EIVE 1.0 – The largest system of ecological indicator values in Europe

EIVE 1.0 is the most comprehensive system of ecological indicator values of vascular plants in Europe to date. It can be used as an important tool for continental-scale analyses of vegetation and floristic data.

Guest blog post by Jürgen Dengler, Florian Jansen & François Gillet

Geographic coverage of the 31 ecological indicator value systems that entered the calculation of the consensus system of EIVE 1.0 (image from the original article).

It took seven years and hundreds of hours of work by an international team of 34 authors to develop and publish the most comprehensive system of ecological indicator values (EIVs) of vascular plants in Europe to date.

EIVE 1.0 is now available as an open access database and described in the accompanying paper (Dengler et al. 2023).

EIVE 1.0 provides the five most-used ecological indicators, M – moisture, N – nitrogen, R – reaction, L – light and T – temperature, for a total of 14,835 vascular plant taxa in Europe, or between 13,748 and 14,714 for the individual indicators. For each of these taxa, EIVE contains three values: the EIVE niche position indicator, the EIVE niche width indicator and the number of regional EIV systems on which the assessment was based. Both niche position and niche width are given on a continuous scale from 0 to 10, not as categorical ordinal values as in the source systems.

Evidently, EIVE can be an important tool for continental-scale analyses of vegetation and floristic data in Europe.

It will allow to analyse the nearly 2 million vegetation plots currently contained in the European Vegetation Archive (EVA; Chytrý et al. 2016) in new ways.

Since EVA apart from elevation, slope inclination and aspect hardly contains any in situ measured environmental variables, the numerous macroecological studies up to date had to rely on coarse modelled environmental data (e.g. climate) instead. This is particularly problematic for soil variables such as pH, moisture or nutrients, which can change dramatically within a few metres.

Here, the approximation of site conditions by mean ecological indicator values can improve the predictive power substantially (Scherrer and Guisan 2019). Likewise, in broad-scale vegetation classification studies, mean EIVE values per plot would allow a better characterisation of the distinguished vegetation units. Lastly, one should not forget that most countries in Europe do not have a national EIV system, and here EIVE could fill the gap.

Violin plots showing largely continuous value distributions of the niche position and niche width values of the five indicators in EIVE 1.0 (image from the original article).

Almost on the same day as EIVE 1.0 another supranational system of ecological indicator values in Europe has been published by Tichý et al. (2023) with a similar approach.

Thus, it will be important for vegetation scientists in Europe to understand the pros and cons of both systems to allow the wise selection of the most appropriate tool:

  • EIVE 1.0 is based on 31 regional EIV systems, while Tichý et al. (2023) uses 12.
  • Both systems provide indicator values for moisture, nitrogen/nutrients, reaction, light and temperature, while Tichý et al. (2023) additionally has a salinity indicator.
  • Tichý et al. (2023) aimed at using the same scales as Ellenberg et al. (1991), which means that the scales vary between indicators (1–9, 0–9, 1–12), while EIVE has a uniform interval scale of 0–10 for all indicators.
  • Only EIVE provides niche width in addition to niche position. Niche width is an important aspect of the niche and might be used to improve the calculation of mean indicator values per plot (e.g. by weighting with inverse niche width).
  • The taxonomic coverage is larger in EIVE than in Tichý et al. (2023): 14,835 vs. 8,908 accepted taxa and 11,148 vs. 8,679 species.
  • EIVE provides indicator values for accepted subspecies, while Tichý et al. (2023) is restricted to species and aggregates. Separate indicator values for subspecies might be important for two reasons: (a) subspecies often strongly differ in at least one niche dimension; (b) many of the taxa now considered as subspecies have been treated at species level in the regional EIV systems.
  • Tichý et al. (2023) added 431 species not contained in any of the source systems based on vegetation-plot data from the European Vegetation Archive (EVA; Chytrý et al. 2016) while EIVE calculated the European indicator values only for taxa occurring at least in one source system. 
  • While both systems present maps that suggest a good coverage across Europe, Tichý et al. (2023)’s source systems largely were from Central Europe, NW Europe and Italy, but, unlike EIVE, these authors did not use source systems from the more “distal” parts of Europe, such as Sweden, Faroe Islands, Russia, Georgia, Romania, Poland and Spain, and they used only a small subset of indicators of the EIV systems of Ukraine, Greece and the Alps.
  • In a validation with GBIF-derived data on temperature niches, Dengler et al. (2023) showed that EIVE has a slightly stronger correlation than Tichý et al. (2023)’s indicators (r = 0.886 vs. 0.852).
The correlation of EIVE-T values of species with GBIF-derived temperature niche data was high and even higher when restricting the calculation to those species whose consensus value was based on at least four sources (image from the original article).

How did EIVE manage to integrate all EIV systems in Europe that contained at least one of the selected indicators for vascular plants, while Tichý et al. (2023) used only a small subset?

