From a bulletin to a modern open access journal: Italian Botanist in Pensoft’s portfolio

Established in the distant 1888, the Italian Botanical Society has gone a long way towards publishing its achievements and research. Originated as a bulletin within an Italian journal, they have been growing ever since to now form a new international journal in its own right. Covering both Italian and international research in botany and mycology, the online open access journal Italian Botanist, published by Pensoft, is now officially launched via its first papers.

Although what was later to become Italian Botanist, published its first issue as an independent journal, called Informatore Botanico Italiano in 1969, the publications were still rather bulletin-style. It consisted of a mixture of administrative and scientific proceedings of the Society, the yearbook of the members, as well as scientific notes.

Nevertheless, such a major transition has been set to change everything fundamentally. Establishing its name, the journal started picking up, so that it was not long before the scientific contributions were prevailing. Impressively, for the Society’s centenary the journal published a celebratory 331-page contribution.

Gradually, its scope was expanded to cover several scientific fields. It hosted several themed columns, including cytotaxonomic contributions on the Italian flora, relevant new floristic records for Italy, conservational issues concerning the Italian flora and mycology.

However, the Directive Council of the Italian Botanical Society has not seemed to be ready to give up on their journal’s evolution. Last year, the botanists decided that they need to transform the journal to an an online, open access journal written in English and called Italian Botanist, in order to boost the scientific value and international visibility of Informatore Botanico Italiano.

italian botanist editorial PR

Under the name Italian Botanist, the journal has now joined Pensoft’s portfolio of peer-reviewed open access journals, all of which take advantage of the advanced technologies and innovations developed by the publisher.

The new journal’s scope ranges from molecular to ecosystem botany and mycology. The geographical coverage of Italian Botanist is specially focused on the Italian territory, but studies from other areas are also welcome.

Staying faithful to its spirit and philosophy, it keeps its column-format, with each issue to contain five columns, namely Chromosome numbers for the Italian flora, Global and Regional IUCN Red List Assessments, Notulae to the Italian flora of algae, briophytes, fungi and lichens, Notulae to the Italian native vascular flora and Notulae to the Italian alien vascular flora.

“Our hope is that this renewed version of the journal will serve the Italian – and foreign – botanical community more efficiently and provide readers worldwide with an easier access to knowledge concerning the Italian flora,” says Italian Botanist‘s Editor-in-Chief Lorenzo Peruzzi.

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Original source:

Peruzzi L, Siniscalco C (2016) From Bullettino della Società Botanica Italiana to Italian Botanist, passing through Informatore Botanico Italiano. A 128 years-long story. Italian Botanist 1: 1-4. doi: 10.3897/italianbotanist.1.8646

Critically Endangered and ancient Himalayan wolf needs global conservation attention

Although the Himalayan wolf is visibly distinct from its European cousin, its current distribution has mostly been a matter of assumption, rather than evident truth. The most ancient wolf lineage, known to science, has been listed as Critically Endangered in the National Red List.

Now, an international research team, led by Madhu Chetri, graduate student at the Hedmark University of Applied Sciences, Norway, report the wolf from Nepal’s largest protected area, thus confirming its existence in the country. Their findings are published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

When compared to the European wolf, this one stands out with its smaller size, unusually longer muzzle and stumpy legs. Another clearly distinctive feature is the white colouration around the throat, chest, belly and inner part of the limbs. On the other hand, its characteristic woolly body fur has given the subspecies the common name ‘woolly wolf’.

However, the distinctiveness of the Himalayan wolf is far more than skin-deep. The authors note that recent studies have already revealed that these wolves have split as a separate branch within the ‘tree of life’ so long ago that they are divergent from the whole globally distributed wolf-dog clade. Having undergone such an isolated evolution, the Himalayan wolf is considered of particular conservation concern.

However, the populations are still suffering heavy mortality. As a part of their research, the authors conducted both formal and informal interviews with about four hundred local herders, livestock owners, nomads and village elite to find out more about the status of the human-wolf conflict, as well as their attitudes and perceptions. As a result, they found out that the wolves are considered to pose a threat for the local livelihoods. They were persecuted and killed as a means of depredation.5966_Himalayan ancient wolf

“These genetically distinct Himalayan wolves deserve special conservation attention, at the same time that the conservation of this species in a context of human-wildlife conflict is challenging,” conclude the scientists. “A species action plan needs be formulated that develops mechanisms to minimize conflict, and strategies for motivating local communities towards wolf conservation.”

