“Trends in Arthropods of Alpine Aquatic Ecosystems” is the first topical collection for the journal of the Swiss Entomological Society
The open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal Alpine Entomology, published by Pensoft on behalf of the Swiss Entomological Society, announced its very first topical collection of articles, which will be focusing on arthropods associated with aquatic ecosystems in mountainous regions.
The journal is currently inviting scientists, working on aquatic fauna from alpine habitats, to openly publish their research articles and short notices that provide evidence how arthropods’ biogeography, species communities, distribution, behaviour and morphology have changed in recent times.
On the one hand, the publication is remarkable because of the large number of new species of frogs. Regarding vertebrate animals, most studies only list between one and five new to science species, because of the difficulty of their collection and the copious amount of work involved in the description of each. To put it into perspective, the last time a single article dealt with a similar number of newly discovered frogs from the western hemisphere was in 2007, when Spanish scientist Ignacio de la Riva described twelve species from Bolivia.
On the other hand, the new paper by Nadia Paez and Dr Santiago Ron is astounding due to the fact that it comes as part of the undergraduate thesis of Nadia Paez, a former Biology student at the Pontifical Catholic University, where she was supervised by Professor Santiago Ron. Normally, such a publication would be the result of the efforts of a large team of senior scientists. Currently, Nadia Paez is a PhD student in the Department of Zoology at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
Unfortunately, amongst the findings of concern is that most of the newly described frog species are listed as either Data Deficient or Threatened with extinction, according to the criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). All of the studied amphibians appear to have very restricted geographic ranges, spanning less than 2,500 km2. To make matters worse, their habitats are being destroyed by human activities, especially cattle raising, agriculture, and mining.
Amongst the newly described species, there is the peculiar Multicolored Rain Frog, where the name refers to its outstanding color variation. Individuals vary from bright yellow to dark brown. Initially, the studied specimens were assumed to belong to at least two separate species. However, genetic data demonstrated that they represented a single, even if highly variable, species.
The rest of the previously unknown frogs were either named after scientists, who have made significant contributions in their fields, or given the names of the places they were discovered, in order to highlight places of conservation priority.
Paez NB, Ron SR (2019) Systematics of Huicundomantis, a new subgenus of Pristimantis (Anura, Strabomantidae) with extraordinary cryptic diversity and eleven new species. ZooKeys868: 1-112. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.868.26766.
The geographic distribution of coyotes has dramatically expanded since 1900, spreading across much of North America in a period when most other mammal species have been declining. Although this unprecedented expansion has been well-documented at the state/provincial scale, continent-wide picture of coyote spread been coarse and largely anecdotal. A more thorough compilation of available records was needed.
In all, Kays and lead author James Hody, a graduate student at NC State University, reviewed more than 12,500 records covering the past 10,000 years for this study.
Their findings indicate that coyotes historically occupied a larger area of North America than generally suggested in the literature. Previous maps, as it turns out, had ancient coyotes only located across the central deserts and grasslands. However, fossils from across the arid west link the distribution of coyotes from 10,000 years ago to specimens collected in the late 1800s, proving that their geographic range was not only broader but had been established for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, which also contradicts some widely-cited descriptions of their historical distribution.
It wasn’t until approximately 1920 that coyotes began their expansion across North America. This was likely aided by an expansion of human agriculture, forest fragmentation, and hybridization with other species. Eastern expansion, in particular, was aided by hybridization with wolves and dogs, resulting in size and color variation among eastern coyotes.
Before too long, coyotes may no longer be just a North American species. Kays notes that coyotes are continually expanding their range in Central America, having crossed the Panama Canal in 2010. Active camera traps are now spotting coyotes approaching the Darien Gap, a heavily forested region separating North and South America, suggesting that they are at the doorstep of South America.
“The expansion of coyotes across the American continent offers an incredible experiment for assessing ecological questions about their roles as predators, and evolutionary questions related to their hybridization with dogs and wolves,” adds Hody.
“By collecting and mapping these museum data we were able to correct old misconceptions of their original range, and more precisely map and date their recent expansions.”
“We hope these maps will provide useful context for future research into the ecology and evolution of this incredibly adaptive carnivore,” he concludes.
Historically, the Alps have always played an emblematic role, being one of the largest continuous natural areas in Europe. With its numerous habitats, the mountain system is easily one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in Europe.
Lichens are curious organisms comprising a stable symbiosis between a fungus and one or more photosynthetic organisms, for example green algae and/or cyanobacteria. Once the symbiosis is established, the new composite organism starts to function as a whole new one, which can now convert sunlight into essential nutrients and resist ultraviolet light at the same time.
Being able to grow on a wide range of surfaces – from tree bark to soil and rock, lichens are extremely useful as biomonitors of air quality, forest health and climate change.
Nevertheless, while the Alps are one of the best studied parts of the world in terms of their biogeography, no overview of the Alpine lichens had been provided up until recently, when an international team of lichenologists, led by Prof. Pier Luigi Nimis, University of Trieste, Italy, concluded their 15-year study with a publication in the open access journal MycoKeys.
The scientists’ joint efforts produced the first ever checklist to provide a complete critical catalogue of all lichens hitherto reported from the Alps. It comprises a total of 3,138 entries, based on data collected from eight countries – Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia and Switzerland. In their research paper, the authors have also included notes on the lichens’ ecology and taxonomy.
They point out that such catalogue has been missing for far too long, hampering research all over the world. The scientists point out that this has been “particularly annoying”, since the data from the Alps could have been extremely useful for comparisons between mountainous lichen populations from around the globe. It turns out that many lichens originally described from the Alps have been later identified in other parts of the world.
“It was a long and painstaking work, which lasted almost 15 years, revealing a surprisingly high number of yet to be resolved taxonomic problems that will hopefully trigger further research in the coming years,” say the authors.
“We think that the best criterion to judge whether a checklist has accomplished its task for the scientific community is the speed of it becoming outdated,” they conclude paradoxically.
The new checklist is expected to serve as a valuable tool for retrieving and accessing the enormous amount of information on the lichens of the Alps
that has accumulated over centuries of research. It offers a basis for specimen revisions, critical re-appraisal of poorly-known species and further exploration of under-explored areas. Thus, it could become a catalyst for new, more intensive investigations and turn into a benchmark for comparisons between mountains systems worldwide.