Extensive practical guide to DNA-based biodiversity assessment methods published as a ‘living’ document by DNAqua-Net COST Action

Between 2016 and 2021, over 500 researchers collaborated within the DNAqua-Net international network, funded by the European Union’s European Cooperation in Science and Technology programme (COST), with the goal to develop and advance biodiversity assessment methods based on analysis of DNA obtained from the environment (e.g. river water) or from unsorted collections of organisms. 

Such innovative methods are a real game changer when it comes to large-scale assessment of biodiversity and ecological monitoring, as collecting environmental samples that are sent to the lab for analysis is much cheaper, faster and non-invasive, compared with capturing and examining live organisms. However, large-scale adoption has been hindered by a lack of standardisation and official guidance. 

Recognising the urgent need to scale up ecological monitoring as we respond to the biodiversity and climate crises, the DNAqua-Net team published a guidance document for the implementation of DNA-based biomonitoring tools.

The guide considers four different types of samples: water, sediments, invertebrate collections and diatoms, and two primary analysis types: single species detection via qPCR and similar targeted methods; and assessment of biological communities via DNA metabarcoding. At each stage of the field and laboratory process the guide sets out the scientific consensus, as well as the choices that need to be made and the trade-offs they entail. In particular, the guide considers how the choices may be influenced by common practical constraints such as logistics, time and budget. Available in an Advanced Book format, the guidelines will be updated as the technology continues to evolve.

Leaders of DNAqua-Net are Prof. Dr. Florian Leese of the University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany) and Dr. Agnès Bouchez of the French National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE). The core writing team for the present guide book involves Dr. Micaela Hellström (MIX Research AB, Sweden), Dr. Kat Bruce (NatureMetrics Ltd., UK), Dr. Rosetta Blackman (University of Zurich and EAWAG, Switzerland), Dr. Sarah Bourlat (LIB/Museum Koenig, Germany), and Prof. Kristy Deiner (ETH Zurich and SimplexDNA AG, Switzerland).

“Back in 2016 we realised that all around the globe researchers are testing new eDNA methods, developing individual solutions and products. While this is excellent, we need to reach a consensus and provide this consensus to stakeholders from the applied sectors”, 

says Florian Leese.
This video was created as part of EU COST Action DNAqua-Net (CA15219) and shows how environmental DNA (eDNA) can be sampled and analysed from aquatic ecosystems. It shows the whole cycle from the start to final results. 
Credit: DNAqua-Net

The guide’s lead author Dr. Kat Bruce adds:

“The urgency of addressing the twin biodiversity and climate crises means that we need to accelerate the adoption of new technologies that can provide data and insights at large scales. In doing so, we walk a tricky line to agree on sufficiently standardised methods that can be usefully applied as soon as they add value, while still continuing to develop them further and innovate within the field. It was a daunting task to seek consensus from several hundred scientists working in a fast-moving field, but we found that our technology is based on a strong foundation of knowledge and there was a high level of agreement on the core principles – even if the details vary and different users make different choices depending on their environmental, financial or logistical constraints.”

Looking back on the last four years that culminated in the publication of a “living” research publication, Prof. Dr. Kristy Deiner says:

“The document took many twists and turns through more than ten versions and passionate discussions across many workshops and late night drinks. All in the days when we could linger at conferences without fear of the pandemic weighing on us. As we worked to find consensus, one thing was clear: we had a lot to say and a standard review paper was not going to cut it. With the knowledge and experience gathered across the DNAqua-Net, it made sense to not limit this flow of information, but rather to try and tackle it head on and use it to address the many questions we’ve all struggled with while developing DNA-based biodiversity survey methods.”

Now that the document – or at least its first version – is publicly available, the researchers are already planning for the next steps and challenges.

“The bottom line is we’ve come a long way in the last ten years. We have a buffet of methods for which many produce accurate, reliable and actionable data to the aid of biodiversity monitoring and conservation. While there is still much work to be done, the many unanswered questions are because the uptake is so broad. With this broad uptake comes novel challenges, but also new insights and a diversity of minds with new ideas to address them. As said this is planned to be a living document and we welcome continued inputs no matter how great or small,” says Deiner.

Dr. Micaela Hellström recalls:

“The book evolved over the four years of COST Action DNAqua-Net which made it possible for the many scientists and stakeholders involved to collaborate and exchange knowledge on an unprecedented scale. Our whole team is well aware of the urgent need to monitor biodiversity loss and to provide accurate species distribution information on large scales, to protect the species that are left. This was a strong driving force for all of us involved in the production of this document. We need consensus on how to coherently collect biodiversity data to fully understand changes in nature.”

“It was a great and intense experience to be a part of the five-person core writing team. In the months prior to submitting the document, we spent countless hours, weekends and late nights researching the field, communicating with researchers and stakeholders, and joining vivid Zoom discussions. As a result, the present book provides solid guidance on multiple eDNA monitoring methods that are – or will soon become – available as the field moves forward.” 

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The DNAqua-Net team invites fellow researchers and practitioners to provide their feedback and personal contributions using the contacts below.