Original source:

Chetri M, Jhala YV, Jnawali SR, Subedi N, Dhakal M, Yumnam B (2016) Ancient Himalayan wolf (Canis lupus chanco) lineage in Upper Mustang of the Annapurna Conservation Area, Nepal. ZooKeys 582: 143-156. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.582.5966

Counting stars: Illegal trade of Indian star tortoises is a far graver issue

Patterned with star-like figures on their shells, Indian star tortoises can be found in private homes across Asia, where they are commonly kept as pets. One can also see them in religious temples, praised as the living incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. How did they get there? Suspicious of a large-scale illegal international trade of these tortoises that could in fact pose a grave threat to the survival of the Indian Star tortoise, a team of researchers, led by Dr. Neil D’Cruze from Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford, and World Animal Protection, London, spent 17 months investigating the case focusing on India and Thailand. They have their study published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

The present study established that at least 55,000 Indian star tortoise individuals are being poached over the span of a year from a single trade hub in India. Helped by a number of herpetologists and wildlife enforcement officials, the researchers have tracked signals about how sophisticated criminal gangs are exploiting “legal loopholes” and people alike, taking advantage of rural communities and urban consumers in India and other Asian countries.

“We were shocked at the sheer scale of the illegal trade in tortoises and the cruelty inflicted upon them,” comments Dr. Neil D’Cruze. “Over 15 years ago wildlife experts warned that the domestic trade in Indian star tortoises needed to be contained before it could become established as an organised international criminal operation.”

“Unfortunately, it seems that our worst nightmare has come true – sophisticated criminal gangs are exploiting both impoverished rural communities and urban consumers alike,” he also added. “Neither group is fully aware how their actions are threatening the welfare and conservation of these tortoises.”

Although deemed of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List when last formally assessed back in 2000, the Indian star tortoise and its increasing illegal poaching and trading can easily lead to a serious risk of the species’ extinction. Other dangers of such unregulated activities include the introduction of invasive species and diseases.

Having spent a year among a rural hunter-gatherer community, researchers established the collection of at least 55,000 juvenile wild Indian star tortoises between January and December 2014. This is already between three and six times more than the last such record dating from about ten years ago.

Collectors tend to poach juvenile tortoises, but it is not rare for them to also catch adults. Based on the individual’s age and health, the tortoises are later sold to vendors at a price of between 50 and 300 Indian Rupees (INR), or between 1 and 5 USD, per animal. “Therefore, we conservatively estimate (assuming no mortalities) that the collector engagement in this illegal operation has a collective annual value of up to 16,500,000 INR (263,000 USD) for their impoverished communities,” comment the researchers.

Consumers seek the Indian star tortoise for either exotic pets or spiritual purposes. With their star-like radiating yellow patterns splashed with black on their shells, not only is this tortoise species an attractive animal, but it was also found to be considered as a good omen among the locals in the Indian state of Gujarat. During their survey, the researchers found over a hundred hatchlings in a single urban household. However, their owner claimed that none of them was kept with commercial intent, although some of the tortoises were meant for close friends and relatives.

On the other hand, there was a case where the researchers came across a Shiva temple hosting a total of eleven Indian star tortoises. Temple representatives there confirmed that the tortoise is believed to represent an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, one of the three central gods in the religion, recognised as the preserver and protector of the universe.

In India vendors do not show the reptiles in public, but they are made available upon a special request. If paid for in advance, a vendor can also supply a larger quantity of the animals at a price ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 INR (15 to 50 USD) per animal. The researchers managed to see seven captive tortoises in private, including six juveniles and one adult, all in visibly poor health. Disturbingly, in order to reach these vendors, the collected tortoise are usually wrapped in cloths and packed into suitcases. Covered by a ‘mask’ of legal produce such as fruit and vegetables, they are transported to the ‘trade hubs’. They are also smuggled abroad to satisfy consumer demand among the growing middle classes in countries such as Thailand and China.

“Despite being protected in India since the 1970’s, legal ‘loopholes’ in other Asian countries such as Thailand and China appear to undermine India’s enforcement efforts,” explains Mr. Gajender Sharma, India’s Director at World Animal Protection, “They are smuggled out of the country in confined spaces, it’s clear there is little or no concern about the welfare of these reptiles.”

“World Animal Protection is concerned about the suffering that these tortoises endure,” he further notes. “We are dealing with an organised international criminal operation which requires an equally organised international approach to combat it.”

As a result of their study, the authors conclude that more research into both the illegal trafficking of Indian star tortoise and its effects as well as the consumer demand is urgently needed in order to assess, address and subsequently tackle the issue.

