A Red List of insect experts in Europe

New EC-funded project will identify trends in taxonomic expertise across Europe to identify gaps in expert knowledge

Europe’s largest bumblebee, Bombus fragrans, is currently assessed as an Endangered species.
Illustration by Denitza Peneva.

Insects are the largest taxonomic group in the animal kingdom. Three out of four described animal species belong to the class Insecta. They are widely distributed in terrestrial and aquatic environments. Indispensable to the ecosystem, insects drive key processes such as pollination, decomposition, soil formation and supply an essential part of the food webs.

Yet, insect populations have been catastrophically plummeting. For example, recent studies have shown a decrease of 75% of insect biomass in German Nature Reserves in less than 30 years, and the situation is probably no less dramatic anywhere in Europe. According to the European Red List of threatened species, one in ten bee species and a quarter of all grasshopper species are at risk of extinction. As it becomes clear how dependent on insects our ecosystems and our economy are, people gradually realise the dramatic consequences of insect decline.

One less known aspect of this global crisis is on the agenda today: the shrinking number of insect taxonomists, the scientists on whose highly specialised skills we depend to obtain knowledge on the diversity of organisms. Without taxonomists, no study of species or ecosystems would be possible, as we would not be able to recognise what biodiversity we are losing.

Here is why the European Commission has funded a new project to embark on the pioneer task to assess the status of taxonomic expertise on insects in Europe. A “Red List” of taxonomists will be compiled for the first time for any group of organisms. The effort is being undertaken by a diverse and interdisciplinary team of experts, including the organisation uniting the most important and largest European natural science collections (CETAF) and the world’s authority on assessing the risk of extinction of organisms: IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature).

As with typical European Red List (ERL) assessments, normally applied to species level, the project involves the collection and evaluation of the available information about the number, location, qualification and field of specialisation of insect taxonomists and the application of systematic criteria to assess the risk of their “extinction”. This concept has never been applied to scientists before, but by using the ERL analogy, the project aims to combine those groups of insects and those countries that bear the highest risk of losing the associated taxonomic expertise and potential gaps.

Bringing together individual scientists, research institutions and learned societies from across Europe, the project will compare the trends and pull up recommendations to overcoming the risks, preserving and further evolving the expert capacity of this scientific community. Unlike species extinctions, the loss of taxonomic knowledge is reversible, especially when the needs are clear and the necessary resources are invested in education, training, career development and recognition.

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Additional information:

CETAF is the European organization of Natural History Museums, Botanic Gardens and Research Centers with their associated natural science collections comprising 71 of the largest taxonomic institutions from 22 European countries (18 EU, 1 EEA and 3 non-EU), gathering expertise of more than 5,000 researchers. Their collections contain a wide range of specimens including animals, plants, fungi and rocks, and genetic resources which are used for scientific research and exhibitions. CETAF aims to promote training, research collaborations and understanding in taxonomy and systematic biology as well as to facilitate access to our natural heritage by sharing the information derived from the collections.

IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organisations. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its more than 1,400 Member organisations and the input of more than 17,000 experts. This diversity and vast expertise makes IUCN the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.

Pensoft is an independent academic publishing company and technology provider, well known worldwide for its novel cutting-edge publishing tools, workflows and methods for text and data publishing of journals, books and conference materials. Through its Research and Technical Development department, the company is involved in various research and technology projects. Founded in 1992 “by scientists, for scientists” and initially focusing on book publishing, Pensoft is now a leading publisher of innovative open access journals in taxonomy and biodiversity science.

A new Critically Endangered frog named after “the man from the floodplain full of frogs”

A new species of a Critically Endangered miniaturised stump-toed frog of the genus Stumpffia found in Madagascar is named Stumpffia froschaueri after “the man from the floodplain full of frogs”, Christoph Froschauer. The namesake of the new frog is famous for being the first, and European-wide renowned, printer from Zürich, famous for printing “Historia animalium” and the “Zürich Bible”. The finding is published in the peer-reviewed open-access journal Zookeys.

A new species proposed to be classified as Critically Endangered of miniaturised stump-toed frog of the genus Stumpffia, found in Madagascar, is named Stumpffia froschaueri after “the man from the floodplain full of frogs”, Christoph Froschauer. The namesake of the new frog is famous for being the first, and European wide renowned, printer from Zürich, famous for printing Historia animalium and the “Zürich Bible”

Christoph Froschauer’s (ca. 1490 – April 1564) family name means “the man from the floodplain full of frogs”, and the printer used to sign his books with a woodcut, showing frogs under a tree in a landscape. Amongst his publications are works by Zwingli, Bullinger, Gessner, Erasmus von Rotterdam and Luther, and as a gift for his art, the printer was given citizenship in Zürich in 1519. Now, scientists have also honoured Froschauer’s great contributions by naming a new frog species after him.