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Original source:

Bruce K, Blackman R, Bourlat SJ, Hellström AM, Bakker J, Bista I, Bohmann K, Bouchez A, Brys R, Clark K, Elbrecht V, Fazi S, Fonseca V, Hänfling B, Leese F, Mächler E, Mahon AR, Meissner K, Panksep K, Pawlowski J, Schmidt Yáñez P, Seymour M, Thalinger B, Valentini A, Woodcock P, Traugott M, Vasselon V, Deiner K (2021) A practical guide to DNA-based methods for biodiversity assessment. Advanced Books. https://doi.org/10.3897/ab.e68634

Snake photo posted on Instagram leads to the discovery of a new species from the Himalayas

An image on Instagram prompted the discovery of a new species of Kukri snake from Himachal Pradesh, India. Intrigued by a post shared by a master student, the research team found and examined more specimens to discover they belonged to a yet undescribed species. Their study, published in the open-access journal Evolutionary Systematics, highlights how little we still know about the biodiversity in the Western Himalayas.

Virender Kumar Kharadwaj

Intrigued by a photo shared on Instagram, a research team from India discovered a previously unknown species of kukri snake.

Staying at home in Chamba because of the COVID-19 lockdown, Virendar K. Bhardwaj, a master student in Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, started exploring his backyard, photographing everything he found there and posting the pictures online. His Instagram account started buzzing with the life of the snakes, lizards, frogs, and insects he encountered.

One of those photos – a picture of a kukri snake – popped up in the feed of Zeeshan A. Mirza (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore) and immediately caught his attention. After a chat with Harshil Patel (Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat), he decided to get in touch with Virendar and find out more about the sighting.

The snake, which Virendar encountered along a mud road on a summer evening, belongs to a group commonly known as Kukri snakes, named so because of their curved teeth that resemble the Nepali dagger “Kukri”. 

At first sight, the individual that Virendar photographed looked a lot like the Common Kukri snake (Oligodon arnensis). However, a herpetologist could spot some unique features that raised questions about its identity. 

Kukri snake

Virendar uploaded the photo on 5 June 2020, and by the end of the month, after extensively surveying the area, he found two individuals – enough to proceed with their identification. However, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the research work as labs and natural history museums remained closed. 

Upon the reopening of labs, the team studied the DNA of the specimens and found out they belonged to a species different from the Common Kukri snake. Then, they compared the snakes’ morphological features with data from literature and museums and used micro computed tomography scans to further investigate their morphology. In the end, the research team were able to confirm the snakes belonged to a species previously unknown to science.

The discovery was published in a research paper in the international peer-reviewed journal Evolutionary Systematics. There, the new species is described as Oligodon churahensis, its name a reference to the Churah Valley in Himachal Pradesh, where it was discovered. 

What’s even more interesting is that the exploration of your own backyard may yield still undocumented species… if one looks in their own backyard, they may end up finding a new species right there.

Zeeshan A. Mirza

“It is quite interesting to see how an image on Instagram led to the discovery of such a pretty snake that, until very recently, remained hidden to the world,” comments Zeeshan A. Mirza.

“What’s even more interesting is that the exploration of your own backyard may yield still undocumented species. Lately, people have been eager to travel to remote biodiversity hotspots to find new or rare species, but if one looks in their own backyard, they may end up finding a new species right there.”

“Compared to other biodiversity hotspots, the Western Himalayas are still poorly explored, especially in terms of herpetological diversity, but they harbor unique reptile species that we have only started to unravel in the last couple of years,” Mirza adds.

Research article:

Mirza ZA, Bhardwaj VK, Patel H (2021) A new species of snake of the genus Oligodon Boie in Fitzinger, 1826 (Reptilia, Serpentes) from the Western Himalayas. Evolutionary Systematics 5(2): 335-345. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.5.72564

A star in subtropical Japan: a new species of parasitoid wasp constructs unique cocoon masses hanging on 1-meter-long strings

A new species of parasitoid wasp that constructs remarkable star-shaped cocoon masses is reported from the biodiversity hot spot Ryukyu Islands. Japanese researchers observed how the wasps construct “stars” after making their way out of the moth larvae they inhabit during their own larval stage. In their study, published in the open-access journal Journal of Hymenoptera Research, the team discuss the ecological significance of the cocoon mass and the evolution of this peculiar structure.

A unique “star” was discovered from the Ryukyu Islands, a biodiversity hot spot in subtropical Japan: a star-shaped structure that turned out to be the cocoon mass of a new species of parasitoid wasp. Researchers Shunpei Fujie (Osaka Museum of Natural History), So Shimizu, Kaoru Maeto (Kobe University), Koichi Tone (Okinawa Municipal Museum), and Kazunori Matsuo (Kyushu University) described this parasitoid wasp as a new species in the open-access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

The new parasitoid wasps, Meteorus stellatus. Photo by Fujie S

Parasitoid wasps parasitize a variety of organisms, mostly insects. They lay eggs in the host, a larva of hawk moth in this case, where the wasp larvae later hatch. After eating the host from the inside out, the larvae spin threads to form cocoons, in which they pupate, and from which the adult wasps eventually emerge. 

The larvae of Meteorus stellatus emerging from a host moth. Photo by Tone K

Larvae of the newly discovered parasitoid wasp form star-shaped masses of cocoons lined up in a spherical pattern, suspended by a thread that can reach up to 1 meter in length. The structure, 7 to 14 mm wide and 9 to 23 mm long, can accommodate over 100 cocoons.

The star-shaped cocoon mass and the cable of the new parasitoid wasps. Photo by Shimizu S

Despite its peculiarity, the wasp species constructing these masses had not been previously described: morphological observation and molecular analysis revealed that it was new to science. The authors aptly called it Meteorus stellatus, adding the Latin word for “starry” to its scientific name.