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Original source:

D’Cruze N, Singh B, Morrison T, Schmidt-Burbach J, Macdonald DW, Mookerjee A (2015) A star attraction: The illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises. Nature Conservation 13: 1-19. doi:10.3897/natureconservation.13.5625

New gorgeous coffee tree species from Honduras is critically endangered

Amid the challenging terrain of north-western Honduras, where Dr. Kelly’s team faced rugged and steep forest areas cut across here and there by a few trails, a gorgeous tree with cherry-like fruits was discovered. Being about 10 metres (33 ft) high and covered with cream-colored flowers, it was quickly sorted into the Coffee family (Rubiaceae), but it was its further description that took much longer. Eventually, it was named Sommera cusucoana, with its specific name stemming from its so far only known locality, the Cusuco National Park. The study is available in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

During a plant diversity study in the Cusuco National Park, conducted by Drs. Kelly, Dietzch and co-workers as a part of a broader survey by Operation Wallacea, an international organisation dealing with biodiversity and conservation management research programmes.

A couple of curious findings in the past decade provide a strong incentive to further work. The place turns out to be not only of high biodiversity, but to also contain rare and hitherto unknown plant and animal species.

For instance, the tree Hondurodendron (from Greek, ‘Honduras Tree’) and the herbaceous plant Calathea carolineae are another two endemic species discovered as a result of the Operation Wallacea survey.

In 2013, two individuals of another unknown, 10-metre high (33 ft) tree with cream-colored flowers and red, cherry-like fruits were found by Daniel Kelly and Anke Dietzsch from Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland. The two were aided by local guide Wilmer Lopez.

The multinational collaboration did not stop then and there. Although the scientists quickly figured that the tree belonged to the Coffee family, they needed some additional help to further identify their discovery. Thus, they were joined by two leading specialist in this plant group, first Charlotte Taylor from Missouri Botanical Garden and then David Lorence from the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii.

It was actually David who was the first to recognise the unknown tree as a member of theSommera genus, a group of nine known species of trees and shrubs. Later, the team decided to name the new plant Sommera cusucoana to celebrate its singular locality, the Cusuco National Park.

“Sadly, there has been extensive logging in the vicinity in recent years, and we fear for the future of our new species,” the authors stressed. “According to the criteria of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it must be regarded as Critically Endangered.”

“We hope that the publication of this and other discoveries will help to galvanize support for the conservation of this unique and beautiful park and its denizens,” they concluded.

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Original Source:

Lorence DH, Dietzsch AC, Kelly DL (2015) Sommera cusucoana, a new species of Rubiaceaefrom Honduras. PhytoKeys 57: 1-9. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.57.5339

Under the wing of science: Two methods for aging nestling Carnaby’s cockatoo species

Multi-year research on two populations of the endangered endemic Carnaby’s cockatoo in southwestern Australia was conducted in order for two separate methods for nestlings aging to be assessed. If accurate enough, Dr. Denis Saunders and his team believe that the results could be vital in the threatened species’ preservation, as explained in the Carnaby’s cockatoo’s recovery plan.

One of the methods they have looked into is based on changes in the physical appearance of nestlings over the 10-11 week nestling period. The other relies on measurements of a nestling’s folded wing length and its comparison with growth curves from measurements of nestlings of known age. In their paper the Australian team also examines the timing and length of the egg-laying season. Their research is published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

The researchers point out that accurate nestling aging is essential for many ecological studies. The data could be used in investigating population dynamics, life histories, behaviour, longevity, conservation planning and management. It could also help in scheduling the visits of breeding areas so that the disturbance for the populations is minimised without compromising the results.

The scientists found out that observing the changes in a nestling’s size and feathers is less accurate than measuring the folded wing length. Its main disadvantage turned out to be the lack of distinguishable physical changes once the birds become about nine-week-old. However, “with experience it may be useful for gaining an approximation of the commencement and end of the breeding season without having to handle nestlings to take measurements,” the team says.

Their research on the egg-laying dates concluded that the most effective approach for examining nestlings is to conduct two visits per breeding season. Curiously, their findings showed that in wetter autumns the egg-laying begins earlier.

The team also suggests that their methods could be adopted for aging the currently under-researched closely related Baudin’s cockatoo until more species-specific technique is found.

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Original source:

 

Saunders DA, Dawson R, Nicholls AO (2015) Aging nestling Carnaby’s cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus latirostris, and estimating the timing and length of the breeding season.Nature Conservation 12: 27-42. doi: 10.3897/natureconservation.12.4863