This difference is mainly due to a more complex workflow in EIVE (which also was one of the reasons why the preparation took so long). First, Tichý et al. (2023) restricted their search to EIV systems and indicators that had the same number of categories as the “original” Ellenberg system.

Second, from these they discarded those that showed a too low correlation with Ellenberg. By contrast, EIVE’s workflow allowed the use of any system with an ordinal (or even metric) scale, irrespective of the number of categories or the initial match with Ellenberg et al. (1991).

EIVE also did not treat one system (Ellenberg) as the master to assess all others but considered each of them equally valid. While indeed the individual EIV systems are often quite inconsistent, i.e. even if they refer to Ellenberg, the same value of an indicator in one system might mean something different in another system, our iterative linear optimisation enabled us to adjust all 31 systems for the five indicators to a common basis.

This in turn allowed deriving EIVE as the consensus system of all the source systems. The fact that in our validation of the temperature indicator, EIVE performed better than Tichý et al. (2023) and much better than most of the regional EIV systems might be attributable to the so-called wisdom of the crowd, going back to the statistician Francis Galton who found that averaging numerous independent assessments (even by laymen) of a continuous quantity can leads to very good estimates of the true value. 

Apart from the indicator values themselves, EIVE has a second main feature that might not be so obvious at first glance, but which actually took the EIVE team, including several taxonomists, more time than the workflow to generate the indicator values themselves: the taxonomic backbone. EIVE for vascular plants is fully based on the taxonomic concept (including the synonymic relationships) of the Euro+Med Plantbase.

However, since Euro+Med lacks an important part of taxa that are frequently recorded in vegetation plots, to make our backbone fully usable to vegetation science, we expanded it beyond Euro+Med to something called “Euro+Med augmented”. We particularly added hybrids, neophytes and aggregates, three groups of plants hitherto only very marginally covered in Euro+Med. All additions were done by experts consistently with the taxonomic concept of Euro+Med and are fully documented. Likewise, many additional synonym relationships had to be added that were missing in Euro+Med.

Finally, we implemented the so-called “concept synonymy” (see Jansen and Dengler 2010), which allows the assignment of the same name from different sources to different accepted names (“taxonomic concepts”). This applies mainly to nested taxa that are treated at different levels in different sources, e.g. once as species with several subspecies, once as aggregate with several species. However, there are also some cases of misapplied names (i.e. names that were not used in agreement with their nomenclatural type in certain EIV systems). Such cases generally cannot be solved by the various tools for automatic taxonomic cleaning, but require experts who make a case-by-case decision.

The whole taxonomic workflow of EIVE is fully transparent with an R code that “digests”:

(a) the names as they are in the source systems,

(b) the official Euro+Med database and

(c) tables that document our additions and modifications (with reasons and references).

This comprehensive documentation will allow continuous and efficient improvement in the future, be it because of taxonomic novelties adopted in Euro+Med or because EIVE’s experts decide to change certain interpretations. That way, “Euro+Med augmented” and the accompanying R-based workflow can also be a valuable tool for other projects that wish to harmonise plant taxonomic information from various sources at a continental scale, e.g. in vegetation-plot databases such as GrassPlot (Dengler et al. 2018) and EVA (Chytrý et al. 2016).

The publication of EIVE 1.0 is not the endpoint, but rather a starting point for future developments in a community-based approach.

Together with interested colleagues from outside, the EIVE core team plans to prepare better and more comprehensive releases of EIVE in the future, including updates to its taxonomic backbone.

Future releases of EIVE will be published in fixed versions, typically together with a paper that describes the changes in the content.

As steps for the next two years, we anticipate that we will first add further taxa (bryophytes, lichens, macroalgae) and some additional indicators, both of which are relatively easy with our established R-based workflow. Then we plan EIVE 2.0 that will use the approx. 2 million vegetation plots in EVA (Chytrý et al. 2016) to re-calibrate EIVE for all taxa (see http://euroveg.org/requests/EVA-data-request-form-2022-02-10-Dengleretal.pdf).

We invite you to get into contact with us if you have:

(a) a new or overlooked indicator value system for any taxonomic group in Europe and adjacent areas (including comprehensive datasets of measured environmental data in vegetation plots);

(b) suggestions for improvements of our taxonomic backbone;

(c) a paper idea in the EIVE context that you would like to realise together with the EIVE core team (since everything is OA, you can, of course, use EIVE 1.0 for any possible purpose without notifying us as long as you cite EIVE properly).

Last but not least, any test of the validity and performance of EIVE, alone or in comparison with Tichý et al. (2023), with in situ measured environmental variables, locally or even continentally, would be most welcome.

