A new species of spiny mouse has been discovered in Ecuador, making it the 14th of its genus to be identified in the past five years. Neacomys marci, which was previously confused with another species, is around the length of a tennis ball, with a long tail, pale suede belly fur and a white throat.
Discovered in the Chocó biogeographic region in northwestern Ecuador, it is the 24th formally recognised species in its genus, which has seen significant upheaval in recent years.
Neacomys is a widely distributed genus of small spiny or bristly rodents that occupy habitats in eastern Panama and the northern half of South America. Since 2017, studies of the genus have been remarkably dynamic, resulting in the description of several new species.
However, as there are still many unexplored areas in South America and adjacent Central America (Panama), some of the currently recognised species have not been studied thoroughly, and the true diversity of the genus may be underestimated.
The Chocó biogeographic region is considered one of the most diverse biodiversity hotspots in South America, but one of the least studied despite its great size (along the Pacific coasts of Panama, Colombia and Ecuador). The rainforests of northwestern Ecuador have high biodiversity and endemism due to the influence of the Chocó and the Andes Mountains.
Major reviews of museum collections and increased field collection efforts have helped scientists understand Neacomys marci and other species. Molecular analysis is also being used to assist with more accurate animal group identification.
The new species was named after Marc Hoogeslag of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, who was co-founder and leader of the International Union for Conservation of Nature – Netherlands Land Acquisition Fund, which helps local groups around the world establish new ecological reserves and conserve endangered species. The EcoMinga Foundation‘s Manduriacu Reserve, home to this new species, is one of many reserves that have benefited from Hoogeslag’s program.
Tinoco N, Koch C, Colmenares-Pinzón JE, Castellanos FX, Brito J (2023) New species of the Spiny Mouse genus Neacomys (Cricetidae, Sigmodontinae) from northwestern Ecuador. ZooKeys 1175: 187-221. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1175.106113
Further conservation measures are required to protect Vietnamese reptiles, such as the psychedelic rock gecko (Cnemaspis psychedelica), from habitat loss and overharvesting, concludes a new report, published in the open-access scientific journalNature Conservation.
Having identified areas of high reptile diversity and large numbers of endangered species, the study provides a list of the 50 most threatened species as a guide for further research and conservation action in Vietnam.
The study, based on the bachelor thesis of Lilli Stenger (University of Cologne, Germany), recommends IUCN CPSG’s One Plan Approach to Conservation measures, which, next to improved habitat conservation, also involves increasing the number of threatened species in breeding stations and zoos to maintain populations suitable for restocking.
The scientists identified 484 reptile species known to Vietnam, aiming to provide a baseline to authorities, conservationists, rescue centers, and zoos, so they can follow up with appropriate conservation measures for endangered species. They note that the number is likely to go up, as the country is regarded as a top biodiversity hotspot, and the rate of new reptile species discoveries remains high.
According to the IUCN Red List, 74 of the identified species are considered threatened with extinction, including 34 endemic species. For more than half of Vietnam’s endemic reptiles (85 of 159), the IUCN Red List status is either missing or outdated, and further research is imperative for these species, the researchers say.
Vietnam has a high level of reptile diversity and an outstanding number of endemic species. The species richness maps in the study revealed the Central Annamites in central Vietnam to harbor the highest endemic species diversity (32 species), which highlights it as a site of particular importance for reptile conservation. Alarmingly, a protected area analysis showed that 53 of the 159 endemic species (33.2%) including 17 threatened species, have been recorded exclusively from unprotected areas, such as the Psychedelic Rock Gecko.
In General, Vietnam is considered a country with high conservation priority due to habitat loss and overharvesting for trade, traditional medicine and food.
Globally, reptiles are considered a group of special conservation concern, as they play an important role in almost all ecosystems and often have relatively small distribution ranges, making them especially vulnerable to human threats.
Stenger L, Große Hovest A, Nguyen TQ, Pham CT, Rauhaus A, Le MD, Rödder D, Ziegler T (2023) Assessment of the threat status of reptile species from Vietnam – Implementation of the One Plan Approach to Conservation. Nature Conservation 53: 183 221. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.53.106923
Contributors will enable the EU to take action to plug in the essential scientific knowledge to address insect declines
The ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ initiative, funded by the European Union, launches its registration portal, where professionals and citizen scientists are called to register on. The purpose is to build a database of European taxonomy experts in the field of entomology, the biological discipline dedicated to insects. The analysis of these data will elucidate the trends in available expertise, thereby forming the basis of key recommendations for policy makers to further allocate necessary efforts and funds to support taxonomists’ work and contribute to protecting European biodiversity and beyond.
