Tiny fly from Los Angeles has a taste for crushed invasive snails

Living individual of Draparnaud’s glass snail
Photo by Kat Halsey

As part of their project BioSCAN – devoted to the exploration of the unknown insect diversity in and around the city of Los Angeles – the scientists at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (USA) have already discovered numerous insects that are new to science, but they are still only guessing about the lifestyles of these species.

“Imagine trying to find a given 2 mm long fly in the environment and tracking its behavior: it is the smallest imaginable needle in the largest haystack. So when researchers discover new life histories, it is something worth celebrating,”

explains Dr. Brian Brown, lead author of a recent paper, published in the scholarly open-access Biodiversity Data Journal.

However, Brown and Maria Wong, former BioSCAN technician, while doing field work at the L.A. County Arboretum, were quick to reveal a curious peculiarity about one particular species discovered as part of the project a few years ago. They successfully lured female phorid flies by means of crushing tiny, invasive snails and using them as bait. In comparison, the majority of phorid flies, whose lifestyles have been observed, are parasitoids of social insects like ants.

Within mere seconds after the team crushed tiny invasive snails (Oxychilus draparnaudi), females representing the fly species Megaselia steptoeae arrived at the scene and busied themselves feeding. Brown and Wong then collected some and brought them home alive along with some dead snails. One of the flies even laid eggs. After hatching, the larvae were observed feeding upon the rotting snails and soon they developed to the pupal stage. However, none was reared to adulthood.

Female phorid fly feeding on a crushed Draparnaud’s glass snail
Photo by Kat Halsey

Interestingly, the host species – used by the fly to both feed on and lay eggs inside – commonly known as Draparnaud’s glass snail, is a European species that has been introduced into many parts of the world. Meanwhile, the studied fly is native to L.A. So far, it is unknown when and how the mollusc appeared on the menu of the insect.

To make things even more curious, species of other snail genera failed to attract the flies, which hints at a peculiar interaction worth of further study, point out the scientists behind the study, Brown and Jann Vendetti, curator of the NHM Malacology collection. They also hope to lure in other species of flies by crushing other species of snails.

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In recent years, the BioSCAN project led to other curious discoveries from L.A., also published in Biodiversity Data JournalIn 2016, a whole batch of twelve previously unknown scuttle fly species was described from the heart of the city. A year later, another mysterious phorid fly was caught ovipositing in mushroom caps after Bed & Breakfast owners called in entomologists to report on what they had been observing in their yard.

Original source:

Brown BV, Vendetti JE (2020) Megaselia steptoeae (Diptera: Phoridae): specialists on smashed snails. Biodiversity Data Journal 8: e50943. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.8.e50943

Fifteen years & 20 million insects later: Sweden’s impressive effort to document its insect fauna in a changing world

The Swedish Malaise Trap Project (SMTP) was launched in 2003 with the aim of making a complete list of the insect diversity of Sweden. Over the past fifteen years, an estimated total of 20 million insects, collected during the project, have been processed for scientific study. Recently, the team behind this effort published the resulting inventory in the open-access journal Biodiversity Data Journal. In their paper, they also document the project all the way from its inception to its current status by reporting on its background, organisation, methodology and logistics.

The SMTP deployed a total of 73 Malaise traps – a Swedish invention designed to capture flying insects – and placed them across the country, where they remained from 2003 to 2006. Subsequently, the samples were sorted by a dedicated team of staff, students and volunteers into over 300 groups of insects ready for further study by expert entomologists. At the present time, this material can be considered as a unique timestamp of the Swedish insect fauna and an invaluable source of baseline data, which is especially relevant as reports of terrifying insect declines keep on making the headlines across the world.

The first author and Project Manager of the SMTP, Dave Karlsson started his academic paper on the project’s results years ago by compiling various tips, tricks, lessons and stories that he had accumulated over his years as SMTP’s Project Manager. Some fun examples include the time when one of the Malaise traps was destroyed by a moose bull rubbing his antlers against it, or when another trap was attacked and eaten by a group of 20 reindeer. The project even had a trap taken out by Sweden’s military! Karlsson’s intention was that, by sharing the details of the project, he would inspire and encourage similar efforts around the globe.

