Two species and a single name: ‘Double identity’ revealed in a venomous banana spider

Phoneutria boliviensis in the Peruvian Amazon
Photo by N. Hazzi

Spiders from the genus Phoneutria – also known as banana spiders – are considered aggressive and among the most venomous spiders in the world, with venom that has a neurotoxic action. These large nocturnal spiders usually inhabit environments disturbed by humans and are often found in banana plantations in the Neotropical region. 

One of these spiders, P. boliviensis, is a medically important species widely distributed in Central and South America, whose behaviour, habitat, venom composition, toxicity and bites on humans have already been paid considerable attention in previous research work. Nevertheless, after examining a large pool of museum specimens, biologists from The George Washington University (N. Hazzi and G. Hormiga) began to wonder if samples named P. boliviensis were actually belonging to one and the same species. 

Everything started when N. Hazzi was examining specimens of banana spiders identified in the past by experts as P. boliviensis. The research team quickly realized that the morphological features currently used to identify this species were not sufficient. Then, they discovered two well-defined morphological groups of P. boliviensis that were separated by the Andean mountain range, a geographic barrier that separates many other species.

To prove that these two “forms” were different species, the authors conducted fieldwork in the Amazon, Andes, and Central America, collecting specimens of these venomous spiders to explore if the genomic signal also suggests two species. They discovered that genetic differences separating these two forms were similar compared to the genetic differences separating other recognized species of banana spiders. Using morphological, genomic and geographic distribution data, the authors concluded that P. boliviensis represents not a single species, but two different ones. They uncovered that the true P. boliviensis was only found in the Amazonian region, and the second species, P. depilata (an old name revalidated by the research team), was found in the Andes, Chocó and Caribbean regions. Their findings are published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.

To obtain more distribution records for these species, the research team used the citizen science platform iNaturalist. Since the two species are among the few spiders that can be identified using only images, the platform turned out to be a very helpful tool. Data submitted by the iNaturalist community helped identify where the two species of Phoneutria are found. Curiously enough, for these two species, iNaturalist presented higher and more widely distributed records than the scientists’ own database. 

“To our knowledge, this is the first study that has used iNaturalist to gather occurrence records on venomous species to estimate distribution models,”

the researchers say.

This is how the two spiders can be distinguished using only photographs: P. boliviensis has two lateral white-yellow bands in the anterior area of the carapace, while P. depilata has four series of yellow dots in the ventral side of the abdomen. In addition, for P. depilata’s identification, information is needed on where the image was taken, because this is the only species of Phoneutria found in the Andes, Chocó, and Central America. However, the most reliable approach to identify these species requires examination under a stereomicroscope.  

Interestingly, P. depilata has been mislabeled as P. boliviensis throughout many studies, including works on venom composition and toxicity, ecology, geographic distribution, and human epidemiology of bites. There have been human bite records of this species reported in Costa Rica and in banana plantations in Colombia, most of them with mild to moderate envenomation symptoms. Except for brief anecdotal mentions by field explorers in the Amazon, little is known about P. depilata. 

Genetic evolutionary tree of the banana spiders genus Phoneutria
Photo by N.Hazzi

The study provides detailed diagnoses with images to distinguish both species and distribution maps. 

“This valuable information will help identify risk areas of accidental bites and assist health professionals in determining the identity of the species involved, especially for P. depilata. This is a significant discovery that will affect studies about toxicology, opening new opportunities to compare the venom composition and the effect of these two species,” the authors conclude.

Research article: 

Hazzi NA, Hormiga G (2021) Morphological and molecular evidence support the taxonomic separation of the medically important Neotropical spiders Phoneutria depilata (Strand, 1909) and P. boliviensis (F.O. Pickard-Cambridge, 1897) (Araneae, Ctenidae). ZooKeys 1022: 13-50. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1022.60571

🎉Celebration time: here’s to 1,000 issues of ZooKeys!

With the 1,000th ZooKeys issue now hot off the press, the time has come to celebrate the millennium of Pensoft’s very first scientific journal: ZooKeys!

With the 1,000th ZooKeys 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.

