Rare South American ground beetles sport unusual, likely multi-purpose antennal cleaners

The newly described Ball’s stange-combed beetle (Nototylus balli)
Photo by Terry L. Erwin

For 157 years, scientists have wished they could understand the evolutionary relationships of a curious South American ground beetle that was missing a distinctive feature of the huge family of ground beetles (Carabidae). Could it be that this rare species was indeed lacking a characteristic trait known in over 40,000 species worldwide and how could that be? Was that species assigned to the wrong family from the very beginning?

The species, Nototylus fryi, or Fry’s strange-combed beetle, is known so far only from a single, damaged specimen found in 1863 in the Brazilian State of Espíritu Santo, which today is kept in the Natural History Museum of London. So rare and unusual, due to its lack of “antennal cleaners” – specialised “combing” structures located on the forelegs and used by carabids to keep their antennae clean, it also prompted the description of its own genus: Nototylus, now colloquially called strange-combed beetles. 

Left foreleg showing antennal grooming organs in the newly described Ball’s stange-combed beetle (Nototylus balli)
Photo by Terry L. Erwin

No mention of the structure was made in the original description of the species, so, at one point, scientists even started to wonder whether the beetle they were looking at was in fact a carabid at all. 

Because the area where Fry’s strange-combed beetle had been found was once Southern Atlantic Forest, but today is mostly sugar cane fields, cacao plantations, and cattle ranches, scientists have feared that additional specimens of strange-combed beetles might never be collected again and that the group was already extinct. Recently, however, a US team of entomologists have reported the discovery of a second specimen, one also representing a second species of strange-combed beetles new to science.

Following a careful study of this second, poorly preserved specimen, collected in French Guiana in 2014, the team of Dr Terry Erwin (Smithsonian Institution), Dr David Kavanaugh (California Academy of Sciences) and Dr David Maddison (Oregon State University) described the species, Nototylus balli, or Ball’s strange-combed beetle, in a paper that they published in the open-access scholarly journal ZooKeys. The entomologists named the species in honour of their academic leader and renowned carabidologist George E. Ball, after presenting it to him in September 2016 around the time of his 90th birthday.

Despite its poor, yet relatively better condition, the new specimen shows that probable antennal grooming organs are indeed present in strange-combed beetles. However, they looked nothing like those seen in other genera of ground beetles and they are located on a different part of the front legs. Rather than stout and barely movable, the setae (hair-like structures) in the grooming organs of strange-combed beetles are slender, flexible and very differently shaped, which led the researchers to suggest that the structure had a different role in strange-combed beetles. 

Judging from the shapes of the setae in the grooming organs, the scientists point out that they are best suited for painting or coating the antennae, rather than scraping or cleaning them. Their hypothesis is that these rare carabids use these grooming structures to cohabitate with ants or termites, where they use them to apply specific substances to their antennae, so that the host colony recognises them as a friendly species, a kind of behaviour already known in some beetles. 

However, the mystery around the strange-combed beetle remains, as the scientists found no evidence of special secretory structures in the specimen studied. It turns out that the only way to test their hypothesis, as well as to better understand the evolutionary relationships of these beetles with other carabids is finding and observing additional, preferably live, specimens in their natural habitat. Fortunately, this new discovery shows that the continued search for these beetles may yield good results because strange-combed beetles are not extinct.

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Original source:

Erwin TL, Kavanaugh DH, Maddison DR (2020) After 157 years, a second specimen and species of the phylogenetically enigmatic and previously monobasic genus Nototylus Gemminger & Harold, 1868 (Coleoptera, Carabidae, Nototylini). ZooKeys 927: 65-74. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.927.49584


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

The first bioluminescent click beetle known from Asia represents a new subfamily

A remarkable bioluminescent click beetle was discovered in the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests in southwest China. Having prompted the description of a brand new subfamily, the species is the very first bioluminescent click beetle known from the continent.

A remarkable bioluminescent click beetle was discovered in the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests in southwest China. Scientists Mr. Wen-Xuan Bi, Dr. Jin-Wu He, Dr. Xue-Yan Li, all affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Kunming), Mr. Chang-Chin Chen of Tianjin New Wei San Industrial Company, Ltd. (Tianjing, China) and Dr. Robin Kundrata of Palacký University (Olomouc, Czech Republic) published their findings in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Even though the family of click beetles (Elateridae) contain approximately 10,000 species worldwide, it is only about 200 species able to emit light, and they inhabit Latin America and Oceania. Interestingly, the position of the luminous organs varies amongst the different click beetle lineages. In some, they are found on the foremost of the three thoracic segments of the body (prothorax), in others – on both the prothorax and the abdomen, and in few – only on the abdomen.

