controlling non-native species is still lacking.

A major problem is that – as of today – we are still missing on risk screening studies needed to provide evidence for the invasiveness potential of many non-native species across several taxonomic groups, which would then be used to support specific conservation efforts. Unfortunately, this is particularly true for species inhabiting the world’s biodiversity hotspots, point out the editors.

Risk-based identification of non-native species is an essential process to inform policy and actions for conservation and management of biodiversity. Previously published papers on risk screening of aquatic non-native species, and especially those using the most widely-employed ‘-ISK’ decision-support toolkits, have attracted mounting interest from the wider scientific community.

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Journal Alpine Entomology calls for contributions in a new topical collection

“Trends in Arthropods of Alpine Aquatic Ecosystems” is the first topical collection for the journal of the Swiss Entomological Society

“Trends in Arthropods of Alpine Aquatic Ecosystems” is the first topical collection for the journal of the Swiss Entomological Society

The open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal Alpine Entomology, published by Pensoft on behalf of the Swiss Entomological Society, announced its very first topical collection of articles, which will be focusing on arthropods associated with aquatic ecosystems in mountainous regions.

The journal is currently inviting scientists, working on aquatic fauna from alpine habitats, to openly publish their research articles and short notices that provide evidence how arthropods’ biogeography, species communities, distribution, behaviour and morphology have changed in recent times. 

“Aquatic invertebrates are key indicators of global or local changes. Furthermore, many aquatic ecosystems are closely linked to mountains because they originate in them. Many valuable unpublished datasets on aquatic arthropod fauna may therefore be available from mountainous regions,”

explain the rationale behind the newly opened topical article collection guest editors Dr. Jean-Luc Gattolliat (Museum of Zoology, Lausanne and University of Lausanne, Switzerland) and Dr. David Muranyi (Eszterházy Károly Catholic University, Hungary).

The aim of the “Trends in Arthropods of Alpine Aquatic Ecosystems” collection is to bring together data and findings about what many agree is the most impacted type of environment on Earth: aquatic ecosystems, especially running waters.

The collection will remain open for submissions for the next two years. In the meantime, the accepted manuscripts will be published on a rolling basis, as soon as they are ready for publication.

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The first Field Identification Guide of Seychelles’ deeper reefscapes

The deep ocean is the last frontier on our planet. It is home to creatures beyond our imagination and filled to the brim with life. Coastal communities have known the value of a healthy ocean for centuries, yet much of its life remains unknown, sitting beyond the reach of most research programs due to the hostility of its depth and vastness. With current research and monitoring activities in the region mostly focussing on shallow reefs, our Field Identification Guide, published in the peer-reviewed, open-access Biodiversity Data Journal, aims to showcase the benthic organisms that inhabit the Seychelles’ deeper reefscapes. The research cruise that gathered the imagery data used to create the guide, Nekton’s “First Descent: Seychelles Expedition”, was the first of its kind to systematically survey deeper reefs in Seychelles waters, bringing to light previously little-known ecosystems and their inhabitants.

Guest blog post by Nico Fassbender, Zoleka Filander, Carlos Moura, Paris Stefanoudis and Lucy Woodall

 “We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see.”

These compelling words by author Richard Louv perfectly describe the importance of taxonomy in today’s conservation efforts.

A fan coral of the genus Annella surrounded by various smaller fans and encrusting benthic organisms. Photograph taken at 60m depth. © Nekton.

The deep ocean is the last frontier on our planet. It is home to creatures beyond our imagination and filled to the brim with life. Coastal communities have known the value of a healthy ocean for centuries, yet much of its life remains unknown, sitting beyond the reach of most research programs due to the hostility of its depth and vastness. 

More recently, the importance of deeper ecosystems started moving into the focus of modern marine research as many scientists across the globe are now working to unriddle the mysteries and processes that drive the patterns of life down in the deep.

Deeper reef habitats, starting at ~30m depth beyond SCUBA diving limits, are of crucial importance for coastal communities and adjacent ecosystems alike. They have been found to not only support coral and fish larval supply, aiding shallower reefs, but also to act as a refuge for many species in times of disturbance. Yet, going back to the start of this post – you cannot protect what you don’t know – and we currently know very little about these deeper reefs, especially ones in the Western Indian Ocean region.

We are many nations, but together we are one ocean.

