In an age where we more than ever need to appreciate and preserve the magnificent biodiversity inhabiting the Earth, we decided to go for a lighter and fun take on the work of taxonomists that often goes unnoticed by the public.
From the ocean depths surrounding Indonesia to the foliage of the native forests of Príncipe Island and into the soils of Borneo, we started with 16 species described as new to science in journals published by Pensoft over the years.
Out of these most amazing creatures, over the past several weeks we sought to find who’s got the greatest fandom by holding a poll on Twitter (you can follow it further down here or via #NewSpeciesShowdown).
While we need to admit that we ourselves expected to crown an animal as the crowd-favourite, we take the opportunity to congratulate the botanists amongst our fans for the well-deserved win of Nepenthes pudica (see the species description)!
Find more about the curious one-of-a-kind pitcher plant in this blog post, where we announced its discovery following the new species description in PhytoKeys in June 2022:
What’s perhaps even more curious, is that there is only one species EVER described in a Pensoft-published journal that has so far triggered more tweets than the pitcher plant, and that species is the animal that has ended up in second place in the New Species Showdown: a tiny amphibian living in Peru, commonly known as the the Amazon Tapir Frog (Synapturanus danta).Which brings us once again to the influence of botanists in taxonomic research.
Read more about its discovery in the blog post from February 2022:
Another thing that struck us during the tournament was that there was only one species described in our flagship journal in systematic journal ZooKeys: the supergiant isopod Bathynomus raksasa, that managed to fight its way to the semi-finals, where it lost against S. danta.
This makes us especially proud with our diverse and competitive journal portfolio full of titles dedicated to biodiversity and taxonomic research!
Twice a week, @Pensoft would announce a match between two competing species on Twitter using the hashtag #NewSpeciesShowdown, where everyone could vote in the poll for their favourie.
This competition is for entertainment purposes only. As it was tremendously tough to narrow the list down to only sixteen species, we admit that we left out a lot of spectacular creatures.
To ensure fairness and transparency, we made the selection based on the yearly Altmetric data, which covers articles in our journals published from 2010 onwards and ranks the publications according to their online mentions from across the Web, including news media, blogs and social networks.
We did our best to diversify the list as much as possible in terms of taxonomic groups. However, due to the visual-centric nature of social media, we gave preference to immediately attractive species.
(in chronological order)
Round 2 – Quarter-finals
Round 3 – Semi-finals
But why did we hold the tournament right now?
If you have gone to the Pensoft website at any point in 2022, visited our booth at a conference, or received a newsletter from any of our journals, by this time, you must be well aware that in 2022 – more precisely, on 25 December – we turned 30. And we weren’t afraid to show it!
Indeed, 30 is not that big of a number, as many of us adult humans can confirm. Yet, we take pride in reminiscing about what we’ve done over the last three decades.
Long story short, we wanted to do something special and fun to wrap up our anniversary year. While we have been active in various areas, including development of publishing technology concerning open and FAIR access and linkage for research outcomes and underlying data; and multiple EU-supported scientific projects, we have always been associated with our biodiversity journal portfolio.
Besides, who doesn’t like to learn about the latest curious creature that has evaded scientific discovery throughout human history up until our days? 😉
With the 1,000thZooKeys issue now hot off the press, the time has come to celebrate the millennium of Pensoft’s very first scientific journal: ZooKeys!
In fact, the cause for celebration is two-fold: this year, it’s also the 10th anniversary of ZooKeys’ very special 50th issue, which marked a new era for biodiversity data publishing by introducing several innovative workflows and tools. This is when ZooKeys became an example to follow globally: a title the journal still takes pride to be holding to this day.