The discovery, made by an international team of scientists from CIBIO (Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources) of the University of Porto, Zoological Society of London, University of Lisbon, University of Brighton, University of Bristol, University of Antananarivo and Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali, is published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal Zookeys.

The new species is reliably known only from a few specimens collected in three forest patches of the Sahamalaza region, an area severely threatened by fire, drought and high levels of forest clearance.

“In Anketsakely and Ankarafa this species has been found only in areas with relatively undisturbed forest, and active individuals were found during the day within the leaf-litter on the forest floor, where discreet calling males were also detected”,

shares lead author Dr. Angelica Crottini from CIBIO.

Even though two out of the three forest patches where Stumpffia froschaueri occurs are now part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, there is a lack in forest border patrols and the area remains under strong pressure from slash-and-burn activities and timber harvesting. Habitat loss and fragmentation are likely to represent a huge threat to the species’ survival and cause population declines, unless remedial actions to enforce the protection of these habitats are taken. The scientists suggest to classify Stumpffia froschaueri as a Critically Endangered species according to criteria of the IUCN Red List.

Life colouration of Stumpffia froschaueri sp. nov., dorsolateral view of paratype ZSM 167/2019 (ACZCV 0968) from Ankarafa Forest
Credit: Gonçalo M. Rosa
License: CC-BY 4.0

“We here reiterate the need to continue with field survey activities, giving particular attention to small and marginal areas, where several microendemic candidate species are likely waiting to be discovered and formally described. This description confirms the Sahamalaza Peninsula as an important hotspot of amphibian diversity, with several threatened species relying almost entirely on the persistence of these residual forest fragments”,

concludes Dr. Crottini.
Life colouration of Stumpffia froschaueri sp. nov., dorsolateral view of paratype ZSM 166/2019 (ACZCV 0939) from Ankarafa Forest
Credit: Gonçalo M. Rosa
License: CC-BY 4.0

Contact:
Dr. Angelica Crottini 
Email: tiliquait@yahoo.it 

Original source:
Crottini A, Rosa GM, Penny SG, Cocca W, Holderied MW, Rakotozafy LMS, Andreone F (2020) A new stump-toed frog from the transitional forests of NW Madagascar (Anura, Microhylidae, Cophylinae, Stumpffia). ZooKeys 933: 139-164. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.933.47619

Conservation hopes up for the endangered banana frog restricted to Southwest Ethiopia

As the natural forest cover in Ethiopia is already less than 3% of what it once has been, the banana frog species, dwelling exclusively in the remnants of the country’s southwestern forests in only two populations, is exposed to a great risk of extinction.

Through their survey, a research team, led by Matthias De Beenhouwer, Biodiversity Inventory for Nature Conservation (BINCO), Belgium, have now extended the species’ range, thus making the first steps to saving the charming frogs. The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Although Ethiopia is known for its high number of both animal and plant species that do not live anywhere else in the world, there is a concerning lack of conservation activities to preserve the local biodiversity. Moreover, while as much as 41% of the amphibians ever recorded in the country are exclusive for its fauna, there have been only few researches. Without such, pointing the hotspots in greatest need of protection and restoration, as well as taking adequate measures subsequently, is impossible.

7114_banana frog blog img3

Concerned about the endangered status of the banana frog, and supported with a Rufford grant, Matthias and his team spent ten evenings, or 111 hours, in August 2014, seeking and collecting as many frogs as possible from seven different locations. When they determined the species status of the found individuals, it turned out that they have managed to discover several new populations of banana frogs from unexpected localities.

As a result of their survey, the geographical range of the Ethiopian banana frog has been expanded by roughly 40 km towards the North and 70 km to the East. Its altitudinal distribution already reaches a maximum of 2030 metres above sea level, compared to the previously known maximum of 1800 m.

Banana frogs being identified from outside forest habitats is also a good news for the species’ preservation since it shows that not only are the frogs more tolerable against forest degradation than expected, but that also there could be even more populations.

“Although Southwest Ethiopia is known to harbour the last large tracts of natural forest, forest cover has declined dramatically to less than 3% nationwide,” point out the researchers. “Therefore, accurate information on species conservation and distribution is an essential first step to facilitate the delivery of conservation updates, recognize biodiversity hotspots and encourage habitat protection and restoration.”

7114_banana frog pr img2

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Original source:

Mertens J, Jocqué M, Geeraert L, De Beenhouwer M (2016) Newly discovered populations of the Ethiopian endemic and endangered Afrixalus clarkei Largen, implications for conservation.ZooKeys 565: 141-146.doi: 10.3897/zookeys.565.7114