Thanks to the recent publication, we now have the first detailed report about the construction of such a remarkable cocoon mass in parasitoid wasps. We can also see what the process looks like, as the researchers were able to film the wasps escaping from the moth larvae and forming the star-shaped structure.

Why does M. stellatus form cocoons in such a unique structure?

The authors of the study believe this unique structure helps the wasps survive through the most critical time, i.e. the period of constructing cocoons and pupating, when they are exposed to various natural enemies and environmental stresses. The star shape most likely reduces the exposed area of individual cocoons, thus increasing their defense against hyper-parasitoids (wasps attacking cocoons of other parasitoid wasps), while the long thread that suspends the cocoon mass protects the cocoons from potential enemies like ants.

“How parasitoid wasps have evolved to form such unique masses instead of the common individual cocoons should be the next thing on our ‘to-research’ list,” say the authors.

Research article:

Fujie S, Shimizu S, Tone K, Matsuo K, Maeto K (2021) Stars in subtropical Japan: a new gregarious Meteorus species (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Euphorinae) constructs enigmatic star-shaped pendulous communal cocoons. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 86: 19-45. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.86.71225

Guest blog post: Operation desert: crab and dwarf spider discovered on sand dunes in military area, Slovakia

Guest blog post by Pavol Purgat

For the first time in Slovakia, the dwarf spider Walckenaeria stylifrons and crab spider Spiracme mongolica were discovered on sand dunes in Záhorie Protected Landscape Area, on  localities that serve as a military complex, used by the native Slovak army. Moreover, the spider W. stylifrons was found in a wine-growing region near the historical town of Modra.

Scientists Pavol Purgat, Dr Peter Gajdoš, Natália Hurajtová, Institute of Landscape Ecology-Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia, and Dr Katarína Krajčovičová, Dr Adrián Purkart, Ľubomír Volnár, Faculty of Natural Sciences-Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia have published their paper, where they introduce two new spider species for Slovakia, in the open-access journal CheckList, the journal of biodiversity data.

Dwarf spider, Walckenaeria stilifrons

European continental sand dunes, characterized by high ground temperature, high temperature fluctuations and movement of sand masses, belong to the rare, climatically extreme areas resembling deserts. In Europe, lowland sandy grassland habitats are considered to be among the most endangered and are often the subject of nature conservation.

The researchers decided to understand the spider assemblages living in such extreme habitats in Western Slovakia. During 2018–2019, the study sites were chosen and co-called pitfall traps hidden in the ground were used to collect spiders.

Among other collected species, two spiders were found for the first time in Slovakia. The dwarf spider W. stilifrons is recorded from 15 European countries and it is known from Eastern England to Eastern Germany in the north, and from the Iberian Peninsula to the Crimea and Cyprus in the south. Within Central Europe, the species has so far been known from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The crab spider S. mongolica is known from Serbia to the European part of Russia. Its distribution in Asia extends from Central Asian part of Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan to Mongolia and China. In China it is known only from Western Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang region.

Crab spider, Spiracme mongolica

Upon the detailed examination of male copulatory organs, the researchers found out that one of the species shares characters typical for the genus Spiracme, in consideration of that a new combination Spiracme mongolica for the spider previously known as Xysticus mongolicus was suggested.

In conclusion, the authors assume that W. stilifrons can live elsewhere in Europe. The rarity of the species may be related to the occurrence of adults, especially in the winter months, as most researchers are focused only on the growing seasons. The occurrence of S. mongolica in sand dunes in Slovakia confirms this species preference for dry habitats. The new finding of S. mongolica is the most known westernmost.

Research article:
Purgat P, Gajdoš P, Purkart A, Hurajtová N, Volnár Ľ, Krajčovičová K (2021) Walckenaeria stilifrons and Spiracme mongolica (Araneae, Linyphiidae, Thomisidae), two new species to Slovakia. Check List 17 (6): 1601-1608. doi: 10.15560/17.6.1601

First moth species on Alpenrose discovered

Discovery of the first moth species to mine the leaves of the highly poisonous Alpine rose

 Rust-red alpine rose, one of the most popular alpine plants. Photo by Ingrid Huemer

An Austrian-Swiss research team was able to find a previously unknown glacial relic in the Alps, the Alpine rose leaf-miner moth. It is the first known species to have its caterpillars specializing on the rust-red alpine rose, a very poisonous, widely distributed plant that most animals, including moths and butterflies, strictly avoid. The extraordinary record was just published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Alpine Entomology.

Poisonous host plant

The rust-red alpine rose (Rhododendron ferrugineum) is among the best-known and most attractive plants due to its flowering splendor – at least for humans. It is, in fact, a highly poisonous plant, strictly avoided by grazing animals. For insects, the alpine rose is attractive at most as a nectar plant; insect larvae, on the other hand, develop on it only in exceptional cases. This also applies to Alpine butterflies and moths, which leave Alpine roses largely untouched despite their wide distribution. Therefore, the discovery of a highly specialized species in the Alps came as a complete surprise.

Chance find

Since alpine roses are unattractive to caterpillars and no insect the entire Alpine region was previously known to specialize on them, butterfly and moth experts had considered them rather uninteresting and ignored them in their research. The discovery of the alpine rose leaf-miner wasn’t the result of a targeted search: it was a pure stroke of luck.

During a cloudy spell in July this year, researchers surveying the butterflies in Ardez in the Engadine valley, Switzerland, happened to take a break exactly at an infested alpine rose bush. 

