Integration of Freshwater Biodiversity Information for Decision-Making in Rwanda

Teams from Ghana, Malawi, Namibia and Rwanda during the inception meeting of the African Biodiversity Challenge Project in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo by Yvette Umurungi.

The establishment and implementation of a long-term strategy for freshwater biodiversity data mobilisation, sharing, processing and reporting in Rwanda is to support environment monitoring and the implementation of Rwanda’s National Biodiversity Strategy (NBSAP). In addition, it is to also help us understand how economic transformation and environmental change is affecting freshwater biodiversity and its resulting ecosystem services.

As part of this strategy, the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management (CoEB) at the University of Rwanda, jointly with the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) and the Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS), are implementing the African Biodiversity Challenge (ABC) project “Integration of Freshwater Biodiversity Information for Decision-Making in Rwanda.”

The conference abstract for this project has been published in the open access journal Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS). 

The CoEB has a national mandate to lead on biodiversity data mobilisation and implementation of the NBSAP in collaboration with REMA. This includes digitising data from reports, conducting analyses and reporting for policy and research, as indicated in Rwanda’s NBSAP.

The collation of the data will follow the international standards and will be available online, so that they can be accessed and reused from around the world. In fact, CoEB aspires to become a Global Biodiversity Informatics Facility (GBIF) node, thereby strengthening its capacity for biodiversity data mobilisation.

Data use training for the African Biodiversity Challenges at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), South Africa. Photo by Yvette Umurungi.

The mobilised data will be organised using GBIF standards, and the project will leverage the tools developed by GBIF to facilitate data publication. Additionally, it will also provide an opportunity for ARCOS to strengthen its collaboration with CoEB as part of its endeavor to establish a regional network for biodiversity data management in the Albertine Rift Region.

The project is expected to conclude with at least six datasets, which will be published through the ARCOS Biodiversity Information System. These are to include three datasets for the Kagera River Basin; one on freshwater macro-invertebrates from the Congo and Nile Basins; one for the Rwanda Development Board archive of research reports from protected areas; and one from thesis reports from master’s and bachelor’s students at the University of Rwanda.

The project will also produce and release the first “Rwandan State of Freshwater Biodiversity”, a document which will describe the status of biodiversity in freshwater ecosystems in Rwanda and present socio-economic conditions affecting human interactions with this biodiversity.

The page of Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management (CoEB) at University of Rwanda on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility portal. Image by Yvette Umurungi.

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The ABC project is a competition coordinated by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation. The competition is part of the JRS-funded project, “Mobilising Policy and Decision-making Relevant Biodiversity Data,” and supports the Biodiversity Information Management activities of the GBIF Africa network.

 

Original source:

Umurungi Y, Kanyamibwa S, Gashakamba F, Kaplin B (2018) African Biodiversity Challenge: Integrating Freshwater Biodiversity Information to Guide Informed Decision-Making in Rwanda. Biodiversity Information Science and Standards 2: e26367. https://doi.org/10.3897/biss.2.26367

Citizen scientists discover a new water beetle and name it after Leonardo DiCaprio

New animal species are sometimes named after celebrities because of their trademark looks. That’s how we got the blonde-haired Donald Trump moth and the big-armed Arnold Schwarzenegger fly, to name a few. However, some well-known people are enshrined in animal names not for their looks, but rather for what they do for the environment.

This is exactly how a newly discovered water beetle, described in the open access journal ZooKeys, was given the name of Hollywood actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. The tribute marks the 20th anniversary of the celebrity’s Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) and its efforts towards biodiversity preservation.

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has become one of the world’s foremost wildlife charities, having contributed to over 200 grassroots projects around the globe devoted to climate change mitigation, wildlife conservation, and habitat preservation.

“We can all have an impact,” says DiCaprio in a special LDF video, “but we have to work together to protect our only home.”

Leo DiCaprio beetleGoing by the scientific name of Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi, the new water beetle was discovered at a waterfall in the remote Maliau Basin, Malaysian Borneo, during the first field trip initiated by Taxon Expeditions – an organisation which arranges scientific surveys for untrained laypeople with the aim to discover previously unknown species and bridge the gap in biodiversity knowledge.

Having identified a total of three water beetle species new to science, the expedition participants and the local staff of the Maliau Basin Studies Centre voted to name one of them after DiCaprio in honour of his efforts to protect untouched, unexplored wildernesses just like Maliau Basin itself.