Globally, insect populations have been catastrophically plummeting over the last decades. According to the first major Europe-wide survey of honeybee colonies, conducted in 2013, some European countries lost as many as one-third of their colonies every winter. On the other hand, estimates state, the European agriculture industry alone ‘owes’ at least €22 billion per year to honey bees and wild bees, in addition to many species from other insect orders, as together they ensure pollination for over 80% of crops and wild plants in Europe.
The health of European pollinators on species and population level and other insects essential in our ecosystems strongly relies on our ability to rapidly turn the growing awareness about these worrying trends into swift, decisive actions. These decisions are crucial to mitigate the negative impacts of these alarming trends in human activities, mainly industrial agriculture. Taxonomists – the people who can identify, discover and monitor insect species – have a decisive role to play.
Often specialised in specific insect groups, they can investigate the diversity and abundance of insects. To a great concern, the numbers of trained insect taxonomists seem also to be fast declining. There is the real danger of losing numerous species before we get the chance to even learn about their existence!
On a more positive note, while species extinction is an irreversible event, certain taxonomic expertise can be nourished and ‘brought back to life’ if only we have the data and analyses to bring to the attention of the relevant education institutions, governments and policy-makers, so that the necessary resources are allocated to education, training, career support and recognition.
This is how the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ project, an initiative by the organisation uniting the most important and largest European natural science collections (CETAF), the world’s authority on assessing the risk of extinction of organisms: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the scientific publisher with a long history in the biodiversity and ecology fields: Pensoft, and funded by the European Commission, comes into play. Launched earlier this year, the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ aims to compile the very first inventory of taxonomic expertise for any group of organisms, understandably choosing the class of insects.
Bringing together scientists, research institutions and learned societies from across Europe, the project will compare the trends and extract recommendations to overcome the risks, while preserving and further evolving the expert capacity of this scientific community.
As partners of the project, CETAF and IUCN are mobilising experts from their respective networks to populate the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ database. In parallel, Pensoft is extracting further data of authors, reviewers and editors from taxonomic publications across its portfolio of academic journals and books, in addition to major relevant databases working with scholarly literature.
To reach experts, including professionals not necessarily affiliated with partnering institutions, as well as citizen scientists, the team is now calling for European taxonomists to register via the newly launched ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ portal and provide their data by filling a short survey. Their data will not be publicly available, but it will be used for in-depth analyses and reports in the concluding stage of the project, scheduled for early 2022. The collection of the data is in full compliance with GDPR requirements.
Insect taxonomists, both professional and citizen scientists, are welcome to register on the Red List of Taxonomists portal at: red-list-taxonomists.eu and further disseminate the registration portal to fellow taxonomists.
New EC-funded project will identify trends in taxonomic expertise across Europe to identify gaps in expert knowledge
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.
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.
Last year, the 18th International Congress of Myriapodology brought together 92 of the world’s top experts on the curious, yet still largely unknown multi-legged centipedes, millipedes, pauropods, symphylans (collectively referred to as myriapods) and velvet worms (onychophorans).
Held between 25th and 31st August 2019 at the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest and co-organised by the Hungarian Biological Society, the biennial event saw the announcement of the latest findings related to the diversity, distribution and biology of these creatures. Now, the public gets the chance to learn about a good part of the research presented there on the pages of the open-access scholarly journal ZooKeys.
Amongst the published research outputs worth mentioning is the comparison between regional and global Red Listings of Threatened Species that worryingly identifies a missing overlap between the myriapod species included in the global IUCN Red List and the regional ones. This first-of-its-kind overview of the current conservation statuses of myriapods from around the world highlights the lack of dedicated funding for the conservation of hundreds of threatened myriapods. As a result, the scientists behind the study urge for the establishment of a Myriapoda Specialist Group in the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN.
Amongst the rest of the papers is the curious discovery of two Tasmanian species of flat-backed millipedes of the genus Tasmaniosoma whose neighbouring populations have seemingly come to their own terms to keep distance between each other, save for a little stretch of land, for no obvious reason. Not a single site where both species occur together was found by Dr Bob Mesibov, the millipede expert behind the study. How is the parapatric boundary maintained? How, when and where did the parapatry originate? These are the big mysteries that the already retired Australian scientist leaves for his successors to resolve.
The endemic reptiles are already proposed to be listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
While proper information about the conservation status of tiger gecko species is largely missing, these Asian lizards are already particularly vulnerable to extinction, as most of them have extremely restricted distribution. Furthermore, they have been facing severe declines over the last two decades, mostly due to overcollection for the international exotic pet market. Such is the case of the Cat Ba Tiger Gecko, whose tiny populations can only be found on Cat Ba Island and a few islands in the Ha Long Bay (Vietnam).