Zoleka Filander – Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, Branch Oceans and Coasts, Cape Town, South Africa

With current research and monitoring activities in the region mostly focussing on shallow reefs, our Field Identification Guide, published in the peer-reviewed, open-access Biodiversity Data Journal, aims to showcase the benthic organisms that inhabit the Seychelles’ deeper reefscapes. The research cruise that gathered the imagery data used to create the guide, Nekton’s “First Descent: Seychelles Expedition”, was the first of its kind to systematically survey deeper reefs in Seychelles waters, bringing to light previously little-known ecosystems and their inhabitants.

All species play relevant roles in trophic relations, in the functioning of ecosystems, and all have a potential biotechnological interest.

Carlos Moura – OKEANOS/DOP, University of the Azores, Horta, Portugal
A grouper (Cephalopholis miniate) hovering above encrusting benthic communities at Aldabra, dominated by the scleractinian coral Pachyseris. Photograph taken at 30m depth. © Nekton.

Our Field Identification Guide is one of the first efforts to describe the mesophotic and sub-mesophotic reefs in the Western Indian Ocean. To effectively protect these ecosystems, stakeholders need to be able to visualise them and scientists need to be able to identify and classify the organisms they observe. Displaying the diversity of the benthic organisms we encountered is only the first step in a complex and long process, allowing us to categorize, study, monitor and thus effectively protect these habitats. 

The correct identification of life is a fundamental building block of ecological knowledge. This international collaboration provided an important place to start from when considering the life on deeper reefs in Seychelles and the wider Western Indian Ocean region.

Lucy Woodall – University of Oxford, and Nekton

To survey the benthic flora and fauna of the Seychelles, we used a variety of methods, including submersibles, remotely operated vehicles and SCUBA diving teams equipped with stereo-video camera systems. We then recorded benthic communities during transect surveys conducted at 10 m, 30 m, 60 m, 120 m, 250 m and 350 m depths. This way, we ended up with 45 h of video footage and enough images to be able to present a photographic guide for the visual identification of the marine macrophytes, corals, sponges and other common invertebrates that inhabit Seychelles’ reefs.

We encountered coral fan gardens on steep slopes, boulders entirely encrusted with sponges of all colours and textures, corals of all shapes and sizes, and an amazing variety of critters. The images in our guide cannot do justice to the beauty of these habitats, and more than one tear was shed encountering these intact ecosystems teeming with life. Especially in times of increasingly frequent disturbance events and quickly shifting baselines (i.e., what we would see as a pristine, healthy reef in the 21st century), intact reef systems become increasingly rare. So much so that they are often confined to extremely remote and/or long and heavily protected areas. Finding these deeper reefs intact and with little to no signs of anthropogenic disturbance means hope – hope that there are yet undiscovered and unexplored reefs in the Western Indian Ocean region that show similar traits; and hope that we will discover even more novel habitats worth protecting.

An overview of how habitat composition changes across depths at Astove Island. © Nekton.

We hope that this guide will help the public to discover the beauty of Seychelles’ deeper reefs and aid current and future monitoring and research activities in Seychelles and the Western Indian Ocean region.

Currently, there are few formalised training materials available to new marine researchers working in mesophotic and deeper reef habitats, especially for the Indian Ocean. The present benthic field ID guide will hopefully be of use to marine researchers, managers, divers and naturalists with the identification of organisms as seen in marine imagery or live in the field.

Paris Stefanoudis – University of Oxford, and Nekton

Taxonomic paper:

Fassbender N, Stefanoudis PV, Filander ZN, Gendron G, Mah CL, Mattio L, Mortimer JA, Moura CJ, Samaai T, Samimi-Namin K, Wagner D, Walton R, Woodall LC (2021) Reef benthos of Seychelles – A field guide. Biodiversity Data Journal 9: e65970. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.9.e65970

One water bucket to find them all: Detecting fish, mammals, and birds from a single sample

Revolutionary environmental DNA analysis holds great potential for the future of biodiversity monitoring, concludes a new study.

Revolutionary environmental DNA analysis holds great potential for the future of biodiversity monitoring, concludes a new study

Collection of water samples for eDNA metabarcoding bioassessment.
Photo by Till-Hendrik Macher.

In times of exacerbating biodiversity loss, reliable data on species occurrence are essential, in order for prompt and adequate conservation actions to be initiated. This is especially true for freshwater ecosystems, which are particularly vulnerable and threatened by anthropogenic impacts. Their ecological status has already been highlighted as a top priority by multiple national and international directives, such as the European Water Framework Directive.