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This Behind the paper post refers to the article Ecological Indicator Values for Europe (EIVE) 1.0 by Jürgen Dengler, Florian Jansen, Olha Chusova, Elisabeth Hüllbusch, Michael P. Nobis, Koenraad Van Meerbeek, Irena Axmanová, Hans Henrik Bruun, Milan Chytrý, Riccardo Guarino, Gerhard Karrer, Karlien Moeys, Thomas Raus, Manuel J. Steinbauer, Lubomir Tichý, Torbjörn Tyler, Ketevan Batsatsashvili, Claudia Bita-Nicolae, Yakiv Didukh, Martin Diekmann, Thorsten Englisch, Eduardo Fernandez Pascual, Dieter Frank, Ulrich Graf, Michal Hájek, Sven D. Jelaska, Borja Jiménez-Alfaro, Philippe Julve, George Nakhutsrishvili, Wim A. Ozinga, Eszter-Karolina Ruprecht, Urban Šilc, Jean-Paul Theurillat, and François Gillet published in Vegetation Classification and Survey (https://doi.org/10.3897/VCS.98324).

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Follow the Vegetation Classification and Survey journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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Brief personal summaries: 

Jürgen Dengler is a Professor of Vegetation Ecology at the Zurich University of Applied Science (ZHAW) in Wädenswil, Switzerland. Among others, he cofounded the European Vegetation Database (EVA), the global vegetation-plot database “sPlot” and the “GrassPlot” database of the Eurasian Dry Grassland Group. His major research interests are grassland ecology, grassland conservation, biodiversity patterns, macroecology, vegetation change, broad-scale vegetation classification, methodological developments in vegetation ecology and ecoinformatics.

Florian Jansen is a Professor of Landscape Ecology at the University of Rostock, Germany. His research interests are vegetation ecology and dynamics, mire ecology including greenhouse gas emissions, and numerical ecology with R. He (co-)founded the German Vegetation Database vegetweb.de, the European Vegetation Database (EVA), and the global vegetation-plot database “sPlot”. He wrote the R package eHOF for modelling species response curves along one-dimensional ecological gradients.

François Gillet is an Emeritus Professor of Community Ecology at the University of Franche-Comté in Besançon, France. His major research interests are vegetation diversity, ecology and dynamics, grassland and forest ecology, integrated synusial phytosociology, numerical ecology with R, dynamic modelling of social-ecological systems.

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References: 

Chytrý, M., Hennekens, S.M., Jiménez-Alfaro, B., Knollová, I., Dengler, J., Jansen, F., Landucci, F., Schaminée, J.H.J., Aćić, S., (…) & Yamalov, S. 2016. European Vegetation Archive (EVA): an integrated database of European vegetation plots. Applied Vegetation Science 19: 173–180.

Dengler J, Wagner V, Dembicz I, García-Mijangos I, Naqinezhad A, Boch S, Chiarucci A, Conradi T, Filibeck G, … Biurrun I (2018) GrassPlot – a database of multi-scale plant diversity in Palaearctic grasslands. Phytocoenologia 48: 331–347.

Dengler, J., Jansen, F., Chusova, O., Hüllbusch, E., Nobis, M.P., Van Meerbeek, K., Axmanová, I., Bruun, H.H., Chytrý, M., (…) & Gillet, F. 2023. Ecological Indicator Values for Europe (EIVE) 1.0. Vegetation Classification and Survey 4: 7–29.

Ellenberg H, Weber HE, Düll R, Wirth V, Werner W, Paulißen D (1991) Zeigerwerte von Pflanzen in Mitteleuropa. Scripta Geobotanica 18: 1–248.

Jansen F, Dengler J (2010) Plant names in vegetation databases – a neglected source of bias. Journal of Vegetation Science 21: 1179–1186.

Midolo, G., Herben, T., Axmanová, I., Marcenò, C., Pätsch, R., Bruelheide, H., Karger, D.N., Acic, S., Bergamini, A., Bergmeier, E., Biurrun, I., Bonari, G., Carni, A., Chiarucci. A., De Sanctis, M., Demina, O., (…), Dengler, J., (…) & Chytrý, M. 2023. Disturbance indicator values for European plants. Global Ecology and Biogeography 32: 24–34.

Scherrer D, Guisan A (2019) Ecological indicator values reveal missing predictors of species distributions. Scientific Reports 9: Article 3061.

Tichý, L, Axmanová, I., Dengler, J., Guarino, R., Jansen, F., Midolo, G., Nobis, M.P., Van Meerbeek, K., Aćić, S., (…) & Chytrý, M. 2023. Ellenberg-type indicator values for European vascular plant species. Journal of Vegetation Science 34: e13168.

Rare, protected orchid thrives in a military base in Corsica

Counting over 155,000 individuals, the population is a world precedent. Globally, this orchid can only be found in the south of France, Italy, and along the east coast of the Adriatic.