Articles published in ZooKeys since the journal’s launch in 2008 (data from 3/12/2020).

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:

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.

Author’s delight

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.

  1. Supporting Red List threat assessments with GeoCAT: geospatial conservation assessment tool (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.150.2109)
  2. Family-group names in Coleoptera (Insecta) (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.88.807)
  3. 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)  
  4. 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
  5. Useful model organisms, indicators, or both? Ground beetles (Coleoptera, Carabidae) reflecting environmental conditions (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.100.1533

Reader’s delight

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.

  1. 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”.

  1. 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.

  1. Family-Group Names In Coleoptera (Insecta) (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.88.807)

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 Aphonopelma johnnycashi.  

Public’s delight

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).

Data source: Altmetric.

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.

  1. 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.

Credit: CNN (read the full news story here)
  1. Geology and paleontology of the Upper Cretaceous Kem Kem Group of eastern Morocco (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.928.47517)

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.

  1. 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.

Credit: Sky News (read the full news story here)
  1. 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.

  1. Mapping the expansion of coyotes (Canis latrans) across North and Central America (DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.759.15149)

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. Dr Li-Zhen Li, coleopterist at Shanghai Normal University (57 publications).
  4. Dr Reginald Webster, coleopterist at Natural Resources Canada and a reviewer at ZooKeys (57 publications).
  5. Dr Sergei Golovatch, myriapodologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a reviewer and a subject editor at ZooKeys (53 publications).

As well as to our most active reviewers:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. Dr Ivan H. Tuf, ecologist at Palacký University (Czech Republic) and a subject editor at ZooKeys.
  4. Dr Viatcheslav Ivanenko, taxonomist at the Lomonosov Moscow State University.
  5. 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.

And ZooKeysmost active editors:

  1. Prof Pavel Stoev, taxonomist, ecologist, and director at the National Natural History Museum (Bulgaria), and managing editor at ZooKeys.
  2. Prof Lyubomir Penev, entomologist, ecologist at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and founder of ZooKeys.
  3. 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.
  4. Dr Nina Bogutskaya, hydrobiologist and ichthyologist at the Museum of Natural History Vienna, and also a reviewer at ZooKeys.
  5. 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!

A new species of Darwin wasp from Mexico named in observance of the 2020 quarantine period

“We thought that it was a good idea to remember this extraordinary year through the name of one remarkable species of Darwin wasp found in seven Mexican States (including Tamaulipas, where the UAT campus is located) and also Guatemala,” comment the researchers who discovered the previously unknown species.

Scientists at the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas (UAT) in Mexico recently discovered five new species of parasitoid wasps in Mexico, but the name of one of them sounds a bit weird: covida. Why this name?

In fact, the reason is quite simple. The thing is that the team of Andrey Khalaim (also a researcher at the Zoological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg, Russia) and Enrique Ruíz Cancino discovered the new to science species during the 2020 global quarantine period, imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their findings are described in a newly published research article, in the peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal ZooKeys.

“We thought that it was a good idea to remember this extraordinary year through the name of one remarkable species of Darwin wasp found in seven Mexican States (including Tamaulipas, where the UAT campus is located) and also Guatemala,”

explain the scientists.

The new species, which goes by the official scientific name Stethantyx covida, belongs to the Darwin wasp family Ichneumonidae, one of the most species-rich insect families, which comprises more than 25,000 species worldwide. 

“Darwin wasps are abundant and well-known almost everywhere in the world because of their beauty, gracility, and because they are used in biological control of insect pests in orchards and forests. Many Darwin wasp species attack the larvae or pupae of butterflies and moths. Yet, some species are particularly interesting, as their larvae feed on spider eggs and others, even more bizarre, develop on living spiders!”

further explain the authors of the new study.

Stethantyx covida is a small wasp that measures merely 3.5 mm in length. It is predominantly dark in colour, whereas parts of its body and legs are yellow or brown. It is highly polished and shining, and the ovipositor of the female is very long and slender.Along with Stethantyx covida, the authors also described four other Mexican species of Darwin wasps from three different genera (Stethantyx, Meggoleus, Phradis), all belonging to the subfamily Tersilochinae. Some tersilochines are common on flowers in springtime. While the majority of them are parasitoids of larvae of various beetles, some Mexican species attack sawflies, inhabiting the forests.