“Tiny and black, this new beetle may not win any Oscars for charisma, but in biodiversity conservation, every creature counts,” said Taxon Expeditions’ founder and entomologist Dr. Iva Njunjic.

Maliau Basin Aerial - Photo by Sylvia Yorath

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Original source:

Freitag H, Pangantihon CV, Njunjic I (2018) Three new species of Grouvellinus Champion, 1923 from Maliau Basin, Sabah, Borneo, discovered by citizen scientists during the first Taxon Expedition (Insecta, Coleoptera, Elmidae). ZooKeys 754: 1-21. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.754.24276

Pensoft journals integrated with Catalogue of Life to help list the species of the world

While not every taxonomic study is conducted with a nature conservation idea in mind, most ecological initiatives need to be backed by exhaustive taxonomic research. There simply isn’t a way to assess a species’ distributional range, migratory patterns or ecological trends without knowing what this species actually is and where it is coming from.

In order to facilitate taxonomic and other studies, and lay the foundations for effective biodiversity conservation in a time where habitat loss and species extinction are already part of our everyday life, the global organisation Catalogue of Life (CoL) works together with major programmes, including GBIFEncyclopedia of Life and the IUCN Red List, to collate the names of all species on the planet set in the context of a taxonomic hierarchy and their distribution.

Recently, the scholarly publisher and technological provider Pensoft has implemented a new integration with CoL, so that it joins in the effort to encourage authors publishing global taxonomic review in any of the publisher’s journals to upload their taxonomic contributions to the database.

Whenever authors submit a manuscript containing a world revision or checklist of a taxon to a Pensoft journal, they are offered the possibility to upload their datasets in CoL-compliant format, so that they can contribute to CoL, gain more visibility and credit for their work, and support future research and conservation initiatives.

Once the authors upload the dataset, Pensoft will automatically notify CoL about the new contribution, so that the organisation can further process the knowledge and contact the authors, if necessary.

In addition, CoL will also consider for indexing global taxonomic checklists, which have already been published by Pensoft.

It is noteworthy to mention that unlike an automated search engine, CoL does not simply gather the uploaded data and store them. All databases in CoL are thoroughly reviewed by experts in the relevant field and comply with a set of explicit instructions.

“Needless to say that the Species 2000 / Catalogue of Life community is very happy with this collaboration,” says Dr. Peter Schalk, Executive Secretary.

“It is essential that all kinds of data and information sharing initiatives in the realm of taxonomy and biodiversity science get connected, in order to provide integrated quality services to the users in and outside of our community. The players in this field carry responsibility to forge partnerships and collaborations that create added value for science and society and are mutually reinforcing for the participants. Our collaboration is a fine example how this can be achieved,” he adds.

“With our extensive experience in biodiversity research, at Pensoft we have already taken various steps to encourage and support data sharing practices,” says Prof. Lyubomir Penev, Pensoft’s founder and CEO. To better serve this purpose, last year, we even published a set of guidelines and strategies for scholarly publishing of biodiversity data as recommended by our own experience. Furthermore, at our Biodiversity Data Journal, we have not only made the publication of open data mandatory, but we were also the first to implement integrated narrative and data publication within a single paper.”

“It only makes sense to collaborate with organisations, such as Catalogue of Life, to make sure that all these global indexers are up-to-date and serve the world’s good in preserving our wonderful biodiversity,” he concludes.

Three new species of zoantharians described from coral reefs across the Indo-Pacific

One of them was named after the president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, in honour of his and the nation’s support to the authors and marine conservation

Three new species of zoantharians were discovered by researchers from the University of the Ryukyus and Kagoshima University, Japan, and the Palau International Coral Reef Center. Despite not being previously known, all three species were found widely across the Indo-Pacific, with at least two species found in the Red Sea, the Maldives, Palau, and southern Japan.

Zoantharians, or colonial anemones, include species popular in the pet trade such as Zoanthus or Palythoa, but the new species are all much more cryptic, living in marine caves, cracks, or at depths below most recreational SCUBA diving (>20 m). The research was published December 29, 2017, in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The three new species belong to the genus Antipathozoanthus, which contains species that only live on top of black coral colonies. However, surprisingly, one of the new species does not live on black corals, but instead in narrow cracks in coral reefs.

obscurus“We think that the new species, Antipathozoanthus obscurus, has evolved away from needing to be on top of black corals to take advantage of the available space in coral reef cracks”, said lead researcher Hiroki Kise.