“The accidental sighting of the first caterpillar in an alpine rose leaf was an absolute adrenaline rush, it was immediately clear that this must be an extraordinary species,”

Peter Huemer, researcher and head of the natural sciences department of the Tyrolean State Museums

Peter Huemer, researcher and head of the natural sciences department of the Tyrolean State Museums, and Swiss butterfly and moth expert Jürg Schmid came back in late July and early August to look for caterpillars and pupae and find out more about this curious insect. The extended search yielded evidence of a stable population of a species that was initially a complete enigma. 

Life in the leaf

The alpine rose leaf-miner moth drills through the upper leaf skin and into the leaf interior immediately after the caterpillar hatches. The caterpillar then spends its entire life until pupation between the intact leaf skins, eating the leaf from the inside. Thanks to this behavior, the caterpillar is just as well protected from bad weather as from many predators such as birds, spiders, or some carnivore insects. The feeding trail, called a leaf mine, begins with a long corridor and ends in a large square-like mine section. The feces are deposited inside this mine. When the time comes for pupation, the caterpillar leaves the infested leaf and makes a typical web on the underside or a nearby leaf. With the help of several fine silk threads, it produces an elaborate “hammock”, in which the pupation finally takes place. In the laboratory, after about 10 days, the successful breeding to a moth succeeded, with a striking result.

Enigmatic glacial relic

Final instar larva of the alpine rose leaf-miner moth on Rhododendron ferrugineum in Ardez, Graubünden, Switzerland. Photo by Jürg Schmid

Huemer and Schmid were surprised to find out that the moths belonged to a species that was widespread in northern Europe, northern Asia and North America – the swamp porst leaf-miner butterfly Lyonetia ledi. By looking at its morphological features, such as wing color and pattern, and comparing its DNA barcodes to those of northern European specimens, they were able to confirm its identity.

Habitat of the alpine rose leaf-miner moth in Engadine/Switzerland with Rhododendron ferrugineum. Photo by Jürg Schmid

The Engadine population, however, is located more than 400 km away from the nearest other known populations, which are on the border of Austria and the Czech Republic. Furthermore, the species lives in northern Europe exclusively on swamp porst and Gagel bush – two shrubs that are typical for raised bogs and absent from the Alps. However, the researchers suggest that in earlier cold phases – some 22,000 years ago – the swamp porst and the alpine rose did share a habitat in perialpine lowland habitats north of the Alps. It is very likely that after the last cold period and the melting of the glaciers, some populations of the species shifted their host preference from the swamp porst to the alpine rose. The separation of the distribution areas of the two plants caused by subsequent warm phases inevitably led to the separation of the moth populations. 

Extinction risk

The Alpine Rose Leaf-miner Moth is so far only known from the Lower Engadine. It lives in a steep, north-exposed, spruce-larch-pine forest at about 1,800 m above sea level. The high snow coverage in winter and the largely shady conditions in summer mean that alpine roses don’t get to bloom there. The scientists suspect that the moth species can still be discovered in places with similar conditions in the northern Alps, such as in neighboring Tyrol and Vorarlberg. Since the moth is likely nocturnal and flies late in the year, probably hibernating in the adult stage, the search for the caterpillars and pupae is more promising. However, the special microclimate of the Swiss location does not suggest that this species, which has so far been overlooked despite 250 years of research, is widespread. On the contrary, there are legitimate concerns that it could be one of the first victims of climate change.

Research article:

Huemer P, Schmid J (2021) Relict populations of Lyonetia ledi Wocke, 1859 (Lepidoptera, Lyonetiidae) from the Alps indicate postglacial host-plant shift to the famous Alpenrose (Rhododendron ferrugineum L.). Alpine Entomology 5: 101-106. https://doi.org/10.3897/alpento.5.76930

Two new pit vipers discovered from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Two new species of venomous snakes were just added to Asia’s fauna – the Nujiang pit viper from Tibet, and the Glacier pit viper found west of the Nujiang River and Heishui, Sichuan.

Guest blog post by Jingsong Shi

Two new species of venomous snakes were just added to Asia’s fauna – the Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi) from Zayu, Tibet, and the Glacier pit viper (G. swild) found west of the Nujiang River and Heishui, Sichuan, east of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Our team of researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Bangor University published the discovery in the open-access journal ZooKeys. In this study, we performed a new molecular phylogenetic analysis of the Asian pit vipers.

Glacier pit viper (Gloydius swild)

The Nujiang pit viper has a greyish brown back with irregular black ring-shaped crossbands, wide, greyish-brown stripes behind the eyes, and relativity short fangs, while the Glacier pit viper is blueish-grey, with zigzag stripes on its back, and has relatively narrow stripes behind its eyes.

Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi)

Interestingly, the Glacier pit viper was found under the Dagu Holy-glacier National Park: the glacier lake lies 2000 meters higher than the habitat of the snakes, at more than 4,880 m above sea level. This discovery suggests that the glaciers might be a key factor to the isolation and speciation of alpine pit vipers in southwest China.

The stories behind the snakes’ scientific names are interesting too: with the new species from Tibet, Gloydius lipipengi, the name is dedicated to my Master’s supervisor, Professor Pi-Peng Li from the Institute of Herpetology at Shenyang Normal University, just in time for Li’s sixtieth birthday. Prof. Li has devoted himself to the study of the herpetological diversity of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and it was under his guidance that I became an Asian pit viper enthusiast and professional herpetological researcher. 