***

Original source:

Khalaim AI, Ruíz-Cancino E (2020) Contribution to the taxonomy of Mexican Tersilochinae (Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae), with descriptions of five new species. ZooKeys 974: 1-21. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.974.54536

Special ZooKeys memorial volume open to submissions to commemorate our admirable founding Editor-in-Chief Terry Erwin

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 biodiversity! 

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.

The Commission on Zoological Nomenclature proposes amendments to its Constitution

The ICZN Commissioners (Singapore, 2019)
Photo by ICZN

The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) proposes amendments to its Constitution – the legal basis determining how the Commission is to be governed – to solicit feedback from the zoological community, who will have one year, starting 30 April 2020, to submit constructive comments before the Commissioners cast their votes. To prompt useful debate on the revision of the foundational rules and principles at the ICZN, these comments will be openly published in the Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature and the ICZN website. 

In compliance with the ICZN Constitution, the proposed amendments are now available in the Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature (BZN) and three other suitable journals, including the peer-reviewed open-access journal ZooKeys. Given there is a sufficient consensus on the proposed amendments, the final version of the Constitution will be presented to the International Union of Biological Sciences for provisional ratification. Afterwards, the decision and date of effective ratification will also be published in BZN.

Established in 1895, the ICZN is an organisation, whose task is to act as the adviser and arbiter for the zoological community by generating and disseminating information on the correct formation and use of the scientific names of animals. The ICZN is responsible for producing the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, which is a set of rules for the naming of animals and the resolution of nomenclatural problems.

Key proposed amendments address the terms of service and eligibility of members of the Commission; the inclusion of the ICZN website as a primary venue for information dissemination; reducing the standard voting period from three months to two, in recognition of the faster transmission speed of electronic mail compared to postal mail; and adding the maintenance of ZooBank – the Official Register of Zoological Nomenclature – to the list of responsibilities of the Commission.

“Along with recent amendments to its Bylaws, the proposed amendments to the ICZN Constitution will help the Commission to fulfil its aim of promoting stability and universality in the nomenclature of animals,”


comment from the ICZN.

Original source:

ICZN (2020) Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. ZooKeys 931: 1–9. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.931.51583

Scientists discover bent-toed gecko species in Cambodia

Originally published by North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

A new species of bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis) has been described from Cambodia’s Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary by Wild Earth Allies Biologist Thy Neang in collaboration with North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences‘ Herpetologist Bryan Stuart. This new species is described in ZooKeys.

The species was discovered by Thy Neang during Wild Earth Allies field surveys in June-July 2019 on an isolated mountain named Phnom Chi in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary when he encountered an unusual species of bent-toed gecko. “It was an extremely unexpected discovery. No one thought there were undescribed species in Prey Lang,” said Neang.

The geckos were found to belong to the C. irregularis species complex that includes at least 19 species distributed in south¬ern and central Vietnam, eastern Cambodia, and southern Laos. This is the first member of the complex to be found west of the Mekong River, demonstrating how biogeographic barriers can lead to speciation. Additionally, the geckos were unique in morphological characters and mitochondrial DNA, and distinct from C. ziegleri to which they are most closely related. Researchers have named the species Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis after Phnom Chi mountain where it was found.

A new species of bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis) has been discovered in Cambodia’s Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary by Wild Earth Allies Biologist Thy Neang in collaboration with Bryan Stuart of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Photo by Thy Neang

Bent-toed geckos of the genus Cyrtodactylus are one of the most species-diverse genera of gekkonid lizards, with 292 recognized species. Much of the diversity within Cyrtodactylus has been described only during the past decade and from mainland Southeast Asia, and many of these newly recognized species are thought to have extremely narrow geographic ranges. As such, Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis is likely endemic to Phnom Chi, which consists of an isolated small mountain of rocky outcrops (peak of 652 m elevation) and a few associated smaller hills, altogether encompassing an area of approximately 4,464 hectares in Kampong Thom and Kratie Provinces within the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia.