Luminescent behavior of Sinopyrophorus schimmeli gen. et sp. nov.
Video by Mr Wen-Xuan Bi.

“In 2017, during an expedition to the western Yunnan in China, we discovered a dusk-active bioluminescent click beetle with a single luminous organ on the abdomen, ” recalls lead scientist Mr. Wen-Xuan Bi.

Since no bioluminescent click beetle had previously been recorded in Asia, the team conducted simultaneous morphological and molecular analyses in order to clarify the identity of the new species and figure out its relationship to other representatives of its group.

Co-author Dr. Xue-Yan Li explains:

“The morphological investigation in combination with the molecular analysis based on 16 genes showed that our taxon is not only a new species in a new genus, but that it also represents a completely new subfamily of click beetles. We chose the name Sinopyrophorus for the new genus, and the new subfamily is called Sinopyrophorinae.”

In conclusion, the discovery of the new species sheds new light on the geographic distribution and evolution of luminescent click beetles. The authors agree that as a representative of a unique lineage, which is only distantly related to the already known bioluminescent click beetles, the new insect group may serve as a new model in the research of bioluminescence within the whole order of beetles.

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Original source:

Bi W-X, He J-W, Chen C-C, Kundrata R, Li X-Y (2019) Sinopyrophorinae, a new subfamily of Elateridae (Coleoptera, Elateroidea) with the first record of a luminous click beetle in Asia and evidence for multiple origins of bioluminescence in Elateridae. ZooKeys 864: 79-97. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.864.26689

New species of flying squirrel from Southwest China added to the rarest and ‘most wanted’

The newly described flying squirrel species (Biswamoyopterus gaoligongensis).
Photo by Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden.

Described in 1981, the genus Biswamoyopterus is regarded as the most mysterious and rarest amongst all flying squirrels. It comprises two large (1.4-1.8 kg) species endemic to southern Asia: the Namdapha flying squirrel (India) and the Laotian giant flying squirrel (Lao PDR). Each is only known from a single specimen discovered in 1981 and 2013, respectively.

Recently, in 2018, a specimen identifiable as Biswamoyopterus was unexpectedly found in the collections of the Kunming Institute of Zoology (KIZ), Chinese Academy of Sciences by in-house expert Quan Li. It had been collected from Mount Gaoligong in Yunnan Province, Southwest China.

The habitat of the newly described flying squirrel.
Photo by Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden.

Initially, the individual was considered to belong to the “missing” Namdapha flying squirrel: a species considered as critically endangered due to hunting and habitat loss. The latter had not ever been recorded since its original description in 1981 and was already listed as one of the top 25 “most wanted” species in the world by the Global Wildlife Conservation.

However, a closer look at the specimen from KIZ made it clear that the squirrel exhibited a colouration, as well as skull and teeth anatomy, distinct from any of the previously known species in the genus.

Close-up shot of the newly described flying squirrel species.
Photo by Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden.

Subsequently, joined by his colleagues from China (Xuelong JiangXueyou LiFei Li, Ming Jiang, Wei Zhao and Wenyu Song) and Stephen Jackson from Australia, the team of Quan Li conducted a new field survey. Thus, they successfully obtained another specimen and, additionally, recorded observations of two other flying squirrels. As a result, they included a third member to the enigmatic genus: Biswamoyopterus gaoligongensis, also referred to as the Mount Gaoligong flying squirrel. This new to science species was described in a paperpublished in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

“The morphological features of B. gaoligongensis are closer to the critically endangered and missing Namdapha flying squirrel, but is still readily identifiable as a distinct species,” explains Quan Li.

“The new species was discovered in the ‘blank area’ spanning 1,250 km between the isolated habitats of the two known species, which suggests that the genus is much more widespread than previously thought. There is still hope for new Biswamoyopterus populations to be discovered in between or right next to the already known localities,” he says.

As for the conservation status of the newly described species, the researchers note that it inhabits low-altitude forests which are in close proximity to nearby human settlements. Thereby, they are vulnerable to anthropogenic threats, such as agricultural reclamation and poaching.