In their study, a Vietnamese-German research team, led by PhD candidate Hai Ngoc Ngo of the Vietnam National Museum of Nature in Hanoi, provide an overview of the evidence for domestic and international trade in tiger gecko species and update the information about the abundance and threats impacting the subpopulations of the Vietnamese Cat Ba Tiger Gecko in Ha Long Bay.
By presenting both direct and online observations, interviews and existing knowledge, the scientists point out that strict conservation measures and regulations are urgently needed for the protection and monitoring of all tiger geckos. The research article is published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.
Tiger geckos are a genus (Goniurosaurus) of 19 species native to Vietnam, China and Japan. Many of them can only be found within a single locality, mountain range or archipelago. They live in small, disjunct populations, where the population from Ha Long Bay is estimated at about 120 individuals. Due to demands in the international pet trade in the last two decades, as well as habitat destruction, some species are already considered extinct at the localities where they had originally been discovered.
However, it was not until very recently that some species of these geckos received attention from the regulatory institutions in their home countries, leading to the prohibition of their collection without a permit. Only eight tiger geckos have so far had their species conservation status assessed for the IUCN Red List. Not surprisingly, all of them were classified as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Nevertheless, none is currently listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which could be the only efficient and reliable method to monitor, regulate and police the trade of the species on a global scale.
“Tiger geckos are neither sufficiently protected by law nor part of conservation programmes, due to the lack of substantial knowledge on the species conservation status and probably due to the general lack of public as well as political interest in biodiversity conservation,” they explain. “To date, exact impacts of trade on the species cannot be identified, as data of legal trade are only recorded for species listed in the CITES Appendices”.
During their survey, the researchers tracked local traders in possession of wild-caught tiger geckos representing all five Vietnamese species en route to foreign exotic pet markets, mainly in the United States, the European Union and Japan. The species were also frequently found to be sold in local pet shops in Vietnam, as well as being offered via various online platforms and social media networks like Facebook.
Having spoken to local dealers in Vietnam, the team found the animals were traded via long and complex chains, beginning from local villagers living within the species’ distribution range, who catch the geckos and sell them to dealers for as little as US$4 – 5 per individual. Then, a lizard either ends up at a local shop with a US$7 – 25 price tag or is either transported by boat or by train to Thailand or Indonesia, from where it is flown to the major overseas markets and sold for anywhere between US$100 and 2,000, depending on its rarity. However, many of these delicate wild animals do not arrive alive at their final destination, as their travels include lengthy trips in overfilled boxes under poor conditions with no food and water.
Indeed, although the researchers reported a large quantity of tiger geckos labelled as captive-bred in Europe, it turns out that their availability is far from enough to meet the current demands.
In conclusion, the team provides a list of several recommendations intended to improve the conservation of the Asian geckos: (1) inclusion of all tiger geckos in the Appendices of CITES; (2) assessment of each species for the IUCN Red List; (3) concealment of any currently unknown localities; and (4) improvement/establishment of coordinated ex-situ breeding programmes for all species.
The inclusion of all tiger gecko species from China and Vietnam in CITES Appendix II was recently proposed jointly by the European Union, China and Vietnam and is to be decided upon at the Conference of the parties (CoP18) in May-June 2019, held in Sri Lanka.
Ngo HN, Nguyen TQ, Phan TQ, van Schingen M, Ziegler T (2019) A case study on trade in threatened Tiger Geckos (Goniurosaurus) in Vietnam including updated information on the abundance of the Endangered G. catbaensis. Nature Conservation 33: 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.32.33590
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.”
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.
Inspired by the negative results in the recently published largest-scale analysis of the relation between population density and positions in geographic ranges and environmental niches, Drs Jorge Soberon and Andrew Townsend Peterson of the University of Kansas, USA, teamed up with Luis Osorio-Olvera, National University of Mexico (UNAM), and identified several issues in the methodology used, able to turn the tables in the ongoing debate. Their findings are published in the innovative open access journal Rethinking Ecology.
Both empirical work and theoretical arguments published and cited over the last several years suggest that if someone was to take the distributional range of a species – be it animal or plant – and draw lines starting at the edges of the space inwards, they would find the species’ populations densest at the intersection of those lines. However, when the team of Tad Dallas, University of Helsinki, Finland, analysed a large dataset of 118,000 populations, equating to over 1,400 species of birds, mammals, and trees, they found no such relationship.
Having analysed the analysis, the American-Mexican team concluded that despite being based on an unprecedented volume of data, the earlier study was missing out some important points.
Firstly, the largest dataset used by Tad and his team comprises observational data which had not required a certain sampling protocol or a plan. Without any standard in use, it is easy to imagine that the observations would be predominantly coming from people around and near cities, hence strongly biased.