Animals were not as kind to our traps as humans,” recall the scientists behind the project. One of the Malaise traps, located in the Brännbergets Nature Reserve in Västerbotten, was destroyed by a bull moose rubbing his antlers against it.
Photo by Anna Wenngren

Karlsson has worked with and trained dozens of workers in the SMTP lab over the past decade and a half. Some were paid staff, some were enthusiastic volunteers and a good number were researchers and students using SMTP material for projects and theses. Thus, he witnessed first-hand how much excitement and enthusiasm the work on insect samples under a microscope can generate, even in those who had been hesitant about “bugs” at first.

Stressing the benefits of traditional morphological approaches to inventory work, he says: “Appreciation for nature is something you miss when you go ‘hi-tech’ with inventory work. We have created a unique resource for specialists in our sorted material while fostering a passion for natural history.”

Sorted SMTP material is now available to specialists. Hundreds of thousands of specimens have already been handed over to experts, resulting in over 1,300 species newly added to the Swedish fauna. A total of 87 species have been recognised as new to science from the project thus far, while hundreds more await description.

The SMTP is part of the Swedish Taxonomy Initiative, from where it also receives its funding. In its turn, the latter is a project by the Swedish Species Information Center, a ground-breaking initiative funded by the Swedish Parliament since 2002 with the aim of documenting all multicellular life in Sweden.

The SMTP is based at Station Linné, a field station named after the famous Swedish naturalist and father of taxonomy, Carl Linneaus. Situated on the Baltic island of Öland, the station is managed by Dave Karlsson. Co-authors Emily Hartop and Mathias Jaschhof are also based at the station, while Mattias Forshage and Fredrik Ronquist (SMTP Project Co-Founder) are based at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.

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Original source:

Karlsson D, Hartop E, Forshage M, Jaschhof M, Ronquist F (2020) The Swedish Malaise Trap Project: A 15 Year Retrospective on a Countrywide Insect Inventory. Biodiversity Data Journal 8: e47255. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.8.e47255

Second of its kind ‘sharpshooter’ leafhopper from Brazil ‘strikes’ with its colouration

When, in 2014, Brazilian researchers stumbled across a never-before-seen red-eyed leafhopper feeding inside the rosettes of bromeliads, growing in the restingas of southeastern Brazil, they were certain it was a one-of-a-kind discovery. Described as new-to-science species, as well as genus (Cavichiana bromelicola) and added to the sharpshooter tribe Cicadellini, it became the first known case of a leafhopper feeding on otherwise nutrition-poor bromeliads in their natural habitat. 

Newly described sharpshooter species Cavichiana alpina (left) and the only other leafhopper (Cavichiana bromelicola, right) known to feed on bromeliads
Photo by Gabriel Mejdalani

Several years later, however, a team of entomologists from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro carried out fieldwork in a mountainous area of southeastern Brazil and, as a result, another bromelicolous leafhopper species of the genus was discovered: Cavichiana alpina. Only, the new one appeared even more spectacular. 

The new species, described and illustrated in the open-access journal Zoologia, is known from Itatiaia National Park (southeastern Brazil), where it can be found at altitudes above 1,800 m a.s.l. In fact, its characteristic mountainous habitat came to determine its species name (alpina). In contrast, its relative was originally described exclusively from sea level regions, even though the latest field trips have recorded it from a site located at 1,250 m a.s.l. 

Slightly larger than the previously known C. bromelicola and similarly red-eyed, what most remarkably sets apart the newly-described species is its colouration. Rather than a single large yellow blotch contrasting against the dark-brown to black back of the insect, this sharpshooter sports a motley amalgam of red and blue covering most of its upper side.

In conclusion, the researchers explain that the peculiarity of the two known Cavichiana species is best attributed to a putative common ancestor that had likely once been widely distributed in southeastern and southern Brazil. Later, they speculate, a vicariant event, such as the uplift of the southeastern Brazilian mountain ranges during the latest Eocene and Oligocene, might have caused its diversification into two separate species.

Newly described sharpshooter species Cavichiana alpina (top) and the only other leafhopper (Cavichiana bromelicola, bottom) known to feed on bromeliads in their natural habitat
Photo by Gabriel Mejdalani

Original source: 
Quintas V, Takiya DM, Côrte I, Mejdalani G (2020) A remarkable new species of Cavichiana (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae: Cicadellinae) from southeastern Brazil. Zoologia 37: 1-8. https://doi.org/10.3897/zoologia.37.e38783

New to science New Zealand moths link mythological deities to James Cameron’s films

In an unexpected discovery from New Zealand, two species of narrowly distributed moths were described as new species. Interestingly, both Arctesthes titanica and Arctesthes avatar were named after mythological deities and top-grossing blockbusters by famous filmmaker James Cameron: Titanic and Avatar, respectively.