“This is yet another example of how much diversity is right underneath our noses, but we still know nothing about it.”

Coral reefs, which are widely threatened by rising temperatures from global warming, are generally believed to harbour very high numbers of species, including yet many undescribed or unknown species.

Amongst the other two new species is Antipathozoanthus remengesaui, named after the current president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau.

“Much of our work was based in Palau”, said senior author Dr. James Reimer, “and we wished to acknowledge the fantastic support we have received from the nation. Palau is considered at the forefront of marine conservation, and much of this is thanks to President Remengesau’s vision.”

While the new discoveries shed more light on our understanding of coral reef biodiversity, this work is far from done. In fact, the researchers themselves estimate they still have up to ten more zoantharian species to describe from the waters of Palau and Okinawa.

“Marine diversity of coral reefs is amazing, with new surprises all the time”, said Kise, “and biodiversity scientists still have a lot more work to do.”

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Original source:

Kise H, Fujii T, Masucci GD, Biondi P, Reimer JD (2017) Three new species and the molecular phylogeny of Antipathozoanthus from the Indo-Pacific Ocean (Anthozoa, Hexacorallia, Zoantharia). ZooKeys 725: 97-122. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.725.21006

Special issue: Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure

The focus is on the case-law of the European Court of Justice and the German Federal Administrative Court

With over 27,500 sites, Natura 2000 is the greatest nature conservation network in the world. It covers more than 18 percent of the land area in the European Union and around 395,000 km2 of its marine territory.

Projects and plans within those sites or in their vicinity require an appropriate assessment to ensure that they will not have a significant impact on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site, according to Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. The Natura 2000 appropriate assessment is the central statutory instrument for the protection of the network, in addition to the general prohibition of deterioration.

An assessment must take place prior to the authorisation and implementation of a project or a plan. As a result of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) having maximised the effectiveness of the assessment by a stringent legal interpretation, a project or a plan must be rejected by the competent authorities if there is any remaining reasonable scientific doubt that it might adversely affect the integrity of the site.

Nevertheless, in accordance with the European principle of proportionality, the Habitats Directive does not intend to ban all human activity in Natura 2000 sites. This is the reason why, on the one hand, only significant adverse impacts on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site are relevant and, on the other, according to Article 6(4) Habitats Directive, a derogating authorisation is possible in favour of public interests.

However, numerous questions, which are relevant in practice, have so far only been considered by national courts. A special issue recently published with the open access journal Nature Conservation features a comprehensive review of the relevant case-law of the German Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG), which has thoroughly dealt with the Natura 2000 regime in a long series of judgements.

The author, Dr. Stefan Möckel of the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research GmbH, Germany, is a long standing specialist in European and German nature conservation law. Within the four articles comprising the issue, he analyses the scope, procedural steps and requirements of the appropriate assessment and the derogation procedure. He also comments on the interpretations and practical solutions found by the ECJ and the BVerwG.

The first article explains the main steps and demands of the appropriate assessment. Questions on the scope of the terms “project” and “plan”, as well as determining significant impacts are discussed in greater detail in the second and third article. The fourth paper explores the requirements needed for a derogation to be approved.

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Original source:

Möckel S (2017) The European ecological network “Natura 2000” and the appropriate assessment for projects and plans under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 1-29. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13599

Möckel S (2017) The terms “project” and “plan” in the Natura 2000 appropriate assessment. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 31-56. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13601

Möckel S (2017) The assessment of significant effects on the integrity of “Natura 2000” sites under Article 6(2) and 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 57-85. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13602

Möckel S (2017) The European ecological network “Natura 2000” and its derogation procedure to ensure compatibility with competing public interests. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 87-116. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13603

When lemons give you life: Herpetofauna adaptation to citrus orchards in Belize

Natural habitat areas exhibit similar abundances and diversity of herpetofauna as citrus orchards and reclaimed orchard forests in Stann Creek, Belize, reports a comparative study by researchers Russell Gray and Dr. Colin Strine of Suranaree University of Technology (SUT), Thailand.