In Corsica, away from the eyes of locals and tourists, hides a population of unprecedented proportions of a rare and protected orchid: the neglected Serapias (Serapiasneglecta). In a closed military base in the east of the island, researchers discovered 155,000 individuals of the plant.

Globally, this orchid can only be found in the south of France (including Corsica), Italy, and along the east coast of the Adriatic, but none of its known populations has been as abundant as the one documented in Solenzara.

High density of Serapias neglecta on the air base. Photo by Margaux Julien (Ecotonia)

Margaux Julien, Dr Bertrand Schatz, Simon Contant, and Gérard Filippi, researchers from the Center of Functional Ecology and Evolution (CEFE) and Ecotonia consultancy,came across this population while studying plant diversity in the Solenzara air base. Their research, published in Biodiversity Data Journal, documented impressive plant richness, including 12 other orchid species.

The maintenance of the closed military area turned out to be really favourable to the development of orchids. The flower was abundant around the edges of runways and on lawns near military buildings.

Serapias neglecta. Photo by Margaux Julien (Ecotonia)

“Мilitary bases are important areas for biodiversity because they are closed to the public, are not heavily impacted and these areas have soils that are often poorly fertilised and untreated due to old installations, so they often have high biodiversity,” the researchers say in their study.

The meadows around the airport are regularly mowed for security reasons, which allows orchids to thrive in a low vegetation environment with little competition. In addition, the history of the land with its position on the old Travo river bed favours low vegetation, providing rocky ground just a few centimetres beneath the soil.

“The case of S. neglecta is particularly remarkable, because this species benefits from a national protection status and it is a sub-endemic species with a very localised distribution worldwide,” the research team writes. Moreover, the species is classified as near threatened in the World and European Red Lists of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Ecotonia consultancy also did several inventories on the air base, finding biodiversity of rare richness: 552 species of plants, including 19 with protected status in France. Within only 550 ha, they found 23% of the plant species distributed in Corsica. Among these are some very rare plants, as well as endangered species such as the gratiole (Gratiola officinalis) and Anthemis arvensis subsp. incrassate, a subspecies of the corn chamomile.

Serapias neglecta. Photo by Bertrand Schatz

The Solenzara military base hides rich floristic diversity thanks to its history, management, and the lack of public access. While the Corsican coastline is suffering from urbanisation, this sector is a testament to the local flora, featuring several species with conservation status.

The protection of this richness is crucial. “If logistical developments are carried out on this base, they will have to favour the conservation of this exceptional floristic biodiversity, and, in particular of this particularly abundant orchid. Military bases are a great opportunity for the conservation of species and would benefit from enhancing their natural heritage,” the researchers conclude.

Research article:

Julien M, Schatz B, Contant S, Filippi G (2022) Flora richness of a military area: discovery of a remarkable station of Serapias neglecta in Corsica. Biodiversity Data Journal 10: e76375. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.10.e76375

Plant Sociology renewed: Does an open access society journal about vegetation still make sense in 2020?

In a new editorial, Plant Sociology’s Editor-in-Chief Daniela Gigante and Co-editors Gianni Bacchetta, Simonetta Bagella and Daniele Viciani reflect on the current position and outlook of the official journal of the Italian Society of Vegetation Science (Società Italiana di Scienza della Vegetazione or SISV), now that it has completed its first issue since transitioning to the scientific publisher and technology provider Pensoft and ARPHA Platform earlier this year.

Homepage of the new website of Plant Sociology
(visit: https://plantsociology.arphahub.com/)

The Editorial board briefly analyses the issues around the inaccessibility to scholarly research and suitable scholarly outlets still persisting in our days that impede both readers and authors across branches of science. Naturally, they go on to focus on the situation in vegetation science, where, unfortunately, there are rather few outlets open to original research related to any aspect within vegetation science.

By telling their own experience, but also citing the stories of other similarly positioned society journals, including other journals that have moved to Pensoft’s self-developed ARPHA Platform over the past several years (e.g. Journal of Hymenoptera Research, European Science Editing, Italian Botanist, Vegetation Classification and Survey, Nota Lepidopterologica), the editors present an example how to address the challenges of securing the long-term sustainability and quality for a journal used to being run by a small editorial staff in what they refer to as a “home made” method.

Other society journals that have moved to Pensoft’s self-developed ARPHA Platform over the past several years

In this process, the SISV supported its official scholarly outlet to be published as a “gold open access” journal and ensured that the APCs are kept to a reasonable low in line with its non-profit international business model. Further discounts are available for the members of the Society.

Then, the journal management also reorganised its Editorial Board and welcomed a dedicated Social media team responsible for the increased outreach of published research in the public domain through the channels of Twitter and Facebook

Besides making the publications publicly available as soon as they see the light of day, the journal strongly supports other good open science practices, such as open data dissemination. In Plant Sociology, authors are urged to store their vegetation data in the Global Index of Vegetation-Plot Databases (GIVD). Additionally, the journal is integrated with the Dryad Digital Repository to make it easier for authors to publish, share and, hence, have their data re-used and cited.