However, traditional monitoring methods, such as electrofishing, trapping methods, or observation-based assessments, which are the current status-quo in fish monitoring, are often time- and cost-consuming. As a result, over the last decade, scientists progressively agree that we need a more comprehensive and holistic method to assess freshwater biodiversity.

Meanwhile, recent studies have continuously been demonstrating that eDNA metabarcoding analyses, where DNA traces found in the water are used to identify what organisms live there, is an efficient method to capture aquatic biodiversity in a fast, reliable, non-invasive and relatively low-cost manner. In such metabarcoding studies, scientists sample, collect and sequence DNA, so that they can compare it with existing databases and identify the source organisms.

Furthermore, as eDNA metabarcoding assessments use samples from water, often streams, located at the lowest point, one such sample usually contains not only traces of specimens that come into direct contact with water, for example, by swimming or drinking, but also collects traces of terrestrial species indirectly via rainfalls, snowmelt, groundwaters etc. 

In standard fish eDNA metabarcoding assessments, these ‘bycatch data’ are typically left aside. Yet, from a viewpoint of a more holistic biodiversity monitoring, they hold immense potential to also detect the presence of terrestrial and semi-terrestrial species in the catchment.

In their new study, reported in the open-access scholarly journal Metabarcoding and MetagenomicsGerman researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen and the German Environment Agency successfully detected an astonishing quantity of the local mammals and birds native to the Saxony-Anhalt state by collecting as much as 18 litres of water from across a two-kilometre stretch along the river Mulde.

After water filtration the eDNA filter is preserved in ethanol until further processing in the lab.
Photo by Till-Hendrik Macher.

In fact, it took only one day for the team, led by Till-Hendrik Macher, PhD student in the German Federal Environmental Agency-funded GeDNA project, to collect the samples. Using metabarcoding to analyse the DNA from the samples, the researchers identified as much as 50% of the fishes, 22% of the mammal species, and 7.4% of the breeding bird species in the region. 

However, the team also concluded that while it would normally take only 10 litres of water to assess the aquatic and semi-terrestrial fauna, terrestrial species required significantly more sampling.

Unlocking data from the increasingly available fish eDNA metabarcoding information enables synergies among terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity monitoring programs, adding further important information on species diversity in space and time. 

“We thus encourage to exploit fish eDNA metabarcoding biodiversity monitoring data to inform other conservation programs,”

says lead author Till-Hendrik Macher. 

“For that purpose, however, it is essential that eDNA data is jointly stored and accessible for different biodiversity monitoring and biodiversity assessment campaigns, either at state, federal, or international level,”

concludes Florian Leese, who coordinates the project.

Original source:

Macher T-H, Schütz R, Arle J, Beermann AJ, Koschorreck J, Leese F (2021) Beyond fish eDNA metabarcoding: Field replicates disproportionately improve the detection of stream associated vertebrate species. Metabarcoding and Metagenomics 5: e66557. https://doi.org/10.3897/mbmg.5.66557

Guest Blog Post: New Area of Importance for Bat Conservation in Honduras

The recognition of the “Ceguaca, la Mujer de los Juncos” locality comes as a result of research work – published last year in Subterranean Biology – which produced the first checklist of bats for Santa Bárbara


Guest blog post by Eduardo Javier Ordoñez-Trejo and Manfredo Alejandro Turcios-Casco


Bat populations are threatened due to fragmentation and loss of their habitats. Meanwhile, dry forests are some of the least studied and most threatened ecosystems in Honduras, and similarly, so have been the caves.

We had to walk at least two hours to reach either of the caves in El Peñon or Quita Sueño, so we would take our full equipment: for camping, cooking and studying bats.
Photo by Hefer Ávila

Caves are important reservoirs of species, as they offer perks no other habitat can provide at once: a refuge from predators, inconstant weather, and a critical venue for social interactions, reproduction, hibernation, roosting and nutrients. In order to protect bat populations, the Latin American and Caribbean Web for Bat Conservation (RELCOM) supports the establishment of Areas of Importance for the Conservation of Bats, abbreviated as AICOMS (Spanish for Areas with Importance for the Conservation of Bats) .