“Therefore, there is an urgent need to study the ecology, distribution, and conservation status of this rare and very beautiful genus,” concludes the lead author.

The newly described flying squirrel species.
Photo by Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden.

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Original source:

Li Q, Li X-Y, Jackson SM, Li F, Jiang M, Zhao W, Song W-Y, Jiang X-Y (2019) Discovery and description of a mysterious Asian flying squirrel (Rodentia, Sciuridae, Biswamoyopterus) from Mount Gaoligong, southwest China. ZooKeys 864: 147-160. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.864.33678

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

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

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

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

Location of Koytendag
Image by Atamyrat Veyisov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original source:

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

Additional information:

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

About Koytendag State Nature Reserve:

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

Advanced Books publishing by Pensoft:

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



Two new species of parasitic wasps described from an altitude of over 3,400 m in Tibet

Specimens kept in the collection of the Institute of Beneficial Insects at the Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University (FAFU, China) revealed the existence of two previously unknown species of endoparasitoid wasps. Originally collected in 2013, the insects are known to inhabit prairies and bushes at above 3,400 m, which is quite an unusual altitude for this group of wasps.

The new to science wasps are described and illustrated in a paper published in the open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal ZooKeys by the team of Dr Wangzhen Zhang (FAFU and Fuzhou Airport Inspection and Quarantine Bureau) and his colleagues at FAFU: Dr Dongbao Song and Prof Jiahua Chen.

Looking very similar to each other, the species were found to belong to one and the same genus (Microplitis), which, however, is clearly distinct from any other within the subfamily, called Microgastrinae. The latter group comprises tiny, mostly black or brown wasps that develop in the larvae of specific moths or butterflies. Interestingly, once parasitised, the host continues living and does not even terminate its own growth. It is only killed when the wasp eggs hatch and feed on its organs and body fluids before spinning cocoons.

From now on, the newly described wasps will be called by the scientific names Microplitis paizhensis and Microplitis bomiensis, where their species names refer to the localities from where they were originally collected: Paizhen town and Bomi county, respectively.

Due to their parasitism, some microgastrine wasps are considered important pest biocontrol agents. Unfortunately, the hosts of the newly described species remain unknown.

In addition, the scientists also mention a third new to science species spotted amongst the specimens they studied. However, so far they have only found its male, whereas a reliable description of a new microgastrine wasp requires the presence of a female.

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Original source:

Zhang W, Song D, Chen J (2019) Two new species of the genus Microplitis Förster, 1862 (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Microgastrinae) from China. ZooKeys 859: 49-61. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.859.31720

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Original source:

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

WoRMS’ Top 10 Marine Species (2018): ZooKeys journal scores 5/10 in the prestigious yearly list

The World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) announced the

Top 10 Marine Species of 2018 just in time for

Taxonomist Appreciation Day

What could be better timing to take a look back on the most spectacular animals described as new to science throughout 2018 than 19th March, Taxonomist Appreciation Day?

For the sixth time around, biologists from across the world are all hyped-up about this special date when we celebrate the experts who put things in order by giving names, identities and belonging to what the world has thought non-existent only a moment ago. After all, no sooner is a species formally acknowledged than it can be studied, understood and protected.

Having said that, at Pensoft and ZooKeys we’re immensely proud of becoming a prime publication choice for marine taxonomists from around the globe. Amongst them are the authors of not one or two, but FIVE exceptional animal curiosities, now recognised by a selected committee and the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), and featured in the TOP 10 Marine Species of 2018.

 

The “Japan Pig” which is also a… seahorse (Hippocampus japapigu)

Photo by Richard Smith.

We fail to find the obvious reason why locals diving in the waters of Hachijo-jima Island (Japan) had already likened this dazzling seahorse to a “tiny baby pig”, when a research team collected specimens and identified them as a species new to science. Naturally, the scientists assigned it with the name japapigu, which translates to “Japan Pig” in Japanese.

One thing is for sure, though, the stunning seahorse wouldn’t demand a degree in Zoology to attract anyone’s attention, had it not been for its expertise in camouflaging itself against the colourful algae-covered rocks.

News story by Douglas Main via National Geographic.

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Check out the study by Graham Short, California Academy of Sciences (USA), Dr Richard Smith, Pipefish Stickleback Specialist Group (UK), Dr Hiroyuki Motomura and Healy Hamilton, both of the Kagoshima University Museum (Japan), and David Harasti, Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, published in the open-access journal ZooKeys at: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.779.24799.