The team behind Plant Sociology is perfectly aware of the fact that it is only through easy to find and access knowledge about life on Earth that the right information can reach the right decision-makers, before making the right steps towards mitigating and preventing future environmental catastrophes.

Access the article from: https://doi.org/10.3897/pls2020571/05

“A journal focusing on all aspects of natural, semi-natural and anthropic plant systems, from basic investigation to their modelisation, assessment, mapping, management, conservation and monitoring, is certainly a precious tool to detect environmental unbalances, understand processes and outline predictive scenarios that support decision makers. In this sense, we believe that more and more OA journals focused on biodiversity should find space in the academic editorial world, because only through deep knowledge of processes and functions of a complex planet, humankind can find a way to survive healthy,”

elaborate the editors.

To take the burden of technical journal management off the shoulders of Plant Sociology’s own editorial team, the journal has entrusted Pensoft to provide a user-friendly and advanced submission system, in addition to the production, online publishing and archiving of the accepted manuscripts. Thus, the editorial team is able to focus entirely on the scientific quality of the journal’s content.

“The renewal of Plant Sociology is a challenge that we have undertaken with conviction, aware of the difficulties and pitfalls that characterize the life of a scientific journal today. Entrusting the technical management of the journal to a professional company aims to improve its dissemination and attractiveness, but also to focus our efforts only on scientific content,”

explain the editors.

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About Plant Sociology:

Plant Sociology publishes articles dealing with all aspects of vegetation, from plant community to landscape level, including dynamic processes and community ecology. It favours papers focusing on plant sociology and vegetation survey for developing ecological models, vegetation interpretation, classification and mapping, environmental quality assessment, plant biodiversity management and conservation, EU Annex I habitats interpretation and monitoring, on the ground of rigorous and quantitative measures of physical and biological components. The journal is open to territorial studies at different geographic scale and accepts contributes dealing with applied research, provided they offer new methodological perspectives and a robust, updated vegetation analysis.

Find all pre-2020 issues and articles of Plant Sociology openly available on the former website.

Follow Plant Sociology on Twitter and Facebook.

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

Sir Charles Lyell’s historical fossils kept at London’s Natural History Museum accessible online

The Lyell Project team: First row, seated from left to right: Martha Richter (Principal Curator in Charge of Vertebrates), Consuelo Sendino (with white coat, curator of bryozoans holding a Lyell fossil gastropod from Canaries), Noel Morris (Scientific Associate of Invertebrates), Claire Mellish (Senior Curator of arthropods), Sandra Chapman (curator of reptiles) and Emma Bernard (curator of fishes, holding the lectotype of Cephalaspis lyelli). Second row, standing on from left to right: Jill Darrell (curator of cnidarians), Zoe Hughes (curator of brachiopods) and Kevin Webb (science photographer). Photo by Nelly Perez-Larvor.

More than 1,700 animal and plant specimens from the collection of eminent British geologist Sir Charles Lyell – known as the pioneer of modern geology – were organised, digitised and made openly accessible via the NHM Data Portal in a pilot project, led by Dr Consuelo Sendino, curator at the Department of Earth Sciences (Natural History Museum, London). They are described in a data paper published in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal.

Curator of plants Peta Hayes (left) and curator of bryozoans Consuelo Sendino (right) looking at a Lyell fossil plant from Madeira in the collection area. Photo by Mark Lewis.

The records contain the data from the specimens’ labels (species name, geographical details, geological age and collection details), alongside high-resolution photographs, most of which were ‘stacked’ with the help of specialised software to re-create a 3D model.

Sir Charles Lyell’s fossil collection comprises a total of 1,735 specimens of fossil molluscs, filter-feeding moss animals and fish, as well as 51 more recent shells, including nine specimens originally collected by Charles Darwin from Tierra del Fuego or Galapagos, and later gifted to the geologist. The first specimen of the collection was deposited in distant 1846 by Charles Lyell himself, while the last one – in 1980 by one of his heirs.

With as much as 95% of the specimens having been found at the Macaronesian archipelagos of the Canaries and Madeira and dating to the Cenozoic era, the collection provides a key insight into the volcano formation and palaeontology of Macaronesia and the North Atlantic Ocean. By digitising the collection and making it easy to find and access for researchers from around the globe, the database is to serve as a stepping stone for studies in taxonomy, stratigraphy and volcanology at once.

Sites where the Earth Sciences’ Lyell Collection specimens originate.

“The display of this data virtually eliminates the need for specimen handling by researchers and will greatly speed up response time to collection enquiries,” explains Dr Sendino.

Furthermore, the pilot project and its workflow provide an invaluable example to future digitisation initiatives. In her data paper, Dr Sendino lists the limited resources she needed to complete the task in just over a year.