It was at least a two-hour walk between the caves of Monte Grueso and the caves of El Peñon. The final stint, though, included a swim across Rio Ulúa, one of most extensive rivers in Honduras.
Photo by Hefer Ávila

Together with biologists of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) and local community members, we provided the first ever checklist of bat species in the Dry Forest of Ceguaca, Santa Barbara (Honduras), and described the importance of two caves in the area for bat conservation based on species richness. We published this study last June in Subterranean Biology.

The study is openly accessible in Subterranean Biology

We found that caves in Ceguaca are inhabited by at least 23 bat species of four families, which represents approximately a fifth of all species known from Honduras. Their inhabitants include several threatened species like the hairy-legged vampire bat (Diphylla ecaudata), one of the three existing vampire bats, and rare species with few official records in the area, such as Schmidts’s big-eared bat (Micronycteris schmidtorum). These caves may also represent a critical site for roosting and nursing. During our study, we managed to record pregnant and lactating females of several species, as well as reproductive males.

The certificate issued by RELCOM recognising the caves in Ceguaca as an Area of Importance for the Conservation of Bats, dated 6th March 2020

“It feels wonderful to see that our work has had great results and that with our efforts, we established an area where bats will be protected and studied. This certification also includes the name of Roberto Castellano, an elder member of the community of Ceguaca, who helped us during the fieldwork as our guide. He was a great conservationist of this area and protector of the caves. Unfortunately, he passed away during the study, however, due to his enormous contribution, we dedicated our article to him and included him as part of this AICOM success.”

José Alejandro Soler Orellana, co-author of the study.

Using what we learned in Ceguaca’s caves, we approached the Program for Bat Conservation of Honduras (PCMH) and showed them the evidence the locality was indeed a precious place with a spectacular bat diversity. Consequently, thanks to our collaboration with the PCMH, the site was effectively declared as an Area of Importance for the Conservation of Bats by RELCOM on 6th March 2020. 

This is an enormous step for bat conservation in the country. Bat conservation efforts should focus on studying and protecting these and other important habitats. We also need to make sure that local people appreciate the important role the bats play in the ecosystem.

A close up of a spider

Description automatically generated
We captured this adult Pallas’s long-tongued bat (Glossophaga soricina) female in a cave in Monte Grueso. She must have been returning to the cave after spending the day pollinating local plants. During these surveys, we found trees with opened flowers of Mexican calabash (Crescentia alata).
Photo by Hefer Ávila

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Research article:

Turcios-Casco MA, Mazier DIO, Orellana JAS, Ávila-Palma HD, Trejo EJO (2019) Two caves in western Honduras are important for bat conservation: first checklist of bats in Santa Bárbara. Subterranean Biology 30: 41–55. https://doi.org/10.3897/subtbiol.30.35420

19th-century bee cells in a Panamanian cathedral shed light on human impact on ecosystems

About 120 clusters of 19th-century orchid bee nests were found during restoration work on the altarpiece of Basilica Cathedral in Casco Viejo (Panamá). Having conducted the first pollen analysis for these extremely secretive insects, the researchers identified the presence of 48 plant species, representing 23 families.

Casco Viejo, Panamá in 1875, as seen from the summit of Cerro Ancón.
A white tower of the Cathedral where bees were nesting is visible in the distant background in the centre of the peninsula.
Photo by Eadweard Muybridge, courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; gift of Mitchell and Nancy Steir.

Despite being “neotropical-forest-loving creatures,” some orchid bees are known to tolerate habitats disturbed by human activity. However, little did the research team of Paola Galgani-Barraza (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) expect to find as many as 120 clusters of nearly two-centuries-old orchid bee nests built on the altarpiece of the Basilica Cathedral in Casco Viejo (Panamá). Their findings are published in the open-access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

Locations of nest cell aggregations of Eufriesea surinamensis within the Cathedral in Casco Viejo, Panamá
Photo by Paola Galgani-Barraza

This happened after restoration work, completed in 2018 in preparation for the consecration of a new altar by Pope Francis, revealed the nests. Interestingly, many cells were covered with gold leaf and other golden material applied during an earlier restoration following an 1870 fire, thus aiding the reliable determination of the age of the clusters. The cells were dated to the years prior to 1871-1876.

The bee species, that had once constructed the nests, was identified as the extremely secretive Eufriesea surinamensis. Females are known to build their nests distant from each other, making them very difficult to locate in the field. As a result, there is not much known about them: neither about the floral resources they collect for food, nor about the materials they use to build their nests, nor about the plants they pollinate.