The newly described moth species Arctesthes avatar in its natural habitat (South Island, New Zealand). Photo by Brian Patrick.

In an unexpected discovery from the South Island (New Zealand), two species of narrowly distributed macro-moths were described as new species. Interestingly, both Arctesthes titanica and Arctesthes avatar were named after mythological deities and top-grossing blockbusters by famous filmmaker James Cameron: Titanic and Avatar, respectively.

Each of the newly described species are believed to be restricted to only a couple of subalpine/alpine localities. Therefore, they are particularly vulnerable to extinction and need to be “considered of very high priority for conservation”, point out New Zealand scientists Brian Patrick (Wildland Consultants Ltd), Hamish Patrick (Lincoln University) and Dr Robert Hoare (Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Researchin their paper in the open-access journal Alpine Entomology.


Male (left) and female (right) specimens of the newly described moth species Arctesthes titanica. Photo by Birgit Rhode.

Because of its relatively large size, one of the new discoveries: A. titanica, was named in reference to the Titans: the elderly gods in Greek mythology and the legendary, if ill-fated, record-breaking passenger ship ‘Titanic’, which became the subject of the famous 1997 American epic romance and disaster film of the same name. Unfortunately, the moth’s small wetland habitat is located in an area that is currently facing a range of damaging farming practices, such as over-sowing, grazing, stock trampling and vehicle damage.

On the other hand, A. avatar received its name after Forest & Bird, the New Zealand conservation organisation that was behind the 2012 BioBlitz at which the new species was collected, ran a public competition where “the avatar moth” turned up as the winning entry. The reference is to the indigenous people and fauna in Avatar. Just like them, the newly described moth is especially vulnerable to habitat change and destruction. In addition, the study’s authors note that the original avatars came from Hindu mythology, where they are the incarnations of deities, including Vishnu, for example, who would transform into Varaha the boar.

In conclusion, the scientists point out that future studies to monitor and further understand the fauna of New Zealand are of crucial importance for its preservation:

“Quantitative studies as well as work on life histories and ecology are particularly needed. Already one formerly common endemic geometrid species, Xanthorhoe bulbulata, has declined drastically and is feared possibly extinct: its life history and host-plant have never been discovered. Without further intensive study of the fauna of modified and threatened New Zealand environments, we will be unable to prevent other species slipping away.”

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Original source:

Patrick BH, Patrick HJH, Hoare RJB (2019) Review of the endemic New Zealand genus Arctesthes Meyrick (Lepidoptera, Geometridae, Larentiinae), with descriptions of two new range-restricted species. Alpine Entomology 3: 121-136. https://doi.org/10.3897/alpento.3.33944

‘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

Star Wars and Asterix characters amongst 103 beetles new to science from Sulawesi, Indonesia

From left to right: Trigonopterus asterix, T. obelix and T. idefix, three newly described species from Sulawesi (Indonesia). Image by Alexander Riedel.

The Indonesian island of Sulawesi has been long known for its enigmatic fauna, including the deer-pig (babirusa) and the midget buffalo. However, small insects inhabiting the tropical forests have remained largely unexplored.

Such is the case for the tiny weevils of the genus Trigonopterus of which only a single species had been known from the island since 1885. Nevertheless, a recent study conducted by a team of German and Indonesian scientists resulted in the discovery of a total of 103 new to science species, all identified as Trigonopterus. The beetles are described in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

“We had found hundreds of species on the neighboring islands of New Guinea, Borneo and Java – why should Sulawesi with its lush habitats remain an empty space?” asked entomologist and lead author of the study Dr Alexander Riedel, Natural History Museum Karlsruhe (Germany).

In fact, Riedel knew better. Back in 1990, during a survey of the fauna living on rainforest foliage in Central Sulawesi, he encountered the first specimens that would become the subject of the present study. Over the next years, a series of additional fieldwork, carried out in collaboration with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), managed to successfully complete the picture.