In terms of staff, the curator was joined by MSc student Teresa Máñez (University of Valencia, Spain) for six weeks while locating the specimens and collecting all the information about them; volunteer Jane Barnbrook, who re-boxed 1,500 specimens working one day per week for a year; NHM’s science photographer Kevin Webb and University of Lisbon’s researcher Carlos Góis-Marques, who imaged the specimens; and a research associate, who provided broad identification of the specimens, working one day per week for two months. Each of the curators for the collections, where the Lyell specimens were kept, helped Dr Sendino for less than a day. On the other hand, the additional costs comprised consumables such as plastazote, acid-free trays, archival pens, and archival paper for new labels.

“The success of this was due to advanced planning and resource tracking,” comments Dr Sendino.
“This is a good example of reduced cost for digitisation infrastructure creation maintaining a high public profile for digitisation,” she concludes.

 

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Original source:

Sendino C (2019) The Lyell Collection at the Earth Sciences Department, Natural History Museum, London (UK). Biodiversity Data Journal 7: e33504. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.7.e33504

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About NHM Data Portal:

Committed to open access and open science, the Natural History Museum (London, UK) has launched the Data Portal to make its research and collections datasets available online. It allows anyone to explore, download and reuse the data for their own research.

The portal’s main dataset consists of specimens from the Museum’s collection database, with 4,224,171 records from the Museum’s Palaeontology, Mineralogy, Botany, Entomology and Zoology collections.

First-ever fern checklist for Togo to help decision makers in the face of threats to biodiversity

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum schweinfurthii) occurring in dense forests.

Ferns and their allied species, which together comprise the pteridophytes, are vascular non-flowering plants that reproduce via spores. Many of their species are admired for their aesthetics.

However, despite being excellent bioindicators that allow for scientists and decision-makers to monitor the state of ecosystems in the face of climate change and global biodiversity crisis, these species are too often overlooked due to their relatively small size and lack of vivid colours.

Spike moss (Selaginella versicolor) with a preference for very humid and shaded forests.

To bridge the existing gaps in the knowledge about the diversity of ferns and their allied species, while also seeking to identify the ways these plants select their habitats and react to the changes occurring there later on, a research team from Togo and France launched an ambitious biodiversity project in 2013. As for the setting of their long-term study, they chose Togo – an amazingly species-rich country in Western Africa, whose flora expectedly turned out to be hugely understudied.

Having concluded their fern project in 2017, scientists Komla Elikplim Abotsi and Kouami Kokou from the Laboratory of Forestry Research, University of Lomé, Togo, who teamed up with Jean-Yves Dubuisson and Germinal Rouhan, both affiliated with the Institute of Systematics Evolution and Biodiversity (UMR 7205), France, have their first findings published in a taxonomic paper in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.

In this first-of-a-kind checklist of Togolese ferns, the researchers record as many as 73 species previously not known to inhabit the country, including 12 species introduced for horticultural purposes. As a result of their 4-year study, the pteridophyte diversity of Togo – a country barely taking up 56,600 km² – now counts a total of 134 species.

Still, the authors believe that there are even more species waiting to be discovered on both national and global level.

“Additional investigations in the difficult to access areas of the far north of the country, and Togo Mountains are still needed to fill possible biodiversity data gaps and enable decision-makers to make the right decisions,” say the researchers.

The triangular staghorn species Platycerium stemaria living on a coffee tree branch.

In addition to their taxonomic paper, the authors are also set to publish an illustrated guide to the pteridophytes of Togo, in order to familiarise amateur botanists with this fascinating biodiversity.

 

Original source:
Abotsi KE, Kokou K, Dubuisson J-Y, Rouhan G (2018) A first checklist of the Pteridophytes of Togo (West Africa). Biodiversity Data Journal 6: e24137. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.6.e24137

Poison ivy an unlikely hero in warding off exotic invaders?

Dozens of studies have looked at the effects of Japanese knotweed on natural communities in Europe and North America. Yet Bucknell University professor Chris Martine still felt there was something important to learn about what the plant was doing along the river in his own backyard.

“The more time I spent in the forests along the Susquehanna River, the more it seemed like something was really going wrong there,” said Martine. “In addition to the prevalence of this single invasive species, it looked like the very existence of these forests was under threat.”

What Martine noticed was similar to what local nature lovers and biologists with the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program were also starting to see: these forests, specifically those classified as Silver Maple Floodplain Forests, were not regenerating themselves where knotweed had taken a foothold.

In a new study published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal, Martine and two recent Bucknell alumni conclude that Japanese knotweed has not only excluded nearly all of the native understory plant species in these forests, but it has prevented the trees already established in the canopy from leaving behind more of themselves.