Today, we shall reminisce about everything along the way: from that sunny Californian morning at the Entomological Society of America meeting in 2007, where the idea about a new-age taxonomic journal in zoology sprang up in a breakfast chat between renowned entomologists and future founders of ZooKeys: Prof Lyubomir Penev and Dr Terry Erwin, to this very moment, where we’re counting over 5,500 published articles, authored by more than 8,000 researchers from 144 countries and comprising ~150,000 pages. Thus, we saw the description of one supertribe, seven tribes, five subtribes, 27 families, over 800 genera and more than 12,000 species previously unknown to science. In this journey, ZooKeys climbed up the ladder of academic rigour and trustability to become today’s most prolific open-access journal of zoology.
Even though today is the time to feel exalted and look back on our achievements and conquered milestones with ear-to-ear smiles, it is with heavy hearts that we’ll be raising our glasses tonight, as we won’t be joined by our beloved friend and founding Editor-in-Chief, Dr Terry Erwin, whom we lost on 11th May 2020. While his place in our hearts and ZooKeys’ Editorial board will never be filled, we accept our duty to help for his legacy to persist for the future generations of scientists by taking a vow to never lower our standards or cease to improve our services and care for our readers, authors, reviewers and editors alike.
In honour of Terry, who will be remembered for his splendid personality and zealous enthusiasm for carabid beetles and the world’s immense biodiversity, we’ve opened up a special memorial volume to be published on 11th May 2021.
In fact, we have thousands of people to thank for the place ZooKeys is at right now: these are our authors, who have trusted us with their research work time and time again; our reviewers and editors, who have taken their invaluable time to promptly process submitted manuscripts; and, of course, our readers, who are using ZooKeys content to expand the world’s knowledge, either by learning and building on the findings in their own research, or by spreading the knowledge to those who will.
With a thought for our authors & readers
We’ve been striving to implement the latest and most convenient scholarly publishing technologies and innovations, and also develop some of our own to make sure that ZooKeys users enjoy their experience with our flagship journal.
In hindsight, ZooKeys was the first journal to pioneer a lot of scholarly publishing technologies, which back in the time were quite revolutionary. Notable examples from 2008-2016 include:
Yet, this was only the beginning. Fast forward to December 2020, we’re working even harder to build up on our achievements and evolve, so that we stay on top of our game and the scholarly publishing scene. Here are the key innovations we recently implemented in ZooKeys:
Routine data auditing for each submitted data paper, in order to ensure that datasets described in ZooKeys are using data that are FAIR: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable;
The Pensoft Annotator, which matches free text to ontological terms for the use of biodiversity research.
With a thought for our editors
Besides revolutionising research publishing, at Pensoft, we’re also deeply devoted to facilitating our editors in their day-to-day editorial work, as well as their long-term engagement with the journal and its progress.
Recently, we expanded journal performance reporting services, in order to keep our editors on track with the most recent trends in their journal’s performance. Meanwhile, we’ve also taken care after the continuous improvement in those stats by implementing several features meant to facilitate and expedite the handling of manuscripts.
Follow ARPHA’s blog to keep up with the new features available to users of Pensoft’s journals and all journals hosted on ARPHA Platform.
With a thought for the community
Naturally, research outputs are only as valuable to publish as they are valuable to the community: within and beyond academia. Ultimately, their merit is best measured by citations and readership. This is why, we shall now have a look back at the most impactful papers published in ZooKeys to date.
Thanks to the indexation of ZooKeys in the research citation database of Dimensions, following the collaboration between ARPHA and Digital Science, which started in 2018, we’re now able to explore the all-time most cited publications in our flagship journal. Detailed information and links to the papers where each of those studies has been cited is available on the webpage of the article.
Supporting Red List threat assessments with GeoCAT: geospatial conservation assessment tool (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.150.2109)
Amendment of Articles 8, 9, 10, 21 and 78 of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature to expand and refine methods of publication (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.219.3944)
Forty years of carabid beetle research in Europe – from taxonomy, biology, ecology and population studies to bioindication, habitat assessment and conservation (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.100.1523)
Useful model organisms, indicators, or both? Ground beetles (Coleoptera, Carabidae) reflecting environmental conditions (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.100.1533)
Thanks to ARPHA Platform’s all-roundedness and transparency, we get to explore the most read papers ever published in ZooKeys straight from the Articles section on the journal’s website.