The scientists utilized several drift-fence arrays equipped with double-funnel traps to monitor and compare reptile and amphibian communities in a lowland broadleaf forest, a lime orchard and a reclaimed citrus orchard at the Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society (TREES) field station. Their study was recently published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Often referred to as Central America’s “hidden gem” for its abundance of undisturbed rainforests and natural beauty, Belize has a long-standing record for vigorously protecting and maintaining their forested areas. However, just as in any other developing country, its primary sector is expanding with agricultural land clearings becoming more frequent with newly established properties.

Approximately midway through the study (June – September 2016), the site was hit by Hurricane Earl, a Category 1 hurricane. The hurricane-force winds altered the canopy cover significantly over the forested study sites, due to felled trees and broken branches.

Surprisingly enough, the herpetofauna remained relatively unchanged in the aftermath of Earl. The phenomenon revealed that not only were herpetofaunal communities lacking sensitivity to anthropogenic changes in the area, but also to extreme weather events, even though these had affected most of the standing vegetation.

Some notable observations occurred within three days of Hurricane Earl, according to Russell Gray:

“One of the trapping system was catching arboreal [tree climbing] snake species, like the cat-eyed snake and blunt-headed tree snake. This wasn’t only interesting because arboreal snakes were caught in terrestrial traps, but rather because they were never caught in our traps during the study up to this point.”

“Even more interesting is that they were caught exclusively in the manicured orchard area, which makes me wonder if they somehow predicted falling trees and fled to the only habitat without them. Some animals appear to forecast weather events due to sudden or drastic changes in environmental conditions. I wonder if this is a similar case.”

Amongst other notable scientific discoveries reported during the project were two new accounts of the Petén Centipede Snake (Tantilla hendersoni), one of which was the first documented male of the species. This secretive snake had only been documented once prior to the study and is the only endemic snake species to Belize.

Further noteworthy instances were two range extensions for relatively data deficient species – one for the Doflein’s Salamander (Bolitoglossa dofleini) and another for the Ringneck Coffee Snake (Ninia diademata).

Besides providing important data on herpetofauna assemblages in various disturbed and undisturbed habitats in Belize, the research identifies future conservation methods to be considered.

The study serves as new evidence that as long as agricultural areas remain surrounded with natural habitat buffers, they have little effect on herpetofaunal communities.

Replicates of this study are encouraged by the authors and can be utilized as a feasible and efficient way to monitor reptiles and amphibians in Belize.

Although Belize still preserves a considerable amount of intact forest cover, there are several on-going conservation concerns. Besides agricultural land clearings, there are constant struggles with xate poachers, or “Xateros”, on the Guatemalan border, as well as illegal logging activities and illegal off-season hunting.

Unfortunately, reptiles and amphibians have been understudied in comparison to other vertebrates and government action is rarely enforced on their conservation throughout the Neotropics.

A striking example of this relates to the only critically endangered reptile in Belize – the Hickatee turtle (Dermatemys mawii). Although the species is likely to become extinct, it is still traditionally collected for its culinary value, while its hunting is banned only in May.

In conclusion, the authors note that it is crucial to pay close attention to anthropogenic activity and the potential repercussions it may have on native species. With extensive and active efforts to study Mesoamerican herpetofauna, proper conservation efforts can be implemented and focused.

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Original Source:

Gray R, Strine CT (2017) Herpetofaunal assemblages of a lowland broadleaf forest, an overgrown orchard forest and a lime orchard in Stann Creek, Belize. ZooKeys 707: 131-165. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.707.14029

Light at the end of the tunnel: Restored forest now shelters dozens of endangered species

During the last twenty years, scientists worked hard to protect and restore the scattered patches of a dilapidated forest and its surroundings of agricultural and fallow vegetation in southern Benin.

With the help of their locally recruited assistants, Peter Neuenschwander, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Benin, and Aristide Adomou, University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, successfully thinned out the alien timber growing there and introduced 253 species, whose seeds and plantlets they had managed to collect from the last remnants of the original forest. Their research article is published in the open access journal Nature Conservation.

The team collecting seeds and plantlets in a neighbouring rainforestToday, the rehabilitated forest in Drabo harbours about 600 species of plants and constitutes a sanctuary for many animals, including the critically endangered and endemic red-bellied monkey.

Over the course of the last two decades, pantropical weedy species declined, while West-African forest species increased in numbers. Of the former, fifty-two species, mostly trees, shrubs and lianas, are listed as threatened – more than those in any other existing forest in Benin. Furthermore, some of the critically endangered species amongst them can be found exclusively in the last small, often sacred forests in Benin, which while covering merely 0.02% of the national territory, harbour 64% of all critically endangered plant species.