“If you were to fly over these forests, or even look at a Google Earth image, you’d see a nice green canopy along the river consisting of mature silver maples, river birches, and sycamores,” explained Martine. “But below that canopy there is almost nothing for tens of feet before you reach an eight-to-twelve-foot-tall thicket of knotweed. Few new trees have been able to grow through that in the last 50-60 years and our surveys found that seedlings of these species are quite rare.”

The authors suggest that as mature trees die of natural causes over the next several decades and are not replaced, these systems will shift from tree-dominated riverbank habitats to “knotweed-dominated herbaceous shrublands” incapable of supporting a rich diversity of insects, birds, and other wildlife. Loss of trees in these habitats could likely also lead to riverbank erosion and increase the severity of flood events.

The few places where knotweed has not taken over offer a bit of hope, however, from an unlikely hero: poison-ivy, which Martine calls “perhaps the least popular plant in America.”

“What we see in the data is that poison-ivy often trades understory dominance with knotweed. That is, when knotweed isn’t the big boss, poison-ivy usually is. The difference is that whereas knotweed knocks everyone else out of the system, poison-ivy is more of a team player. Many other native plants can co-occur with it and it even seems to create microhabitats that help tree seedlings get established.”

The prevalence of poison-ivy in these sites didn’t go unnoticed by undergraduate Anna Freundlich, who collected most of the plant community data — more than 1,000 data points — in a single summer as a research fellow.

“Anna developed a pretty serious methodology for avoiding a poison-ivy rash that included long sleeves, long pants, gloves, duct tape, and an intense wash-down protocol,” said her research advisor, “and even after crawling through the plant for weeks she managed to never once get a rash.”

Martine cautions against too much optimism regarding the chances of one itch-inducing native plant saving the day, however.

“Righting this ship is going to require eradicating knotweed from some of these sites, and that won’t be easy work. It will take some hard manual labor. But it’s worth doing if we want to avoid the imminent ecological catastrophe. These forests really can’t afford another half-century of us letting knotweed run wild.”

Freundlich is a now pursuing a Master’s degree in plant ecology at the University of Northern Colorado. Lead author Matt Wilson, a Bucknell Master’s student at the time of the study who analyzed the dataset, now works for the Friends of the Verde River in Cottonwood, AZ.

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Original source:

Wilson M, Freundlich A, Martine C (2017) Understory dominance and the new climax: Impacts of Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) invasion on native plant diversity and recruitment in a riparian woodland. Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e20577. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e20577

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About Japanese knotweed:

Japanese knotweed is considered to be one of the toughest, most damaging and insidious plants in the world. Native to East Asia, the species has already established successfully in many parts throughout North America and Europe, where it can easily grow and invade private properties and homes. It is hardy enough to penetrate patios, house foundations and concrete. Given it spreads easily and can grow underground to a depth of 3 metres with a horizontal range of up to 7 metres, it is extremely difficult to eradicate and its treatment requires special attention. To find advice on recognition, hazards and treatment, you can check out The Ultimate Japanese Knotweed Guide.

Effects of soil and drainage on the savanna vegetation in the northern Brazilian Amazonia

It is a well-known fact that environmental factors such as soil texture and drainage determine to a very large degree the vegetation appearance, richness and composition at any site. However, there has been little research on how these variables influence the flora in the marvellous savannas – large open areas characterised by a complex and unique network of natural resources and life forms.

Consequently, a Brazilian research team, led by Dr. Maria Aparecida de Moura Araújo, Universidade Federal de Roraima, investigated the hydro-edaphic conditions in the savanna areas in the northern Brazilian Amazonia. Their study, complete with an openly available and ready for re-use dataset, is published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.  

Image 1_Annonaceae_Xylopia aromatica_treeIn the course of the Program for Biodiversity Research, managed by the Brazilian government, the scientists sampled 20 permanent plots in two savanna areas in the state of Roraima, located in the northern of the Brazilian Amazon. As a result, the team reports a total of 128 plant species classified into 34 families from three savanna habitats with different levels of hydro-edaphic restrictions.

Amongst the various factors playing a role in the soil characteristics of the area, are the tectonic events and past climatic fluctuations which have occurred in the most recent period of the Cenozoic era. Paleo, as well as modern fires are likely to be other culprits for the specific conditions.

In conclusion, the authors suggest that the most restrictive savanna habitats – the wet grasslands, represent the home to less structurally complex plants, compared to the well-drained shrubby localities.

“The present study highlights the environmental heterogeneity and the biological importance of Roraima’s savanna regarding the conservation of natural resources from the Amazon,” say the scientists.

Image 2_Convolvulaceae_Merremia aturensis_herb“In addition, it points out the need for greater investment in floristic inventories associated with greater diversification of sites, since this entire ecosystem has been rapidly modified by agribusiness.”