“Our survey is not yet complete and possibly we have just scratched the surface. Sulawesi is geologically complex and many areas have never been searched for these small beetles,” said Raden Pramesa Narakusumo, curator of beetles at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (MZB), Indonesian Research Center for Biology.

Dense mountain forest of Central Sulawesi, where some of the new species have been found. Image by Alexander Riedel.

 

Why have all these beetles remained overlooked for so long?

Unlike the all-time favourite stag beetles or jewel beetles, tiny beetles that measure no more than 2-3 millimeters seem to have been attracting little interest from entomologists. Their superficial resemblance does not help identification either.

In fact, the modern taxonomic approach of DNA sequencing seems to be the only efficient method to diagnose these beetles. However, the capacity for this kind of work in Indonesia is very limited. While substantial evidence points to thousands of undescribed species roaming the forests in the region, there is only one full-time position for a beetle researcher at the only Indonesian Zoological Museum near Jakarta. Therefore, international collaboration is crucial.

103 newly discovered species of the genus Trigonopterus from Sulawesi. Image by Alexander Riedel.

103 beetle names

Coming up with as many as 103 novel names for the newly described species was not a particularly easy task for the researchers either. While some of the weevils were best associated with their localities or characteristic morphology, others received quite curious names.

A small greenish and forest-dwelling species was aptly named after the Star Wars character Yoda, while a group of three species were named after Asterix, Obelix and Idefix – the main characters in the French comics series The Adventures of Asterix. Naturally, Trigonopterus obelix is larger and more roundish than his two ‘friends’.

Other curious names include T. artemis and T. satyrus, named after two Greek mythological characters: Artemis, the goddess of hunting and nature and Satyr, a male nature spirit inhabiting remote localities.

Additionally, the names of four of the newly described beetles pay tribute to renowned biologists, including Charles Darwin (father of the Theory of Evolution), Paul D. N. Hebert (implementer of DNA barcoding as a tool in species identification) and Francis H. C. Crick and James D. Watson (discoverers of the structure of DNA).

 

Six-legged déjà vu

Back in 2016, in another weevil discovery, Dr Alexander Riedel and colleagues described four new species from New Britain (Papua New Guinea), which were also placed in the genus Trigonopterus. Similarly, no weevils of the group had been known from the island prior to that study. Interestingly, one of the novel species was given the name of Star Wars’ Chewbacca in reference to the insect’s characteristically dense scales reminiscent of Chewie’s hairiness. Again, T. chewbacca and its three relatives were described in ZooKeys.

The flightless beetle species Trigonopterus chewbacca, described as new to science in 2016. Image by Alexander Riedel.

 

On the origin of Trigonopterus weevils

Sulawesi is at the heart of Wallacea, a biogeographic transition zone between the Australian and Asian regions. The researchers assume that Trigonopterus weevils originated in Australia and New Guinea and later reached Sulawesi. In fact, it was found that only a few populations would one day diversify into more than a hundred species. A more detailed study on the rapid evolution of Sulawesi Trigonopterus is currently in preparation.

 

Future research

To help future taxonomists in their work, in addition to their monograph paper in ZooKeys, the authors have uploaded high-resolution photographs of each species along with a short scientific description to the website Species ID.

“This provides a face to the species name, and this is an important prerequisite for future studies on their evolution,” explained the researchers.

“Studies investigating such evolutionary processes depend on names and clear diagnoses of the species. These are now available, at least for the fauna of Sulawesi.”

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Original Source:

Riedel A, Narakusumo RP (2019) One hundred and three new species of Trigonopterus weevils from Sulawesi. ZooKeys 828: 1-153. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.828.32200

Citizen scientists discover pinhead-sized beetle in Borneo

The discovery is the latest in a series of newly described species collected as part of the Taxon Expeditions initiative aiming to bring biodiversity and taxonomy closer to the layperson

How many citizen scientists does it take to discover a new species? A recent expedition to the Ulu Temburong forest in Borneo proved that you only need 10 enthusiasts with no professional training, yet fueled with curiosity and passion for the outdoors, to find a new beetle the size of a pinhead in leaf litter.

The newly discovered species of leaf beetle, Clavicornaltica belalongensis Photo by Taxon Expeditions – Pierre Escoubas.