Taxonomic revision of the olingos (Bassaricyon), with description of a new species, the Olinguito (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.324.5827)
In 2013, ZooKeys had the honour to announce the first carnivore found in the Western Hemisphere in over three decades. Further, that wasn’t ANY carnivore, but the olinguito, which National Geographic rightfully called a “fuzzy fog-dweller with a face like a teddy bear”.
An extraordinary new family of spiders from caves in the Pacific Northwest (Araneae, Trogloraptoridae) (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.215.3547)
A year prior to the description of the olinguito, a brand new family of “cave robbing” spiders emerged from the pages of ZooKeys, after US scientists found a previously unknown to science spider with “unique, toothed claws at the end of each leg” in Oregon.
A huge, first-of-its-kind catalogue containing data on all family-group names for all known extant and fossil beetles (order Coleoptera) was published in ZooKeys in an exemplary research collaboration, spanning three continents in 2011.
Review of Neopalpa Povolný, 1998 with description of a new species from California and Baja California, Mexico (Lepidoptera, Gelechiidae) (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.646.11411)
In a truly world-wide sensation, a new species of tiny moth inhabiting a narrow stretch of extremely fragile habitat running between the USA and Mexico, was named after then President-elect Donald Trump in a desperate call to protect this and other similarly vulnerable ecosystems in North America. The species currently goes by the name Neopalpa donaldtrumpi.
Taxonomic revision of the tarantula genus Aphonopelma Pocock, 1901 (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Theraphosidae) within the United States (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.560.6264)
In 2016, US scientists described a total of 14 new to science tarantula species from what many would think to be one the best-researched countries: the United States of America. Curiously enough, one of those tarantula species, found in California near Folsom Prison – a place best known from Cash’s song “Folsom Prison Blues”, was aptly named Aphonopelmajohnnycashi.
As visionaries, we’ve long realised that scientific impact goes beyond citations and journal subscribers. Communicating science to the community beyond academia is, in fact, one of the strongest components in research dissemination, as it lets the laypeople make sense of the wider world and where exactly they stand in the bigger picture. This is why we’ve been putting that special extra effort to promote research published in our journals–including ZooKeys–using press releases, blog posts and social media content (follow ZooKeys on Twitter and Facebook).
Thanks to our partnership with Altmetric, we’re able to identify the top five most popular papers from ZooKeys for all times. These are the ones that have sparkled the most online discussions via social media, big news headlines, blog posts, Wikipedia and more.
Review of Neopalpa Povolný, 1998 with description of a new species from California and Baja California, Mexico (Lepidoptera, Gelechiidae) (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.646.11411)
Not only was the previously undescribed species of moth subject to a serious threat of extinction, having been exclusively known from a fragmented area along the Mexico–United States border, but the insect’s “hairstyle” was pointed out to bear a striking resemblance to the golden locks of the 45th U.S. President Donald Trump.
Published in ZooKeys earlier this year, this extensive geology and paleontology monograph presents an unprecedented in its volume and scientific value account of a large portion of the most important prehistoric vertebrate fossils ever unearthed from the famous Kem Kem beds in Morocco. “A monograph larger than Paralititan,” as a Reddit user justly pointed out.
Taxonomic revision of the tarantula genus Aphonopelma Pocock, 1901 (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Theraphosidae) within the United States (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.560.6264)
On top of taking pride in becoming the discoverer of as many as 14 tarantula species living “right under our noses” in the US, Dr Chris Hamilton enjoyed the spotlight of Live television in his appearance on Sky News. So did a lucky specimen of the newly described species: Aphonopelma johnnycashi! Suffice it to say, the tarantula was named after the legendary American singer-songwriter for all the right reasons.