Licensed under a Creative Commons License (CC-BY 4.0) and available in a Darwin Core Archive DwC-A format; the complete dataset is openly available via the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

 

Original source:
Araújo M, Rocha A, Miranda I, Barbosa R (2017) Hydro-edaphic conditions defining richness and species composition in savanna areas of the northern Brazilian Amazonia. Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e13829. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e13829

Invasive alien plant control assessed for the Kruger National Park in South Africa

Along with urban and agricultural encroachment and pollution mitigation, managing invasive alien species is a key intervention needed to protect biodiversity. Unfortunately, on a global scale there are not enough funds to meet the requirements for effective conservation everywhere, which means that scarce funds need to be allocated where they can be used most efficiently.

In order to find out whether the historical measures undertaken at the Kruger National Park in South Africa have been effective and optimised, researchers led by Prof. Brian W. van Wilgen of Stellenbosch University assessed the invasive alien plant control operations in the protected area over several decades. Their findings and recommendations are published in the open access journal Neobiota.

While the first invasive alien plants in the national park, which stretches over two million hectares, were recorded back in 1937, it was not until the mid-1950s that attempts at controlling them began. By the end of the century, the invasive alien plant control program had expanded substantially.

Dense invasions of the West Indian Lantana (Lantana camara) along the Sabie River in the Kruger National Park have required intensive mechanical and chemical control to clear.
Dense invasions of the West Indian Lantana along the Sabie River in the Kruger National Park have required intensive mechanical and chemical control to clear.

However, the scientists found out that despite several invasive alien species having been effectively managed, the overall control effort was characterised by several shortcomings, including inadequate goal-setting and planning, the lack of a sound basis on which to apportion funds, and the absence of any monitoring of control effectiveness.

Furthermore, the researchers report that over one third (40%) of the funding has been spent on species of lower concern. Some of these funds have been allocated so that additional employment could be created onsite, or because of a lack of clear evidence about the impact of certain species.

As a result of their observations, the team concludes three major strategies when navigating invasive alien species control operations.

Firstly, a thorough assessment of the impact of individual species needs to be carried out prior to allocating substantial funds. On the other hand, in case of a new invasion, management needs to be undertaken immediately before any further spread of the population and the subsequent rise in control costs. Monitoring and assessments have to be performed regularly in order to identify any new threats that could potentially be in need of prioritisation over others.

Secondly, the scientists suggest that the criteria used to assign priorities to invasive alien species should be formally documented, so that management can focus on defensible priorities. They propose using a framework employing mechanisms of assessments used in the International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s Global Invasive Species Database.

The authors also point out that re-allocating current funds to species of greater concern is needed for species that cannot be managed via less expensive solutions such as biological control. Taking care of alien plant populations living outside of the park, but in close proximity, is also crucial for the prevention of re-invasions of already cleared areas.

Sunset Dam heavily infested with water lettuce (left). The population was effectively eliminated by a combination of biological and chemical control (right).
Sunset Dam heavily infested with water lettuce (left). The population was effectively eliminated by a combination of
biological and chemical control (right).

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Original source:

van Wilgen BW, Fill JM, Govender N, Foxcroft LC (2017) An assessment of the evolution, costs and effectiveness of alien plant control operations in Kruger National Park, South Africa. NeoBiota 35: 35-59. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.35.12391

Orchid or Demon: Flower of a new species of orchid looks like a devil’s head

A lone and unique population of about 30 reddish to dark violet-maroon orchids grows on the small patch of land between the borders of two Colombian departments. However, its extremely small habitat is far from the only striking thing about the new species.

A closer look at its flowers’ heart reveals what appears to be a devil’s head. Named after its demonic patterns, the new orchid species, Telipogon diabolicus, is described in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

Discovered by Dr Marta Kolanowska and Prof Dariusz Szlachetko, both affiliated with University of Gdansk, Poland, together with Dr Ramiro Medina Trejo, Colombia, the new orchid grows a stem measuring between 5.5 – 9 cm in height.

With its only known habitat restricted to a single population spread across a dwarf montane forest at the border between departments Putumayo and Nariño, southern Colombia, the devilish orchid is assigned as a Critically Endangered species in the IUCN Red List.

Although the curious orchid could be mistakenly taken for a few other species, there are still some easy to see physical traits that make the flower stand out. Apart from the demon’s head hidden at the heart of its colours, the petals themselves are characteristically clawed. This feature has not been found in any other Colombian species of the genus.close-up

“In the most recent catalogue of Colombian plants almost 3600 orchid species representing nearly 250 genera are included,” remind the authors. “However, there is no doubt that hundreds of species occurring in this country remain undiscovered. Only in 2015 over 20 novelties were published based on material collected in Colombia.”

Original source:

Kolanowska M, Szlachetko DL, Trejo RM (2016) Telipogon diabolicus (Orchidaceae, Oncidiinae), a new species from southern Colombia. PhytoKeys 65: 113-124. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.65.8674