Gloydius swild, the new species from Heishui, Sichuan, is in turn named after the SWILD Group, which studies the fauna and biodiversity of southewst China. They discovered and collected the snake during an expedition to the Dagu Holy-glacier.

A misty morning near the habitat of Glacier pit viper.

We are equally impressed by the sceneries we encountered during our field work: throughout our journey, we got to look at sacred, crystal-like glacier lakes embraced by the mountains, morning mist falling over the village, and colorful broadleaf-conifer forests. During our expedition, we met a lot of hospitable Tibetan inhabitants and enjoyed their kindness and treats, which made the expedition all the more unforgettable.

Research article:

Shi J-S, Liu J-C, Giri R, Owens JB, Santra V, Kuttalam S, Selvan M, Guo K-J, Malhotra A (2021) Molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus Gloydius (Squamata, Viperidae, Crotalinae), with description of two new alpine species from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China. ZooKeys 1061: 87-108. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1061.70420

King of the Cave: New centipede on top of the food chain in the sulphurous-soaked Movile

A new species of endemic, troglobiont centipede was discovered by an international team of scientists in the Romanian cave Movile: a unique underground ecosystem, isolated several millions years ago during the Neogene, whose animal life only exists because of the chemosynthetic bacteria. As the largest Movile’s inhabitant, the new species can easily be crowned as the ‘king’ of this ‘hellish’ ecosystem. Aptly named Cryptops speleorex, the cave-dweller is described in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.

A photo of the newly discovered species (Cryptops speleorex), the largest inhabitant of the Movile cave (Romania) known to date
Photo by Mihai Baciu

Deemed to never see the light of the day, a new species of endemic, troglobiont centipede was discovered by an international team of scientists in the Romanian cave Movile: a unique underground ecosystem, where the oxygen in the air might be half of the amount of what we’re used to, yet the sulphurous abounds; and where the animal life only exists because of chemosynthetic bacteria feeding on carbon dioxide and methane.

This hellish ecosystem–where breathing alone could be lethal for most of us–seems to have finally crowned its king. At a size of between 46 and 52 mm in length, the centipede Cryptops speleorex is the largest of the cave’s inhabitants known to date. The new species is described in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.

Already isolated from the outside world several millions years ago during the Neogene, the Movile cave has been drawing the attention of scientists ever since its unexpected discovery in 1986 by Romanian workers, searching for locations suitable for building a power plant in the southeastern parts of the country.

Surprisingly enough, despite its harsh living conditions, the Movile ecosystem was soon found to harbor a diverse and unique fauna, characterised by exceptional species endemism and specific trophic links. So far, the cave has been known to give home to the troglobiont water scorpion, liocranid and nesticid spiders, cave leeches and certainly many more yet to be discovered.

In fact, it was long thought that this unique underground ecosystem was also inhabited by surface-dwelling species widespread in Europe. Convinced that this scenario is highly unlikely, scientists Dr Varpu Vahtera (University of Turku, Finland), Prof Pavel Stoev (National Museum of Natural History, Bulgaria) and Dr Nesrine Akkari (Museum of Natural History Vienna, Austria) decided to examine a curious centipede, collected by speleologists Serban Sarbu and Alexandra Maria Hillebrand, during their recent expedition to Movile.

“Our results confirmed our doubts and revealed that the Movile centipede is morphologically and genetically different, suggesting that it has been evolving from its closest surface-dwelling relative over the course of millions of years into an entirely new taxon that is better adapted to life in the never-ending darkness,” explain the researchers.

“The centipede we described is a venomous predator, by far the largest of the previously described animals from this cave. Thinking of its top rank in this subterranean system, we decided to name the species Cryptops speleorex, which can be translated to the “King of the cave”, they add.

The scientists exploring the Movile cave (Romania)
Photo by Mihai Baciu

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Original Source:

Vahtera V, Stoev P, Akkari N (2020) Five million years in the darkness: A new troglomorphic species of Cryptops Leach, 1814 (Chilopoda, Scolopendromorpha) from Movile Cave, Romania. ZooKeys 1004: 1-26. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1004.58537

🎉Celebration time: here’s to 1,000 issues of ZooKeys!

With the 1,000th ZooKeys issue now hot off the press, the time has come to celebrate the millennium of Pensoft’s very first scientific journal: ZooKeys!

With the 1,000th ZooKeys issue now hot off the press, the time has come to celebrate the millennium of Pensoft’s very first scientific journal: ZooKeys!

In fact, the cause for celebration is two-fold: this year, it’s also the 10th anniversary of ZooKeys’ very special 50th issue, which marked a new era for biodiversity data publishing by introducing several innovative workflows and tools. This is when ZooKeys became an example to follow globally: a title the journal still takes pride to be holding to this day.

Articles published in ZooKeys since the journal’s launch in 2008 (data from 3/12/2020).

Today, we shall reminisce about everything along the way: from that sunny Californian morning at the Entomological Society of America meeting in 2007, where the idea about a new-age taxonomic journal in zoology sprang up in a breakfast chat between renowned entomologists and future founders of ZooKeys: Prof Lyubomir Penev and Dr Terry Erwin, to this very moment, where we’re counting over 5,500 published articles, authored by more than 8,000 researchers from 144 countries and comprising ~150,000 pages. Thus, we saw the description of one supertribe, seven tribes, five subtribes, 27 families, over 800 genera and more than 12,000 species previously unknown to science. In this journey, ZooKeys climbed up the ladder of academic rigour and trustability to become today’s most prolific open-access journal of zoology.