The forest habitat in Phnom Chi remains in relatively good condition, but small-scale illegal gold extraction around its base threatens the newly discovered species. A second species of lizard, the scincid Sphenomorphus preylangensis, was also recently described from Phnom Chi by a team of researchers including Neang. These new discoveries underscore the importance of Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary for biodiversity conservation and the critical need to strengthen its management.

Habitat at Phnom Chi, the type locality of the newly described bent-toed gecko.
Photo by Thy Neang

Further, an assessment of C. phnomchiensis is urgently warranted by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2020) because of its small area of occupancy, status as relatively uncommon, and ongoing threats to its habitat.

“This exciting discovery adds another reptile species to science for Cambodia and the world. It also highlights the global importance of Cambodia’s biodiversity and illustrates the need for future exploration and biological research in Prey Lang,”

said Neang.

“When [Neang] first returned from fieldwork and told me that he had found a species in the C. irregularis group so far west of the Mekong River in Cambodia, I did not believe it. His discovery underscores how much unknown biodiversity remains out there in unexpected places. Clearly, Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary is important for biodiversity and deserves attention,”

said Neang’s co-author Stuart of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

###

Original source:

Neang T, Henson A, Stuart BL (2020) A new species of Cyrtodactylus (Squamata, Gekkonidae) from Cambodia’s Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary. ZooKeys 926: 133-158. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.926.48671

###

For more information on Wild Earth Allies, please visit: http://www.wildearthallies.org.

For more information on the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, please visit:http://www.naturalsciences.org.

Plazi and Pensoft join forces to let biodiversity knowledge of coronaviruses hosts out

Pensoft’s flagship journal ZooKeys invites free-to-publish research on key biological traits of SARS-like viruses potential hosts and vectors; Plazi harvests and brings together all relevant data from legacy literature to a reliable FAIR-data repository

To bridge the huge knowledge gaps in the understanding of how and which animal species successfully transmit life-threatening diseases to humans, thereby paving the way for global health emergencies, scholarly publisher Pensoft and literature digitisation provider Plazi join efforts, expertise and high-tech infrastructure. 

By using the advanced text- and data-mining tools and semantic publishing workflows they have developed, the long-standing partners are to rapidly publish easy-to-access and reusable biodiversity research findings and data, related to hosts or vectors of the SARS-CoV-2 or other coronaviruses, in order to provide the stepping stones needed to manage and prevent similar crises in the future.

Already, there’s plenty of evidence pointing to certain animals, including pangolins, bats, snakes and civets, to be the hosts of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (coronaviruses), hence, potential triggers of global health crises, such as the currently ravaging Coronavirus pandemic. However, scientific research on what biological and behavioural specifics of those species make them particularly successful vectors of zoonotic diseases is surprisingly scarce. Even worse, the little that science ‘knows’ today is often locked behind paywalls and copyright laws, or simply ‘trapped’ in formats inaccessible to text- and data-mining performed by search algorithms. 

This is why Pensoft’s flagship zoological open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal ZooKeys recently announced its upcoming, special issue, titled “Biology of pangolins and bats”, to invite research papers on relevant biological traits and behavioural features of bats and pangolins, which are or could be making them efficient vectors of zoonotic diseases. Another open-science innovation champion in the Pensoft’s portfolio, Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal) launched another free-to-publish collection of early and/or brief outcomes of research devoted to SARS-like viruses.

Due to the expedited peer review and publication processes at ZooKeys, the articles will rapidly be made public and accessible to scientists, decision-makers and other experts, who could then build on the findings and eventually come up with effective measures for the prevention and mitigation of future zoonotic epidemics. To further facilitate the availability of such critical research, ZooKeys is waiving the publication charges for accepted papers.