Additionally, the scientists note that the analysis largely disregards parts of species’ geographic distributions for which there were no abundant data. As a result, the range of a species could be narrowed down significantly and its centroid – misplaced. Meanwhile, the population would appear denser on what appears to be the periphery of the area.
Further, a closer look into the supplementary materials provided revealed that the precision of the population-density data was not scalable with the climate data. As a result, it is likely that multiple abundance data falls within a single climate pixel.
In conclusion, the authors note that in order to comprehensively study the abundance of a species’ populations, one needs to take into consideration a number of factors lying beyond the scope of either of the papers, including human impact.
“We suggest that this important question remains far from settled,” they say.
With as many as 140 species, Atractus is the most diverse snake genus in the world, even though it can be found exclusively in Central and South America. However, these colubrid ground snakes seem largely under-researched, since there have been thirty-three species discovered in the last ten years only.
As concluded by a team of scientists, led by Alejandro Arteaga, Tropical Herping, Ecuador, this is the result of a lack of DNA information in the original descriptions of many of these species. Consequently, there have been a lot of specimens sitting in museum collection that remain either misidentified, or anonymous.
To address the issue around the problematic identification of these snakes and their correct placement in the tree of life, the scientists have studied the hereditary molecular differences in the genus using both newly collected specimens, as well as previous publications on the species occurring in the Pacific lowlands and the adjacent Andean slopes.
Their research results in a new paper, published in the open access journal ZooKeys, which describes a total of three new species from Ecuador. The authors also propose a new species group and a redefinition of a previously established one.
Interestingly, one of the new species is to be referred to as Cerberus Groundsnake, while in the books it will appear under Atractus cerberus. It is predominantly brown in colour with faint black longitudinal bands, and measures about 21 – 31 cm in length. The biologists justify the curious name of this species with the peculiar location where they spotted the first known specimen. Found at the gates of the newly formed “Refinería del Pacífico”, a massive industrial oil-processing plant, the authors were quick to recall the multi-headed monstrous dog Cerberus, known to be guarding the gates of the underworld, according to Greek mythology.
In terms of their conservation status, the scientists have proposed the Cerberus Groundsnake to be listed as Critically Endangered, according to the IUCN criteria, since its single known habitat is highly likely to be the only one, being isolated from any other similar habitats. Moreover, it comprises a relatively small patch of land, which in turn is declining in both size and quality due to deforestation. According to the IUCN criteria, a Critically Endangered status is given to a (group of) species whenever the best available evidence indicates that it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
The other two new species, the Indistinct (Atractus esepe) and the Pyron’s (Atractus pyroni) ground snakes are to be listed as Data Deficient as the information about them is currently insufficient for their risk of extinction to be assessed.
Having increased the number of Atractus species in Ecuador to twenty-seven, the authors expect that the count is yet to rise. “We hope that the novel genetic and morphological data provided herein will promote future researchers to examine species boundaries in Atractus, as additional work clearly is waiting,” they add.
Arteaga A, Mebert K, Valencia JH, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Peñafiel N, Reyes-Puig C, Vieira-Fernandes JL, Guayasamin JM (2017) Molecular phylogeny of Atractus (Serpentes, Dipsadidae), with emphasis on Ecuadorian species and the description of three new taxa. ZooKeys 661: 91-123. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.661.11224
The rattan palm is confined to moist evergreen forests with high rainfall, located at 100 to 200 meters above sea level. The species is poorly known, yet it is likely very rare judging from the limited amount of forest habitat remaining across its range. Furthermore, the known populations are isolated from each other by large distances, which makes them particularly vulnerable.
Even though there are gaps of knowledge concerning the rattan palm species, the research team conclude that it is most likely currently declining, due to habitat loss, fragmentation and over-harvesting. Often mistaken for a sister species, commonly used in trade, the stems of the endangered species are largely used in furniture production. When longitudinally split into ribbons, the canes are also used as ropes for thatching, for making baskets and sieves, and to make traps.
“As with most African rattan species, there is inadequate information on the international trade, but it is likely to be negligible,” explain the scientists.
“Conservation measures are urgently needed to protect the habitat of this species and to control the unsustainable harvest of the stems. A promising solution might be sustainable cultivation of rattans to avoid the exploitation of wild populations,” suggests Ariane Cosiaux (IRD), the lead author of the study currently based in Cameroon.
With their present paper, the authors make use of a specialised novel publication type feature, called Species Conservation Profile, created by Biodiversity Data Journal, to provide scholarly credit and citation for the IUCN Red List species page, as well as pinpoint the population trends and the reasons behind them.
Cosiaux A, Gardiner L, Ouattara D, Stauffer F, Sonké B, Couvreur T (2017) An endangered West African rattan palm: Eremospatha dransfieldii. Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e11176. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e11176