Even though today is the time to feel exalted and look back on our achievements and conquered milestones with ear-to-ear smiles, it is with heavy hearts that we’ll be raising our glasses tonight, as we won’t be joined by our beloved friend and founding Editor-in-Chief, Dr Terry Erwin, whom we lost on 11th May 2020. While his place in our hearts and ZooKeys’ Editorial board will never be filled, we accept our duty to help for his legacy to persist for the future generations of scientists by taking a vow to never lower our standards or cease to improve our services and care for our readers, authors, reviewers and editors alike. 

In honour of Terry, who will be remembered for his splendid personality and zealous enthusiasm for carabid beetles and the world’s immense biodiversity, we’ve opened up a special memorial volume to be published on 11th May 2021.

In fact, we have thousands of people to thank for the place ZooKeys is at right now: these are our authors, who have trusted us with their research work time and time again; our reviewers and editors, who have taken their invaluable time to promptly process submitted manuscripts; and, of course, our readers, who are using ZooKeys content to expand the world’s knowledge, either by learning and building on the findings in their own research, or by spreading the knowledge to those who will.

With a thought for our authors & readers

We’ve been striving to implement the latest and most convenient scholarly publishing technologies and innovations, and also develop some of our own to make sure that ZooKeys users enjoy their experience with our flagship journal. 

In hindsight, ZooKeys was the first journal to pioneer a lot of scholarly publishing technologies, which back in the time were quite revolutionary. Notable examples from 2008-2016 include: 

Yet, this was only the beginning. Fast forward to December 2020, we’re working even harder to build up on our achievements and evolve, so that we stay on top of our game and the scholarly publishing scene. Here are the key innovations we recently implemented in ZooKeys:

With a thought for our editors

Besides revolutionising research publishing, at Pensoft, we’re also deeply devoted to facilitating our editors in their day-to-day editorial work, as well as their long-term engagement with the journal and its progress. 

Recently, we expanded journal performance reporting services, in order to keep our editors on track with the most recent trends in their journal’s performance. Meanwhile, we’ve also taken care after the continuous improvement in those stats by implementing several features meant to facilitate and expedite the handling of manuscripts.

Follow ARPHA’s blog to keep up with the new features available to users of Pensoft’s journals and all journals hosted on ARPHA Platform.  

With a thought for the community

Naturally, research outputs are only as valuable to publish as they are valuable to the community: within and beyond academia. Ultimately, their merit is best measured by citations and readership. This is why, we shall now have a look back at the most impactful papers published in ZooKeys to date.

Author’s delight

Thanks to the indexation of ZooKeys in the research citation database of Dimensions, following the collaboration between ARPHA and Digital Science, which started in 2018, we’re now able to explore the all-time most cited publications in our flagship journal. Detailed information and links to the papers where each of those studies has been cited is available on the webpage of the article.

  1. Supporting Red List threat assessments with GeoCAT: geospatial conservation assessment tool (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.150.2109)
  2. Family-group names in Coleoptera (Insecta) (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.88.807)
  3. Amendment of Articles 8, 9, 10, 21 and 78 of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature to expand and refine methods of publication (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.219.3944)  
  4. Forty years of carabid beetle research in Europe – from taxonomy, biology, ecology and population studies to bioindication, habitat assessment and conservation (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.100.1523
  5. Useful model organisms, indicators, or both? Ground beetles (Coleoptera, Carabidae) reflecting environmental conditions (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.100.1533

Reader’s delight

Thanks to ARPHA Platform’s all-roundedness and transparency, we get to explore the most read papers ever published in ZooKeys straight from the Articles section on the journal’s website.

  1. Taxonomic revision of the olingos (Bassaricyon), with description of a new species, the Olinguito (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.324.5827)

In 2013, ZooKeys had the honour to announce the first carnivore found in the Western Hemisphere in over three decades. Further, that wasn’t ANY carnivore, but the olinguito, which National Geographic rightfully called a “fuzzy fog-dweller with a face like a teddy bear”.

  1. An extraordinary new family of spiders from caves in the Pacific Northwest (Araneae, Trogloraptoridae) (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.215.3547)

A year prior to the description of the olinguito, a brand new family of “cave robbing” spiders emerged from the pages of ZooKeys, after US scientists found a previously unknown to science spider with “unique, toothed claws at the end of each leg” in Oregon.

  1. Family-Group Names In Coleoptera (Insecta) (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.88.807)

A huge, first-of-its-kind catalogue containing data on all family-group names for all known extant and fossil beetles (order Coleoptera) was published in ZooKeys in an exemplary research collaboration, spanning three continents in 2011.

  1. Review of Neopalpa Povolný, 1998 with description of a new species from California and Baja California, Mexico (Lepidoptera, Gelechiidae) (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.646.11411)

In a truly world-wide sensation, a new species of tiny moth inhabiting a narrow stretch of extremely fragile habitat running between the USA and Mexico, was named after then President-elect Donald Trump in a desperate call to protect this and other similarly vulnerable ecosystems in North America. The species currently goes by the name Neopalpa donaldtrumpi.

  1. Taxonomic revision of the tarantula genus Aphonopelma Pocock, 1901 (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Theraphosidae) within the United States (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.560.6264)

In 2016, US scientists described a total of 14 new to science tarantula species from what many would think to be one the best-researched countries: the United States of America. Curiously enough, one of those tarantula species, found in California near Folsom Prison – a place best known from Cash’s song “Folsom Prison Blues”, was aptly named Aphonopelma johnnycashi.  