The species, named Clavicornaltica belalongensis, is a tiny, 1.25-mm-long leaf beetle that eats moss on the forest floor. Published in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal, it is the latest discovery from Taxon Expeditions, an initiative that organises scientific field trips to remote and biodiverse locations for teams of scientists and laypeople.

The Ulu Temburong forest, Borneo. Photo by Taxon Expeditions – Pierre Escoubas.

Unlike other science/adventure trips, Taxon Expeditions gives a unique opportunity for laypeople, or citizen scientists, to describe and publish new species of animals and focus on the thousands of ‘little things that run the world’. Thanks to the initiative, they learn about tropical biology techniques while participating in the process of taxonomy and the study of hidden biodiversity.

The new beetle, for example, is one of hundreds of thousands of tiny beetle species that inhabit the leaf litter of tropical forests and have remained unknown and scientifically unnamed up to our days.

In a YouTube video, Simon Berenyi, who joined the expedition along with his 14-year-old son, says: ‘I had no idea how special this would be; you become a student again – you become a child again.’

Entomologist and founder of Taxon Expeditions, Dr. Iva Njunjić explains: ‘We introduce the general public to all these tiny, beautiful, and completely unknown animals, and show them that there is a whole world still to be discovered.’

Last year, another survey in Borneo organised by Taxon Expeditions ended up with the description of a new water beetle species (Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi). Named after famous Hollywood actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. The discovery raised a real furore on the public scene, culminating in the new insect making an appearance on the profile image of the celebrity’s facebook page.

 

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Original source:

Schilthuizen M, Berenyi A, Limin A, Brahim A, Cicuzza D, Eales A, Escoubas P, Grafe U, de Groot M, Hayden W, Paterno M, Jambul R, Slik J, Ting Teck Wah D, Tucker A, Njunjić I (2019) A new species of Clavicornaltica (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), discovered and described on a field course to Kuala Belalong, Brunei. Biodiversity Data Journal 7: e32555. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.7.e32555

The first case of a Portuguese beetle living exclusively in groundwater

New to science, the species was named after Pluto, the ruler of the underworld in Greek mythology

A diving beetle demonstrating various adaptations to the life underground, including depigmentation and evolutionary loss of eyes, was discovered at the bottom of a clay pound in the cave Soprador do Carvalho, Portugal. The species turned out to be the very first in the whole order of beetles (Coleoptera) to be known exclusively from the underground waters of the country.

The Soprador do Carvalho cave (Portugal) is the type locality of the newly described species Iberoporus pluto. Photo by Ignacio Ribera.

Despite not being able to find any other specimens during their study – save for the single female, the team of Dr Ignacio Ribera, Institute of Evolutionary Biology (Spain) and Prof Ana Sofia P. S. Reboleira, University of Copenhagen (Denmark) identified the beetle as new to science, thanks to its unambiguous morphology in combination with molecular data.

Profile view of the newly described species Iberoporus pluto. Photo by Ignacio Ribera.

Aptly named Iberoporus pluto in reference to the ruler of the underworld in Greek mythology Pluto, the species was recently described in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

With a uniformly pale orange body measuring 2.8 mm in length and 1.1 mm in its widest part, the beetle is larger than the rest species known in its genus, and its appendages are longer and more slender. While blindness and depigmentation are clear adaptation to life away from sunlight, the elongated limbs and antennae reflect poor swimming abilities needed in a subterranean habitat. Going for 4 km in horizontal direction, Soprador do Carvalho is the largest in the Dueça cave system, located in the north-eastern part of the Sicó karst area in central Portugal. In recent years, the cave is being explored for tourism.

“The knowledge of the subterranean fauna from Portugal has significantly increased over the last decade, with the description of a high number of obligate subterranean species (tripling their number) and the establishment of new biogeographic patterns,” explain the authors of the study. “A high number of these species are stygobiont (i.e. confined to groundwater), mostly from wells in the north of the country, where evapotranspiration is higher.”

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Original source:

Ribera I, Reboleira ASPS (2019) The first stygobiont species of Coleoptera from Portugal, with a molecular phylogeny of the Siettitia group of genera (Dytiscidae, Hydroporinae, Hydroporini, Siettitiina). ZooKeys 813: 21-38. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.813.29765

Advanced computer technology & software turn species identification interactive

Important group of biocontrol wasps from Central Europe are used to demonstrate the perks and advantages of modern, free-to-use software

Representing a group of successful biocontrol agents for various pest fruit flies, a parasitic wasp genus remains largely overlooked. While its most recent identification key dates back to 1969, many new species have been added since then. As if to make matters worse, this group of visually identical species most likely contains many species yet to be described as new to science.