“The biodiversity richness of the rehabilitated forests of Drabo now rivals that of natural rainforest remnants of the region,” note the authors.

The newly restored forest in Drabo is relatively easy to access due to its proximity to large towns. It is intended to become an educational and research centre maintained by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. In fact, it already serves as an exemplary forest in the region.

With their initiative, the scientists and their followers demonstrate that by involving local communities and taking their customs into consideration, the safety of exposed precious ecosystems, even if located in a densely populated area, can be effectively assured.

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Original source:

Neuenschwander P, Adomou AC (2017) Reconstituting a rainforest patch in southern Benin for the protection of threatened plants. Nature Conservation 21: 57-82. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.21.13906

Lion conservation requires effective international cooperation

Lions belong to the world’s most charismatic megafauna. However, lion numbers and range have declined alarmingly over the last two decades.

“To turn the tide, international cooperation is crucial,” says a team of lawyers, conservation biologists and social scientists.

In their recently published review article in the journal Nature Conservation, they assess the current and potential future role of international treaties regarding lion conservation.

Kruger 1To conduct this study, international wildlife lawyers Arie Trouwborst and Melissa Lewis from Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands teamed up with lion experts David Macdonald, Amy Dickman and other scientists from the University of Oxford‘s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) – the research group that made Cecil the lion famous.

Their analysis clearly shows the importance of various global and regional treaties for lion conservation.

For instance, dozens of important lion areas have received international protection under treaties like the World Heritage Convention and the Ramsar Wetlands Convention, whereas trade in lion bones and hunting trophies is regulated through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

“There is still much room for improvement in the way the international commitments of lion range states are applied on the ground,” the review notes.

However, the authors conclude that it is worthwhile to invest in such improvements, and stress the importance of strategies involving the local people who live alongside lions. The review offers many concrete recommendations for optimising the contributions of the various treaties to lion conservation.

A particularly important recommendation is to formally list lions under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS). A proposal to list lions is on the agenda of the next intergovernmental summit of the parties to the CMS in October this year.

As lead author Arie Trouwborst explains:

“Listing the lion would raise the profile of this iconic species, and would moreover enable the CMS to provide a framework for coordinating and assisting conservation efforts in the 25 countries where lions still occur in the wild.”Imfolozi 3

According to David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU:

“Biology is necessary, but not sufficient, to inform and deliver wildlife conservation. Our approach at the WildCRU in Oxford is holistic – this new partnership with international lawyers is a symbol of our determination to embrace knowledge from every discipline, leaving no stone unturned in our quest to conserve these iconic animals.”

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Original source:

Trouwborst A, Lewis M, Burnham D, Dickman A, Hinks A, Hodgetts T, Macdonald E, Macdonald D (2017) International law and lions (Panthera leo): understanding and improving the contribution of wildlife treaties to the conservation and sustainable use of an iconic carnivore. Nature Conservation 21: 83-128. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.21.13690

Nature Conservation Special: Guidelines for the monitoring of beetles protected in Europe

In a follow-up to a recent special issue, 8 research articles outline a set of verified guidelines for the monitoring of 5 saproxylic beetle species listed in the Habitats Directive

In a set of eight research publications, scientists tested various methods for the monitoring of five European saproxylic (i.e. dependent on dead wood) beetle species protected by the Habitats Directive. The aim of their work was to test and propose a standard method for each species. A key role in this conservation initiative was played by citizen scientists who made it possible for sufficient data to be collected within a significantly shorter time frame.

The special issue “Guidelines for the monitoring of the saproxylic beetles protected in Europe” is the second in succession published in the open access journal Nature Conservation. Both are produced within the framework of the European Union’s LIFE Programme Project “Monitoring of insects with public participation” (LIFE11 NAT/IT/000252 MIPP) and were presented at the European Workshop held in Mantova in May 2017. Colonel Franco Mason, project manager of the MIPP project, notes that the workshop was aimed primarily at monitoring of saproxylic beetles.

While the first article collection focused on reporting recent findings derived from monitoring surveys across the European Union, the papers in the latest issue are devoted to testing various methods for the monitoring of five selected species of protected beetles, in order to determine the most efficient methods and, subsequently, to propose them as standard methods.