However, by analysing the preserved pollen for the first time for this species, the researchers successfully detected the presence of 48 plant species, representing 43 genera and 23 families. Hence, they concluded that late-nineteenth century Panama City was surrounded by a patchwork of tropical forests, sufficient to sustain nesting populations of what today is a forest-dwelling species of bee.

Not only did the scientists unveil important knowledge about the biology of orchid bees and the local floral diversity in the 19th century, but they also began to uncover key information about the functions of natural ecosystems and their component species, where bees play a crucial role as primary pollinators. Thus, the researchers hope to reveal how these environments are being modified by collective human behaviour, which is especially crucial with the rapidly changing environment that we witness today.

The orchid bee Eufriesea surinamensis
Photo by Paola Galgani-Barraza

Original source:

Galgani-Barraza P, Moreno JE, Lobo S, Tribaldos W, Roubik DW, Wcislo WT (2019) Flower use by late nineteenth-century orchid bees (Eufriesea surinamensis, Hymenoptera, Apidae) nesting in the Catedral Basílica Santa María la Antigua de Panamá. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 74: 65-81. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.74.39191

Revolutionary method could bring us much closer to the description of hyperdiverse faunas

A novel approach relying on a short sequence of mitochondrial DNA in conjunction with a lateral image of the holotype specimen was proposed to greatly accelerate species identification and description, especially when it comes to hyperdiverse taxa, such as parasitic wasps.

At today’s rate, it could take another two millennia for science to document all currently existing species of multicellular life

Two hundred and sixty-one years ago, Linnaeus formalized binomial nomenclature and the modern system of naming organisms. Since the time of his first publication, taxonomists have managed to describe 1.8 million of the estimated 8 to 25 million extant species of multicellular life, somewhere between 7% and 22%. At this rate, the task of treating all species would be accomplished sometime before the year 4,000. In an age of alarming environmental crises, where taking measures for the preservation of our planet’s ecosystems through efficient knowledge is becoming increasingly urgent, humanity cannot afford such dawdling.

“Clearly something needs to change to accelerate this rate, and in this publication we propose a novel approach that employs only a short sequence of mitochondrial DNA in conjunction with a lateral image of the holotype specimen,”

explain the researchers behind a new study, published in the open-access journal Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift (DEZ).
Description rate of parasitic wasps species (superfamily
Ichneumonoidea).
Data from Taxapad (Yu et al. 2016).

In standardized practices, it is required that experts conduct plenty of time- and labor-consuming analyses, in order to provide thorough descriptions of both the morphology and genetics of individual species, as well as a long list of characteristic features found to differentiate each from any previously known ones. However, the scientists argue, at this stage, it is impossible to pinpoint distinct morphological characters setting apart all currently known species from the numerous ones not yet encountered. To make matters worse, finding human and financial resources for performing this kind of detailed research is increasingly problematic.

This holds especially true when it comes to hyperdiverse groups, such as ichneumonoid parasitoid wasps: a group of tiny insects believed to comprise up to 1,000,000 species, of which only 44,000 were recognised as valid, according to 2016 data. In their role of parasitoids, these wasps have a key impact on ecosystem stability and diversity. Additionally, many species parasitise the larvae of commercially important pests, so understanding their diversity could help resolve essential issues in agriculture.

Meanwhile, providing a specific species-unique snippet of DNA alongside an image of the specimen used for the description of the species (i.e. holotype) could significantly accelerate the process. By providing a name for a species through a formal description, researchers would allow for their successors to easily build on their discoveries and eventually reach crucial scientific conclusions.

“If this style were to be adopted by a large portion of the taxonomic community, the mission of documenting Earth’s multicellular life could be accomplished in a few generations, provided these organisms are still here,”

say the authors of the study.

To exemplify their revolutionary approach, the scientists use their paper to also describe a total of 18 new species of wasps in two genera (Zelomorpha and Hemichoma) known from Área de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Currently, the team works on the treatment of related species, which still comprise only a portion of the hundreds of thousands that remain unnamed.

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Original source:

Meierotto S, Sharkey MJ, Janzen DH, Hallwachs W, Hebert PDN, Chapman EG, Smith MA (2019) A revolutionary protocol to describe understudied hyperdiverse taxa and overcome the taxonomic impediment. Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift 66(2): 119-145. https://doi.org/10.3897/dez.66.34683