Colobopsis explodens sp. n., model species for studies on “exploding ants” (Hymenoptera, Formicidae), with biological notes and first illustrations of males of the Colobopsis cylindrica group (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.751.22661)
Apparently, ants that rip their bodies apart in a self-sacrificial attempt to save their colonies from enemies, weren’t something new by the time PhD student Alice Laciny and her team described the new to science species Colobopsis explodens from Brunei. However, the study published in ZooKeys in 2018 was the first to conduct and film experiments on the peculiar exploding behaviour. Although not the very first for science, C. explodens was the first “T-ant-T” species to be described since 1935.
Today, coyotes live all around North America: from Alaska to Panama, California to Maine. Once upon a time, or rather, between the Holocene and the early 1900s, their range used to be restricted to the arid west of North America. So, how did the coyotes turn up at the doorstep of South America? North Carolina scientists reached to natural history collections to map the historic colonisation of the coyotes all the way to our days.
In our final remarks on this special occasion, it’s the time to say a special Thank you! to our most prolific authors:
Dr Shuqiang Li, expert on spider taxonomy and systematics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who’s also a reviewer and a subject editor at ZooKeys (64 publications).
Dr Michael S. Engel, paleontologist and entomologist at the University of Kansas and the American Museum of Natural History, who is also amongst the top five most active reviewers and the three most active subject editors in ZooKeys (59 publications).
Dr Li-Zhen Li, coleopterist at Shanghai Normal University (57 publications).
Dr Reginald Webster, coleopterist at Natural Resources Canada and a reviewer at ZooKeys (57 publications).
Dr Sergei Golovatch, myriapodologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a reviewer and a subject editor at ZooKeys (53 publications).
Dr Yuri Marusik, arachnologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences and the University of Free State, Magadan, South Africa. He is also a subject editor at ZooKeys.
Dr Donald Lafontaine, entomologist at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids, and Nematodes and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. He is also a subject editor at ZooKeys.
Dr Ivan H. Tuf, ecologist at Palacký University (Czech Republic) and a subject editor at ZooKeys.
Dr Viatcheslav Ivanenko, taxonomist at the Lomonosov Moscow State University.
Dr Michael S. Engel, paleontologist and entomologist at the University of Kansas and the American Museum of Natural History, and also one of the most productive authors and most active subject editors at ZooKeys.
Prof Pavel Stoev, taxonomist, ecologist, and director at the National Natural History Museum (Bulgaria), and managing editor at ZooKeys.
Prof Lyubomir Penev, entomologist, ecologist at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and founder of ZooKeys.
Dr Michael S. Engel, paleontologist and entomologist at the University of Kansas and the American Museum of Natural History, and also one of the most productive authors and most active reviewers at ZooKeys.
Dr Nina Bogutskaya, hydrobiologist and ichthyologist at the Museum of Natural History Vienna, and also a reviewer at ZooKeys.
Dr Jeremy Miller, taxonomist and arachnologist at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Netherlands), and also a reviewer at ZooKeys.
Looking forward to sharing with you our next milestones and celebrations!
Meanwhile, make sure to follow ZooKeys on Twitter and Facebook to stay in touch!
In recognition of the love and devotion that Terry expressed for the study of the World’s biodiversity, ZooKeys invites contributions to this memorial issue, covering all subjects falling within the area of systematic zoology. Titled “Systematic Zoology and Biodiversity Science: A tribute to Terry Erwin (1940-2020)”.
In tribute to our beloved friend and founding Editor-in-Chief, Dr Terry
Erwin, who passed away on 11th May 2020, we are planning a special
memorial volume to be published on 11 May 2021, the date Terry left us. Terry
will be remembered by all who knew him for his radiant spirit, charming
enthusiasm for carabid beetles and never-ceasing exploration of the world of
In recognition of the love and devotion that Terry expressed for study of the World’s biodiversity, ZooKeys invites contributions to this memorial issue, titled “Systematic Zoology and Biodiversity Science: A tribute to Terry Erwin (1940-2020)”, to all subjects falling within the area of systematic zoology. Of special interest are papers recognising Terry’s dedication to collection based research, massive biodiversity surveys and origin of biodiversity hot spot areas. The Special will be edited by John Spence, Achille Casale, Thorsten Assmann, James Liebherr and Lyubomir Penev.