Having recently studied a species group of these wasps in Central Europe, scientists Fabian Klimmek and Hannes Baur of the Natural History Museum Bern, Switzerland, not only demonstrate the need for a knowledge update, but also showcase the advantages of modern taxonomic software able to analyse large amounts of descriptive and quantitative data.

Published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal, the team’s taxonomic paper describes a new species – Pteromalus capito – and presents a discussion on the free-to-use Xper3, developed by the Laboratory of Informatics and Systematics of Pierre-and-Marie-Curie University. The software was used to create an openly available updated key for the species group Pteromalus albipennis.

The fully illustrated interactive database covers 27 species in the group and 18 related species, in addition to a complete diagnosis, a large set of body measurements and a total of 585 images, displaying most of the characteristic features for each species.

“Nowadays, advanced computer technology, measurement procedures and equipment allow more sophisticated ways to include quantitative characters, which greatly enhance the delimitation of cryptic species,” explain the scientists.

“Recently developed software for the creation of biological identification keys like Xper3, Lucid or Delta could have the potential to replace traditional paper-based keys.”

To put the statement into context, the authors give an example with one of the studied wasp species, whose identification would take 16 steps if the previously available identification key were used, whereas only 6 steps were needed with the interactive alternative.

One of the reasons tools like Xper3 are so fast and efficient is that the key’s author can list all descriptive characters in a specific order and give them different weight in species delimitation. Thus, whenever an entomologist tries to identify a wasp specimen, the software will first run a check against the descriptors at the top, so that it can exclude non-matching taxons and provide a list of the remaining names. Whenever multiple names remain, a check further down the list is performed, until there is a single one left, which ought to be the one corresponding to the specimen. At any point, the researcher can access the chronology, in order to check for any potential mismatches without interrupting the process.

Being the product of digitally available software, interactive identification keys are not only easy, quick and inexpensive to publish, but they are also simple to edit and build on in a collaborative manner. Experts from all around the world could update the key, as long as the author grants them specific user rights. However, regardless of how many times the database is updated, a permanent URL link will continue to provide access to the latest version at all times.

To future-proof their key and its underlying data, the scientists have deposited all raw data files, R-scripts, photographs, files listing and prepared specimens at the research data Zenodo, created by OpenAIRE and CERN.

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Original source:

Klimmek F, Baur H (2018) An interactive key to Central European species of the Pteromalus albipennis species group and other species of the genus (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea: Pteromalidae), with the description of a new species. Biodiversity Data Journal 6: e27722. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.6.e27722

Large-sized fossilised lacewings prove remarkable species diversity during Middle Jurassic

Middle Jurassic has always been considered as a mysterious ancient period full of ‘magical’ dinosaurs, pterosaurs and plants. However, when we think about the Jurassic landscape, we should take insects into consideration as well.

The lacewings, for example, are a graceful group famous for the lovely net-like veins on their wings, beautiful enough to stand the test of time, preserved as fossils. In addition, the wing spots on their wings form various patterns, which serve to tell us more about their adaptation to the particular environment.

Having carefully studied several pieces of compressed fossils of the large and distinct insects they found in Dohugou village, Inner Mongolia, Chinese scientists Hui Fang, Dong Ren, Jiaxi Liu and Yongjie Wang, College of Life Science, Capital Normal University, Beijing, discovered two species new to science.

Due to their complex, one-of-a-kind wing venations, all three of them were placed in the same genus (Laccosmylus) in the family Saucrosmylidae. Their descriptions, along with the redescription of another previously known species, are published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

“Fossil lacewing insects are much more abundant compared to living ones,” comment the authors.

“These large-sized fossil lacewing species reflect a high lacewing diversity in Middle Jurassic. Soon, they will help us reconstruct the wonderful environment of the Jurassic world.”

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Original source:

Fang H, Ren D, Liu J, Wang Y (2018) Revision of the lacewing genus Laccosmylus with two new species from the Middle Jurassic of China (Insecta, Neuroptera, Saucrosmylidae). ZooKeys 790: 115-126. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.790.28286