Public’s delight

As visionaries, we’ve long realised that scientific impact goes beyond citations and journal subscribers. Communicating science to the community beyond academia is, in fact, one of the strongest components in research dissemination, as it lets the laypeople make sense of the wider world and where exactly they stand in the bigger picture. This is why we’ve been putting that special extra effort to promote research published in our journals–including ZooKeys–using press releases, blog posts and social media content (follow ZooKeys on Twitter and Facebook).

Data source: Altmetric.

Thanks to our partnership with Altmetric, we’re able to identify the top five most popular papers from ZooKeys for all times. These are the ones that have sparkled the most online discussions via social media, big news headlines, blog posts, Wikipedia and more.

  1. Review of Neopalpa Povolný, 1998 with description of a new species from California and Baja California, Mexico (Lepidoptera, Gelechiidae) (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.646.11411)

Not only was the previously undescribed species of moth subject to a serious threat of extinction, having been exclusively known from a fragmented area along the Mexico–United States border, but the insect’s “hairstyle” was pointed out to bear a striking resemblance to the golden locks of the 45th U.S. President Donald Trump.

Credit: CNN (read the full news story here)
  1. Geology and paleontology of the Upper Cretaceous Kem Kem Group of eastern Morocco (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.928.47517)

Published in ZooKeys earlier this year, this extensive geology and paleontology monograph presents an unprecedented in its volume and scientific value account of a large portion of the most important prehistoric vertebrate fossils ever unearthed from the famous Kem Kem beds in Morocco. “A monograph larger than Paralititan,” as a Reddit user justly pointed out.

  1. Taxonomic revision of the tarantula genus Aphonopelma Pocock, 1901 (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Theraphosidae) within the United States (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.560.6264)

On top of taking pride in becoming the discoverer of as many as 14 tarantula species living “right under our noses” in the US, Dr Chris Hamilton enjoyed the spotlight of Live television in his appearance on Sky News. So did a lucky specimen of the newly described species: Aphonopelma johnnycashi! Suffice it to say, the tarantula was named after the legendary American singer-songwriter for all the right reasons.

Credit: Sky News (read the full news story here)
  1. Colobopsis explodens sp. n., model species for studies on “exploding ants” (Hymenoptera, Formicidae), with biological notes and first illustrations of males of the Colobopsis cylindrica group (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.751.22661)

Apparently, ants that rip their bodies apart in a self-sacrificial attempt to save their colonies from enemies, weren’t something new by the time PhD student Alice Laciny and her team described the new to science species Colobopsis explodens from Brunei. However, the study published in ZooKeys in 2018 was the first to conduct and film experiments on the peculiar exploding behaviour. Although not the very first for science, C. explodens was the first “T-ant-T” species to be described since 1935.

  1. Mapping the expansion of coyotes (Canis latrans) across North and Central America (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.759.15149)

Today, coyotes live all around North America: from Alaska to Panama, California to Maine. Once upon a time, or rather, between the Holocene and the early 1900s, their range used to be restricted to the arid west of North America. So, how did the coyotes turn up at the doorstep of South America? North Carolina scientists reached to natural history collections to map the historic colonisation of the coyotes all the way to our days.

***

In our final remarks on this special occasion, it’s the time to say a special Thank you! to our most prolific authors:

  1. Dr Shuqiang Li, expert on spider taxonomy and systematics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who’s also a reviewer and a subject editor at ZooKeys (64 publications).
  2. Dr Michael S. Engel, paleontologist and entomologist at the University of Kansas and the American Museum of Natural History, who is also amongst the top five most active reviewers and the three most active subject editors in ZooKeys (59 publications).
  3. Dr Li-Zhen Li, coleopterist at Shanghai Normal University (57 publications).
  4. Dr Reginald Webster, coleopterist at Natural Resources Canada and a reviewer at ZooKeys (57 publications).
  5. Dr Sergei Golovatch, myriapodologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a reviewer and a subject editor at ZooKeys (53 publications).

As well as to our most active reviewers:

  1. Dr Yuri Marusik, arachnologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences and the University of Free State, Magadan, South Africa. He is also a subject editor at ZooKeys.
  2. Dr Donald Lafontaine, entomologist at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids, and Nematodes and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. He is also a subject editor at ZooKeys
  3. Dr Ivan H. Tuf, ecologist at Palacký University (Czech Republic) and a subject editor at ZooKeys.
  4. Dr Viatcheslav Ivanenko, taxonomist at the Lomonosov Moscow State University.
  5. Dr Michael S. Engel, paleontologist and entomologist at the University of Kansas and the American Museum of Natural History, and also one of the most productive authors and most active subject editors at ZooKeys.

And ZooKeysmost active editors:

  1. Prof Pavel Stoev, taxonomist, ecologist, and director at the National Natural History Museum (Bulgaria), and managing editor at ZooKeys.
  2. Prof Lyubomir Penev, entomologist, ecologist at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and founder of ZooKeys.
  3. Dr Michael S. Engel, paleontologist and entomologist at the University of Kansas and the American Museum of Natural History, and also one of the most productive authors and most active reviewers at ZooKeys.
  4. Dr Nina Bogutskaya, hydrobiologist and ichthyologist at the Museum of Natural History Vienna, and also a reviewer at ZooKeys.
  5. Dr Jeremy Miller, taxonomist and arachnologist at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Netherlands), and also a reviewer at ZooKeys.