Article processing charges (APCs) will be waived for: (1) Contributions
to systematic biology and diversity of carabid beetles, (2) Contributions from
Terry’s students and (3) Contributions from his colleagues from the Smithsonian
Institution. The APC for articles which do not fall in the above categories
will be discounted at 30%.
The submission deadline is 31st December 2020.
Contributors are also invited to send memories and photos which shall be
published in a special addendum to the volume.
The memorial volume will also include a joint project of Plazi, Pensoft and the Biodiversity Literature Repository aimed at extracting of taxonomic data from Terry Erwin’s publications and making it easily accessible to the scientific community.
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.
A novel approach relying on a short sequence of mitochondrial DNA in conjunction with a lateral image of the holotype specimen was proposed to greatly accelerate species identification and description, especially when it comes to hyperdiverse taxa, such as parasitic wasps.
At today’s rate, it could take another two millennia for science to document all currently existing species of multicellular life
Two hundred and sixty-one years ago, Linnaeus formalized binomial nomenclature and the modern system of naming organisms. Since the time of his first publication, taxonomists have managed to describe 1.8 million of the estimated 8 to 25 million extant species of multicellular life, somewhere between 7% and 22%. At this rate, the task of treating all species would be accomplished sometime before the year 4,000. In an age of alarming environmental crises, where taking measures for the preservation of our planet’s ecosystems through efficient knowledge is becoming increasingly urgent, humanity cannot afford such dawdling.
“Clearly something needs to change to accelerate this rate, and in this publication we propose a novel approach that employs only a short sequence of mitochondrial DNA in conjunction with a lateral image of the holotype specimen,”
In standardized practices, it is required that experts conduct plenty of time- and labor-consuming analyses, in order to provide thorough descriptions of both the morphology and genetics of individual species, as well as a long list of characteristic features found to differentiate each from any previously known ones. However, the scientists argue, at this stage, it is impossible to pinpoint distinct morphological characters setting apart all currently known species from the numerous ones not yet encountered. To make matters worse, finding human and financial resources for performing this kind of detailed research is increasingly problematic.
This holds especially true when it comes to hyperdiverse groups, such as ichneumonoid parasitoid wasps: a group of tiny insects believed to comprise up to 1,000,000 species, of which only 44,000 were recognised as valid, according to 2016 data. In their role of parasitoids, these wasps have a key impact on ecosystem stability and diversity. Additionally, many species parasitise the larvae of commercially important pests, so understanding their diversity could help resolve essential issues in agriculture.
Meanwhile, providing a specific species-unique snippet of DNA alongside an image of the specimen used for the description of the species (i.e. holotype) could significantly accelerate the process. By providing a name for a species through a formal description, researchers would allow for their successors to easily build on their discoveries and eventually reach crucial scientific conclusions.
“If this style were to be adopted by a large portion of the taxonomic community, the mission of documenting Earth’s multicellular life could be accomplished in a few generations, provided these organisms are still here,”
say the authors of the study.
To exemplify their revolutionary approach, the scientists use their paper to also describe a total of 18 new species of wasps in two genera (Zelomorpha and Hemichoma) known from Área de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Currently, the team works on the treatment of related species, which still comprise only a portion of the hundreds of thousands that remain unnamed.
Meierotto S, Sharkey MJ, Janzen DH, Hallwachs W, Hebert PDN, Chapman EG, Smith MA (2019) A revolutionary protocol to describe understudied hyperdiverse taxa and overcome the taxonomic impediment. Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift 66(2): 119-145. https://doi.org/10.3897/dez.66.34683
A remarkable bioluminescent click beetle was discovered in the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests in southwest China. Having prompted the description of a brand new subfamily, the species is the very first bioluminescent click beetle known from the continent.