Meanwhile, the literature digitisation provider Plazi is deploying its text- and data-mining expertise and tools, to locate and acquire publications related to hosts of coronaviruses – such as those expected in the upcoming “Biology of pangolins and bats” special issue in ZooKeys – and deposit them in a newly formed Coronavirus-Host Community, a repository hosted on the Zenodo platform. There, all publications will be granted persistent open access and enhanced with taxonomy-specific data derived from their sources. Contributions to Plazi can be made at various levels: from sending suggestions of articles to be added to the Zotero bibliographic public libraries on virus-hosts associations and hosts’ taxonomy, to helping the conversion of those articles into findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR) knowledge.

Pensoft’s and Plazi’s collaboration once again aligns with the efforts of the biodiversity community, after the natural science collections consortium DiSSCo (Distributed System of Scientific Collections) and the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), recently announced the COVID-19 Task Force with the aim to create a network of taxonomists, collection curators and other experts from around the globe.

Tiny fly from Los Angeles has a taste for crushed invasive snails

Living individual of Draparnaud’s glass snail
Photo by Kat Halsey

As part of their project BioSCAN – devoted to the exploration of the unknown insect diversity in and around the city of Los Angeles – the scientists at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (USA) have already discovered numerous insects that are new to science, but they are still only guessing about the lifestyles of these species.

“Imagine trying to find a given 2 mm long fly in the environment and tracking its behavior: it is the smallest imaginable needle in the largest haystack. So when researchers discover new life histories, it is something worth celebrating,”

explains Dr. Brian Brown, lead author of a recent paper, published in the scholarly open-access Biodiversity Data Journal.

However, Brown and Maria Wong, former BioSCAN technician, while doing field work at the L.A. County Arboretum, were quick to reveal a curious peculiarity about one particular species discovered as part of the project a few years ago. They successfully lured female phorid flies by means of crushing tiny, invasive snails and using them as bait. In comparison, the majority of phorid flies, whose lifestyles have been observed, are parasitoids of social insects like ants.

Within mere seconds after the team crushed tiny invasive snails (Oxychilus draparnaudi), females representing the fly species Megaselia steptoeae arrived at the scene and busied themselves feeding. Brown and Wong then collected some and brought them home alive along with some dead snails. One of the flies even laid eggs. After hatching, the larvae were observed feeding upon the rotting snails and soon they developed to the pupal stage. However, none was reared to adulthood.

Female phorid fly feeding on a crushed Draparnaud’s glass snail
Photo by Kat Halsey

Interestingly, the host species – used by the fly to both feed on and lay eggs inside – commonly known as Draparnaud’s glass snail, is a European species that has been introduced into many parts of the world. Meanwhile, the studied fly is native to L.A. So far, it is unknown when and how the mollusc appeared on the menu of the insect.

To make things even more curious, species of other snail genera failed to attract the flies, which hints at a peculiar interaction worth of further study, point out the scientists behind the study, Brown and Jann Vendetti, curator of the NHM Malacology collection. They also hope to lure in other species of flies by crushing other species of snails.

***

In recent years, the BioSCAN project led to other curious discoveries from L.A., also published in Biodiversity Data JournalIn 2016, a whole batch of twelve previously unknown scuttle fly species was described from the heart of the city. A year later, another mysterious phorid fly was caught ovipositing in mushroom caps after Bed & Breakfast owners called in entomologists to report on what they had been observing in their yard.

Original source:

Brown BV, Vendetti JE (2020) Megaselia steptoeae (Diptera: Phoridae): specialists on smashed snails. Biodiversity Data Journal 8: e50943. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.8.e50943

Research on bats and pangolins – potential vectors of zoonotic pandemics like COVID-19 – invited to a free-to-publish special issue in ZooKeys

Captively bred pangolins. 
Photo by Hua L. et al., taken from their study on the current status, problems and future prospects of captive breeding of pangolins, openly accessible in ZooKeys at: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.507.6970

Accepted papers will be published free of charge in recognition of the emergency of the current global situation

Was it the horseshoe bat or could it rather be one of the most traded mammal in the world: the pangolin, at the root of the current devastating pandemic that followed the transmission of the zoonotic SARS-CoV-2 virus to a human host, arguably after infected animal products reached poorly regulated wet markets in Wuhan, China, last year? 