Looking forward to sharing with you our next milestones and celebrations!

Meanwhile, make sure to follow ZooKeys on Twitter and Facebook to stay in touch!

A new species of Darwin wasp from Mexico named in observance of the 2020 quarantine period

“We thought that it was a good idea to remember this extraordinary year through the name of one remarkable species of Darwin wasp found in seven Mexican States (including Tamaulipas, where the UAT campus is located) and also Guatemala,” comment the researchers who discovered the previously unknown species.

Scientists at the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas (UAT) in Mexico recently discovered five new species of parasitoid wasps in Mexico, but the name of one of them sounds a bit weird: covida. Why this name?

In fact, the reason is quite simple. The thing is that the team of Andrey Khalaim (also a researcher at the Zoological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg, Russia) and Enrique Ruíz Cancino discovered the new to science species during the 2020 global quarantine period, imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their findings are described in a newly published research article, in the peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal ZooKeys.

“We thought that it was a good idea to remember this extraordinary year through the name of one remarkable species of Darwin wasp found in seven Mexican States (including Tamaulipas, where the UAT campus is located) and also Guatemala,”

explain the scientists.

The new species, which goes by the official scientific name Stethantyx covida, belongs to the Darwin wasp family Ichneumonidae, one of the most species-rich insect families, which comprises more than 25,000 species worldwide. 

“Darwin wasps are abundant and well-known almost everywhere in the world because of their beauty, gracility, and because they are used in biological control of insect pests in orchards and forests. Many Darwin wasp species attack the larvae or pupae of butterflies and moths. Yet, some species are particularly interesting, as their larvae feed on spider eggs and others, even more bizarre, develop on living spiders!”

further explain the authors of the new study.

Stethantyx covida is a small wasp that measures merely 3.5 mm in length. It is predominantly dark in colour, whereas parts of its body and legs are yellow or brown. It is highly polished and shining, and the ovipositor of the female is very long and slender.Along with Stethantyx covida, the authors also described four other Mexican species of Darwin wasps from three different genera (Stethantyx, Meggoleus, Phradis), all belonging to the subfamily Tersilochinae. Some tersilochines are common on flowers in springtime. While the majority of them are parasitoids of larvae of various beetles, some Mexican species attack sawflies, inhabiting the forests.

***

Original source:

Khalaim AI, Ruíz-Cancino E (2020) Contribution to the taxonomy of Mexican Tersilochinae (Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae), with descriptions of five new species. ZooKeys 974: 1-21. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.974.54536

New subspecies of the rarest Palaearctic butterfly found in the Arctic Circle of Yakutia

An isolated population of the rarest Palaearctic butterfly species: the Arctic Apollo (Parnassius arcticus), turned out to be a new to science subspecies with distinct looks as well as DNA. Named Parnassius arcticus arbugaevi, the butterfly is described in a recent paper, published in the peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal Acta Biologica Sibirica

“Thanks to the field studies of our colleague and friend Yuri Bakhaev, we obtained unique butterfly specimens from the Momsky Range in North-Eastern Yakutia. This mountain range, which is about 500 km long, has until now been a real ‘blank spot’ in terms of biodiversity research,”

explains the lead author of the study, Dr Roman Yakovlev, affiliated with Tomsk State University and Altai State University.

“With the kind permission of Mikhail Ivanov, Director of the Momsky National Park, entomological collections were carried out in various parts of the park. Hard-to-reach areas were visited with the help of inspector Innokenty Fedorov,”

he adds.

Then, amongst the specimens, the scientists spotted butterflies that at first they thought to be the rarest species for the entire Palaearctic: the Arctic Apollo, a species endemic to Russia and North-Eastern Yakutia, which had only been known from the Suntar-Khayata and Verkhoyansk mountains. 

Later, however, the team noticed that the curious specimens were larger on average, had more elongated wings compared to the Arctic Apollo, and were also missing the distinct dark spot on the wings. At that moment, they thought they were rather looking at a species currently unknown to science, and belonging to the Parnassius tenedius species group.

Eventually, following in-depth morphological and molecular genetic analyses, the scientists concluded that the population from the Momsky Range was in fact a new subspecies of the Arctic Apollo and can be distinguished by a number of external and DNA differences. They named the new subspecies Parnassius arcticus arbugaevi after German Arbugaev, Director of the ecological-ethnographic complex Chochur Muran, who provided comprehensive assistance to one of the co-authors of the study, Yu.I. Bakhaev, in his research in Yakutia. 

The new subspecies inhabits dry scree slopes with poor vegetation at an elevation of 1,400 m. So far, it is only known from the type locality, Momsky Range, North-Eastern Yakutia, where butterflies can be seen from early June to July. The wingspan in males range between 39 and 45 mm.

“Thus, we obtained significant new data on the distribution and taxonomy of one of the rarest butterflies in the North Palaearctic,”

say the researchers in conclusion.

Original source:

Yakovlev RV, Shapoval NA, Bakhaev YI, Kuftina GN, Khramov BA (2020) A new subspecies of Parnassius arcticus (Eisner, 1968) (Lepidoptera, Papilionidae) from the Momsky Range (Yakutia, Russia). Acta Biologica Sibirica 6: 93-105. https://doi.org/10.3897/abs.6.e55925