A remarkable bioluminescent click beetle was discovered in the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests in southwest China. Scientists Mr. Wen-Xuan Bi, Dr. Jin-Wu He, Dr. Xue-Yan Li, all affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Kunming), Mr. Chang-Chin Chen of Tianjin New Wei San Industrial Company, Ltd. (Tianjing, China) and Dr. Robin Kundrata of Palacký University (Olomouc, Czech Republic) published their findings in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
Even though the family of click beetles (Elateridae) contain approximately 10,000 species worldwide, it is only about 200 species able to emit light, and they inhabit Latin America and Oceania. Interestingly, the position of the luminous organs varies amongst the different click beetle lineages. In some, they are found on the foremost of the three thoracic segments of the body (prothorax), in others – on both the prothorax and the abdomen, and in few – only on the abdomen.
“In 2017, during an expedition to the western Yunnan in China, we discovered a dusk-active bioluminescent click beetle with a single luminous organ on the abdomen, ” recalls lead scientist Mr. Wen-Xuan Bi.
Since no bioluminescent click beetle had previously been recorded in Asia, the team conducted simultaneous morphological and molecular analyses in order to clarify the identity of the new species and figure out its relationship to other representatives of its group.
Co-author Dr. Xue-Yan Li explains:
“The morphological investigation in combination with the molecular analysis based on 16 genes showed that our taxon is not only a new species in a new genus, but that it also represents a completely new subfamily of click beetles. We chose the name Sinopyrophorus for the new genus, and the new subfamily is called Sinopyrophorinae.”
In conclusion, the discovery of the new species sheds new light on the geographic distribution and evolution of luminescent click beetles. The authors agree that as a representative of a unique lineage, which is only distantly related to the already known bioluminescent click beetles, the new insect group may serve as a new model in the research of bioluminescence within the whole order of beetles.
Bi W-X, He J-W, Chen C-C, Kundrata R, Li X-Y (2019) Sinopyrophorinae, a new subfamily of Elateridae (Coleoptera, Elateroidea) with the first record of a luminous click beetle in Asia and evidence for multiple origins of bioluminescence in Elateridae. ZooKeys 864: 79-97. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.864.26689
A study of parasitic crustaceans attaching themselves inside the branchial cavities (the gills) of their fish hosts was recently conducted in order to reveal potentially unrecognised diversity of the genus Elthusa in South Africa.
While there had only been one species known from the country, a new article published in the open-access journal ZooKeys adds another three to the list.
For one of them, the research team from North-West University (South Africa): Serita van der Wal, Prof Nico Smit and Dr Kerry Hadfield, chose the name of the fictional character Xena, the warrior princess. The reason was that the females appeared particularly tough with their characteristic elongated and ovoid bodies. Additionally, the holotype (the first specimen used for the identification and description of the previously unknown species) is an egg-carrying female.
Formally recognised as Elthusa xena, this new to science species is so far only known from the mouth of the Orange River, Alexander Bay, South Africa (Atlantic Ocean). It is also the only Elthusa species known to parasitise the intertidal Super klipfish (Clinus supercilious). In fact, this is the first time an Elthusa species has been recorded from any klipfish (genus Clinus).
van der Wal S, Smit NJ, Hadfield KA (2019) Review of the fish parasitic genus Elthusa Schioedte & Meinert, 1884 (Crustacea, Isopoda, Cymothoidae) from South Africa, including the description of three new species. ZooKeys 841: 1-37. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.841.32364
The paper describing the new species is part of a special issue dedicated to macro moths of the New World published in the open-access journal ZooKeys
Newly-recognized species of owlet moth recently discovered to inhabit high-elevation mountains in western North America was named after the Greek mythological character Icarus. From now on, scientists will be referring to the new insect as Admetovis icarus.