12761_Public participation 2nd tweetCuriously, the public participation in the project was not limited to ecology and entomology semi-experts and aficionados. The team specifically targeted children when recruiting volunteers. One of the dissemination activities of the MIPP project was the “MIPP-iacciono gli insetti” (translated to “I like insects” from Italian), where 3000 students from primary to high school undertook 60 activities per year in order to learn how to locate and identify the target insects.

“Participation by children in environmental education programmes seems to have a great impact on their attitude and behaviour,” notes Giuseppe Carpaneto, Roma Tre University and his co-authors in their introductory article.

“Some studies have shown that children who participate in such programmes are more concerned about nature, want to learn more about environmental issues and are more prone to follow pro-environmental behaviour (e.g. waste recycling) than children who did not participate”.

In another article, included in the special issue, Fabio Mosconi of the Italian Agricultural Research Council and Sapienza University of Rome and his co-authors tested whether a specially trained Golden Retriever could locate the threatened hermit beetle faster and more efficiently than scientists using the standard “wood mould sampling” method.

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Additional information:

About the Life project MIPP

The main objective of the project MIPP is to develop and test methods for the monitoring of five beetle species listed in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive (Osmoderma eremitaLucanus cervusCerambyx cerdoRosalia alpinaMorimus funereus).

3D avatars for three new rare ant species from Africa including the Obama ant

Three new, rare ant species recently discovered in Africa were named after important figures for the African biodiversity conservation – the former United States president Barack Obama, the Nigerian writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, and the world-renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson.

The scientists from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), who had their discovery published in the open access journal ZooKeys, used a new, revolutionary method to compile scans of the ants and create 3D avatars allowing for a unique and detailed visualisation of the insects’ insides.

https://skfb.ly/6sPvr

Curiously, the Obama ant, Zasphinctus obamai, was collected from the Kakamega Forest National Park, Kenya, located near Barack Obama’s ancestral family village. The 44th President of the United States of America is famous for his numerous initiatives towards the conservation of fragile natural habitats around the globe.

Ken Saro-Wiwa, who also has his name perpetualised in the new ant species Zasphinctus sarowiwai, was a Nigerian writer and environmental activist who, after campaigning against irresponsible oil development, was executed in 1995.

“By naming a species from threatened rainforest habitats after him, we want to acknowledge his environmental legacy and draw attention to the often-problematic conservation situation in most Afrotropical rainforests,” explain the biologists in their paper.

The third new species, Zasphinctus wilsoni, bares the name of the biologist Edward O. Wilson, whose foundation has contributed greatly to the resurrection of the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.

The 3D avatars were created with the help of X-ray microtomography, or micro-CT, which is a technology similar to the one used in hospitals for CT scans, but relying on much higher resolution. The three-dimensional reconstructions made it possible for the scientists to look into details as tiny as the ants’ mouthparts and even their legs and hairs. Moreover, this method does not require damaging the rare specimens.

“We saw things that nobody ever looked at,” says Dr. Hita Garcia, first author on the study and a member of the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit at OIST.

While closely related ants had already been known as predators of other ant species, the scientists needed to study the data provided by the scans to confirm that the new species are top predators as well.

“Normally when you describe a new species, you don’t know much about its biology,” further explains Dr. Hita Garcia, “but with the 3D reconstructions researchers can discover details right away.”

To the biologists, these reconstructions hint at a future of virtual taxonomy with the potential to alleviate issues of time, money, and specimen damage.

Furthermore, the 3D models also allow for the data to be easily accessible from anywhere. To show this, the scientists have uploaded the reconstructions to the open access Dryad Digital Repository.

“If someone wants to see the Obama ant, they can download it, look at it, and 3D print it,” Dr. Hita Garcia points out.

“Since these ants are from very threatened habitats in Africa, we wanted to pick names that draw attention to the environment, and not just the ants,” he concludes.  “The rainforests in equatorial Africa, as well as the savannah in Mozambique, needs to be protected before the habitats and animals living within them are destroyed.”

 

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Find the original public announcement available via the OIST’s website: https://www.oist.jp/news-center/news/2017/8/29/say-hello-3d-obama-ant

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Reference:

Hita Garcia F, Fischer G, Liu C, Audisio TL, Economo EP (2017) Next-generation morphological character discovery and evaluation: an X-ray micro-CT enhanced revision of the ant genus Zasphinctus Wheeler (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, Dorylinae) in the Afrotropics. ZooKeys 693: 33-93. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.693.13012