Citizen scientists discover pinhead-sized beetle in Borneo

The discovery is the latest in a series of newly described species collected as part of the Taxon Expeditions initiative aiming to bring biodiversity and taxonomy closer to the layperson

How many citizen scientists does it take to discover a new species? A recent expedition to the Ulu Temburong forest in Borneo proved that you only need 10 enthusiasts with no professional training, yet fueled with curiosity and passion for the outdoors, to find a new beetle the size of a pinhead in leaf litter.

The newly discovered species of leaf beetle, Clavicornaltica belalongensis Photo by Taxon Expeditions – Pierre Escoubas.

The species, named Clavicornaltica belalongensis, is a tiny, 1.25-mm-long leaf beetle that eats moss on the forest floor. Published in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal, it is the latest discovery from Taxon Expeditions, an initiative that organises scientific field trips to remote and biodiverse locations for teams of scientists and laypeople.

The Ulu Temburong forest, Borneo. Photo by Taxon Expeditions – Pierre Escoubas.

Unlike other science/adventure trips, Taxon Expeditions gives a unique opportunity for laypeople, or citizen scientists, to describe and publish new species of animals and focus on the thousands of ‘little things that run the world’. Thanks to the initiative, they learn about tropical biology techniques while participating in the process of taxonomy and the study of hidden biodiversity.

The new beetle, for example, is one of hundreds of thousands of tiny beetle species that inhabit the leaf litter of tropical forests and have remained unknown and scientifically unnamed up to our days.

In a YouTube video, Simon Berenyi, who joined the expedition along with his 14-year-old son, says: ‘I had no idea how special this would be; you become a student again – you become a child again.’

Entomologist and founder of Taxon Expeditions, Dr. Iva Njunjić explains: ‘We introduce the general public to all these tiny, beautiful, and completely unknown animals, and show them that there is a whole world still to be discovered.’

Last year, another survey in Borneo organised by Taxon Expeditions ended up with the description of a new water beetle species (Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi). Named after famous Hollywood actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. The discovery raised a real furore on the public scene, culminating in the new insect making an appearance on the profile image of the celebrity’s facebook page.

 

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Original source:

Schilthuizen M, Berenyi A, Limin A, Brahim A, Cicuzza D, Eales A, Escoubas P, Grafe U, de Groot M, Hayden W, Paterno M, Jambul R, Slik J, Ting Teck Wah D, Tucker A, Njunjić I (2019) A new species of Clavicornaltica (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), discovered and described on a field course to Kuala Belalong, Brunei. Biodiversity Data Journal 7: e32555. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.7.e32555

Citizen scientists discover 6 new species of beetles in Borneo

Scientists estimate that 80% of the world’s animal and plant species are still unknown. Although the work of taxonomists (whose job is to describe and name those) is appreciated by the general public, funding for taxonomy is dwindling. Moreover, while the areas hosting most of the unknown biodiversity are under threat, time is running out.

To help solve this problem, Taxon Expeditions has become the first organisation in the world to initiate field courses for citizen scientists in biodiversity hotspots, with the aim of discovering, describing, naming, and publishing new species under the slogan “You can be Darwin too”.

“Relying on extra hands means that unknown species can be discovered faster and,” says Taxon Expeditions director and biologist Dr. Iva Njunjic, “for some of that work, you don’t even need to be a trained taxonomist.”

Taxon Expedition’s first field course to the remote 30-kilometre-wide Maliau Basin in Malaysian Borneo, yielded six new species. Three of those, all tiny beetles living in rainforest leaf litter, are published today in the Biodiversity Data Journal. The other three, belonging to the family Elmidae (riffle beetles) will be published next year.

Citizen scientists discovered these species during a field exercise employing the method of ‘Winkler extraction’. Using this technique, dead leaves are collected from the rainforest floor before being sieved, so that hundreds of tiny soil-dwelling insects can be revealed.

Professor Menno Schilthuizen recognised three of those as new species. Under his guidance, the participants studied, photographed and drew the specimens in the expedition’s field lab, extracted their DNA and finalised a draft ready for publication.

The participants also came up with the original names for the three new species. English teacher Sean Otani from Japan decided to name Colenisia chungi after Malaysian entomologist Arthur Chung. The names for Clavicornaltica sabahensis and Dermatohomoeus maliauensis referring to the studied sites were suggested by staff and rangers of Maliau Conservation Area during the farewell party for the course.

All collected samples are deposited in the insect collection of Universiti Malaysia Sabah and the rest of the results – in online databases. This way, these discoveries will help other biologists working on Borneo’s biodiversity.

In March 2018, Taxon Expeditions will again head for Maliau Basin with a new group of participants, hopefully discovering more new species for science. Meanwhile, this year’s team look back on having contributed to real scientific discoveries.

“I had no idea how different, how exciting, how interesting it was going to be. It has been an amazing experience,” says retired corporate account manager Mary Erickson from Canada.

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Original source:

Schilthuizen M, Seip LA, Otani S, Suhaimi J, Njunjic I (2017) Three new minute leaf litter beetles discovered by citizen scientists in Maliau Basin, Malaysian Borneo (Coleoptera: Leiodidae, Chrysomelidae). Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e21947. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e21947