In their paper, Dr Lars Crabo, Washington State University, USA, and Dr Christian Schmidt, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, explain that the combination of the distinct flame-shaped mark on the moth’s forewing and its high-elevation habitat were quick to remind them of Icarus, who is said to have died after flying so close to the sun that his wings made of wax and feathers caught fire.
The study is part of the seventh volume of the “Contributions to the systematics of New World macro-moths” series, where all previous volumes have also been published as special issues in ZooKeys.
Found in the town of Nederland, Colorado, the moth was collected at an elevation of 2,896 m above sea level. The species has also been recorded all the way from central Utah and central Colorado to the Selkirk Mountains of southeastern British Columbia, including a record from northeastern Oregon. It can be spotted between June and August at night.
In fact, it turns out that the moth has been collected during surveys in the past on multiple occasions, but has been misidentified with another closely related species: Admetovis oxymorus.
While the flame mark is a characteristic feature in all three species known in the genus (Admetovis), in the newly described species it is darker. When compared, the wings of the Icarus moth are also more mottled.
Despite the biology of the larvae being currently unknown, the scientists believe they are climbing cutworms and feed on woody shrubs, similarly to the species Admetovis oxymorus.
“Finding undiscovered moths is not that unusual, even though scientists have been naming insects since the eighteenth century,” says lead author Dr Lars Crabo.
“The Contributions series, edited by Don Lafontaine and Chris Schmidt, in which this discovery is published, really encourages professional and citizen scientists alike to go through the steps necessary to properly name the species that they have discovered. This series of seven volumes also includes a new check list for the United States and Canada, which has led to a re-kindling of interest in moths during the last decade.”
Nature is replete with examples of identifiable populations known from different continents, mountain ranges, islands or lowland regions. While, traditionally, many of these have been treated as subspecies of widely-ranging species, recent studies relying on molecular biology have shown that many former “subspecies” have in fact been isolated for millions of years, which is long enough for them to have evolved into separate species.
Being a controversial matter in taxonomy – the science of classification – the ability to tell apart different species from subspecies across faunal groups is crucial. Given limited resources for conservation, relevant authorities tend only to be concerned for threatened species, with their efforts rarely extending to subspecies.
Figuring out whether co-habiting populations belong to the same species is only as tough as testing if they can interbreed or produce fertile offspring. However, whenever distinct populations are geographically separated, it is often that taxonomists struggle to determine whether they represent different species or merely subspecies of a more widely ranging species.
British bird expert Thomas Donegan has dedicated much of his life to studying birds in South America, primarily Colombia. To address this age-long issue of “what is a species?”, he applied a variety of statistical tests, based on data derived from bird specimens and sound recordings, to measure differences across over 3000 pairwise comparisons of different variables between populations.
Having analyzed the outcomes of these tests, he developed a new universal formula for determining what can be considered as a species. His study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
Essentially, the equation works by measuring differences for multiple variables between two non-co-occurring populations, and then juxtaposing them to the same results for two related populations which do occur together and evidently belong to different “good” species. If the non-co-occurring pair’s differences exceed those of the good species pair, then the former can be ranked as species. If not, they are subspecies of the same species instead.
The formula builds on existing good taxonomic practices and borrows from optimal aspects of previously proposed mathematical models proposed for assessing species in particular groups, but brought together into a single coherent structure and formula that can be applied to any taxonomic group. It is, however, presented as a benchmark rather than a hard test, to be used together with other data, such as analyses of molecular data.
Thomas hopes that his mathematical formula for species rank assessments will help eliminate some of the subjectivity, regional bias and lumper-splitter conflicts which currently pervade the discipline of taxonomy.
“If this new approach is used, then it should introduce more objectivity to taxonomic science and ultimately mean that limited conservation resources are addressed towards threatened populations which are truly distinct and most deserving of our concern,” he says.
The problem with ranking populations that do not co-occur together was first identified back in 1904. Since then, most approaches to addressing such issues have been subjective or arbitrary or rely heavily upon expert opinion or historical momentum, rather than any objectively defensible or consistent framework.