 

The crab that chooses an animal ‘blanket’ over a shell (Paguropsis confusa)

Photo by DST/NRF ACEP – Spatial Solutions project team.

Sure, who would go for a rigid shell left behind by a random gastropod – just like “ordinary” hermit crabs do – when they could reach for a light, soft and elastic “blanket” instead?

That’s exactly what the blanket-hermit crab Paguropsis confusa and its sibling species have been doing as they evolved to live in a cosy symbiosis with sea anemones. While the translucent anemone peacefully “shares” the crab’s meals and grows its zoophytes around the soft-bodied crustacean, the latter is free to easily draw them up and down – as if they were a real silky duvet – and even completely cover its head whenever it feels threatened.

The crab species name is con­fuso in reference to its morphological resemblance to the closely related species Paguropsis typica. In fact, had it not been for the similarity, what we now call Paguropsis confuso would’ve most likely been described well over a century ago.

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Find more in the research article by Dr Rafael Lemaitre (Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, USA), Dr Dwi Rahayu (Indonesian Institute of Sciences) and Dr Tomoyuki Komai (Natural History Museum and Institute, Japan) published in ZooKeys at: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.752.23712

 

The ‘flower’ of Okinawa (Hana hanagasa)

Photo by Yee Wah Lau

Amidst ongoing talks and grim forecasts of declining coral reefs spelling demise for the world as we know it, the discovery of this endemic to Okinawa Island (Japan) flower-like octocoral comes as a stunning reminder of Nature’s supremacy.

Described as a new genus, as well as a species new to science, the octocoral was aptly named Hana hanagasa, where “Hana translates to “flower” in Japanese, while “hanagasa” is a traditional Okinawan headpiece, crafted in the form of hibiscus and worn by female dancers at ceremonies.

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Find the study by the team of Yee Wah Lau and Dr James Reimer of the University of the University of the Ryukyus (Japan) and their colleagues Frank Robert Stokvis and Dr Leen van Ofwegen at Naturalis Biodiversity Center (the Netherlands) in ZooKeys at: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.790.28875.

 

The distinctly hairy-foot shrimp (Odontonia bagginsi)

Illustration by Franz Anthony.

Upon writing up the description of this species of Indonesian shrimp, Leiden University’s then BSc student Werner de Gier is unlikely to have thought twice before coming up with the name bagginsi, as in Frodo and Bilbo Baggins – the most famous hobbits from J. R. R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.                             

News story by Mike Wehner via New York Post.

After all, what the researcher was looking at was a creature tiny enough to call another marine invertebrate – a tunicate – its snug home. Also, it had extremely hairy feet, a feature that would require for the identification key for all members of the species group to be updated.

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Find the study by Werner de Gier and Dr Charles Fransen of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center published in ZooKeys at: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.765.25277.

 

The ‘secretive’ dogfish shark from Hawai’i (Squalus hawaiiensis)

 

Photo by Dr Toby S. Daly-Engel.

 

One might think that an animal as large as a shark – especially if it’s the only shark species found in the waters of the Hawaiian Archipelago – would’ve “told” all its “secrets” by now, but that wasn’t the case with what we now refer to as the Hawaiian Spurdog.

Long mistaken for a stray population of a dogfish shark species originally from Japan, it wasn’t before US scientists deployed a range of elaborate tools used in species identification that it became apparent there was a previously unknown to science, short-ranged endemic shark trying to find shelter in Hawai’i.

Sadly, while the species is being depleted as bycatch, it has also demonstrated the lowest rate of genetic diversity known in a shark population to date.

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Find the study by Dr Toby Daly-Engel, Florida Institute of Technology, Amber Koch, University of West Florida, Dr James Anderson, University of Hawaii at Mānoa, and Charles Cotton and Dean Grubbs, both affiliated with the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory published in ZooKeys at: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.798.28375.

 

Happy Taxonomist Appreciation Day from Pensoft!

Let us conclude with the words of ecologists and entomologist Dr Terry McGlynn, who started the Taxonomist Appreciation Day tradition in 2013:

“Even if you’re working on a single-species system, or are a theoretician, the discoveries and methods of systematists are the basis of your work,” he once told the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF). “We need active work on taxonomy and systematics if our work is going to progress, and if we are to apply our findings. Without taxonomists, entire fields wouldn’t exist. We’d be working in darkness”.