For example, the American Herring Gull and the European Herring Gull are lumped by some current taxonomic committees into the same species (Herring Gull), or are split into two species by other committees dealing with different regions, simply because relevant experts at those committees have taken different views on the issue.
“For tropical faunas, there are thousands of distinctive populations currently treated as subspecies and which are broadly ignored in conservation activities,” explains Thomas. “Yet, some of these may be of conservation concern. This new framework should help us better to identify and prioritize those situations.”
Donegan TM (2018) What is a species? A new universal method to measure differentiation and assess the taxonomic rank of allopatric populations, using continuous variables. ZooKeys 757: 1-67. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.757.10965
A mystery has long shrouded the orb-weaving spider genus Opadometa, where males and females belonging to one and the same species look nothing alike. Furthermore, the males appear to be so elusive that scientists still doubt whether both sexes are correctly linked to each other even in the best-known species.
Such is the case for Opadometa sarawakensis – a species known only from female specimens. While remarkable with their striking red and blue colors and large size, the females could not give the slightest hint about the likely appearance of the male Opadometa sarawakensis.
Nevertheless, students taking part in a recent two-week tropical ecology field course organized by the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Leiden University, and hosted by the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) on the island of Borneo, Malaysia, found a mature male spider hanging on the web of a red and blue female, later identified as Opadometa sarawakensis. Still quite striking, the male was colored in a blend of orange, gray, black, and silver.
At the brink of a long-awaited discovery and eager to describe the male, the students along with their lecturers and the field station scientific staff encountered a peril – with problematic species like the studied orb weaver they were in need for strong evidence to prove that it matched the female from the web. Furthermore, molecular DNA-based analysis was not an option at the time, since the necessary equipment was not available at DGFC.
On the other hand, being at the center of the action turned out to have advantages no less persuasive than DNA evidence. Having conducted thorough field surveys in the area, the team has concluded that the male’s observation on that particular female’s web in addition to the fact that no other Opadometa species were found in the area, was enough to prove they were indeed representatives of the same spider.
Adapting to the quite basic conditions at the DGFC laboratory, the students and their mentors put in use various items they had on hand, including smartphones paired up with headlights mounted on gooseneck clips in place of sophisticated cameras.
In the end, they gathered all the necessary data to prepare the formal description of the newly identified male.
Once they had the observations and the data, there was only one question left to answer. How could they proceed with the submission of a manuscript to a scholarly journal, so that their finding is formally announced and recognised?
Thanks to the elaborated and highly automated workflow available at the peer-reviewed open access Biodiversity Data Journal and its underlying ARPHA Writing Tool, the researchers managed to successfully compile their manuscript, including all underlying data, such as geolocations, and submit it from the field station. All in all, the authoring, peer review and publication – each step taking place within the ARPHA Platform‘s singular environment – took less than a month to complete. In fact, the paper was published within few days after being submitted.
This is the second publication in the series “Dispatch from the field”, resulting from an initiative led by spider taxonomist Dr Jeremy Miller. In 2014, another team of students and their mentors described a new species of curious one-millimetre-long spider from the Danau Girang Field Center. Both papers serve to showcase the feasibility of publication and sharing of easy to find, access and re-use biodiversity data.
“This has been a unique educational experience for the students,” says Jeremy. “They got to experience how tropical field biologists work, which is often from remote locations and without sophisticated equipment. This means that creativity and persistence are necessary to solve problems and complete a research objective. The fact that the students got to participate in advancing knowledge about this remarkable spider species by contributing to a manuscript was really exciting.”
Miller J, Freund C, Rambonnet L, Koets L, Barth N, van der Linden C, Geml J, Schilthuizen M, Burger R, Goossens B (2018) Dispatch from the field II: the mystery of the red and blue Opadometa male (Araneae, Tetragnathidae, Opadometa sarawakensis). Biodiversity Data Journal6: e24777. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.6.e24777