To make matters worse, the current situation is no precedent. Looking at the not so distant past, we notice that humanity has been repeatedly falling victim to viral deadly outbreaks, including Zika, Ebola, the Swine flu, the Spanish flu and the Plague, where all are linked to an animal host that at one point, under specific circumstances transferred the virus to people. 

Either way, here’s a lesson humanity gets to learn once again: getting too close to wildlife is capable of opening the gates to global disasters with horrific and irreversible damage on human lives, economics and ecosystems. What is left for us to understand is how exactly these transmission pathways look like and what are the factors making certain organisms like the bat and the pangolin particularly efficient vectors of diseases such as COVID-19 (Coronavirus). This crucial knowledge could’ve been easier for us to grasp had we only obtained the needed details about those species on time.

Aligning with the efforts of the biodiversity community, such as the recently announced DiSSCo and CETAF COVID-19 Task Force, who intend to create an efficient network of taxonomists, collection curators and other experts from around the globe and equip them with the tools and large datasets needed to combat the unceasing pandemic, the open-access peer-reviewed scholarly journal ZooKeys invites researchers from across the globe to submit their work on the biology of bats and pangolins to a free-to-publish special issue. 

The effort will be coordinated with the literature digitisation provider Plazi, who will extract and liberate data on potential hosts from various journals and publishers. In this way, these otherwise hardly accessible data will be re-used to support researchers in generation of new hypotheses and knowledge on this urgent topic.

By providing further knowledge on these sources and vectors of zoonotic diseases, this collection of publications could contribute with priceless insights to make the world better prepared for epidemics like the Coronavirus and even prevent such from happening in the future. 

Furthermore, by means of its technologically advanced infrastructure and services, including expedite peer review and publication processes, in addition to a long list of indexers and databases where publications are registered, ZooKeys will ensure the rapid publication of those crucial findings, and will also take care that once they get online, they will immediately become easy to discover, cite and built on by any researcher, anywhere in the world. 

***

The upcoming “Biology of bats and pangolins” special issue is to add up to some excellent examples of previous research on the systematics, biology and distribution of pangolins and bats published in ZooKeys

In their review paper from 2015, Chinese scientists looked into the issues and prospects around captive breeding of pangolins. A year later, their colleagues at South China Normal University provided further insights into captive breeding, in addition to new data on the reproductive parameters of Chinese pangolins.

Back in 2013, a Micronesian-US research studied the taxonomy, distribution and natural history of flying fox bats inhabiting the Caroline Islands (Micronesia). A 2018 joint study on bat diversity in Sri Lanka focused on chiropteran conservation and management; while a more recent article on the cryptic diversity and range extension of the big-eyed bats in the genus Chiroderma

***

For more information, visit ZooKeys website

Follow ZooKeys on Twitter and Facebook.

*** 

References:

Buden D, Helgen K, Wiles G (2013) Taxonomy, distribution, and natural history of flying foxes (Chiroptera, Pteropodidae) in the Mortlock Islands and Chuuk State, Caroline Islands. ZooKeys 345: 97-135. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.345.5840

Edirisinghe G, Surasinghe T, Gabadage D, Botejue M, Perera K, Madawala M, Weerakoon D, Karunarathna S (2018) Chiropteran diversity in the peripheral areas of the Maduru-Oya National Park in Sri Lanka: insights for conservation and management. ZooKeys 784: 139-162. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.784.25562

Hua L, Gong S, Wang F, Li W, Ge Y, Li X, Hou F (2015) Captive breeding of pangolins: current status, problems and future prospects. ZooKeys 507: 99-114. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.507.6970

Lim BK, Loureiro LO, Garbino GST (2020) Cryptic diversity and range extension in the big-eyed bat genus Chiroderma (Chiroptera, Phyllostomidae). ZooKeys 918: 41-63. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.918.48786

Zhang F, Wu S, Zou C, Wang Q, Li S, Sun R (2016) A note on captive breeding and reproductive parameters of the Chinese pangolin, Manis pentadactyla Linnaeus, 1758. ZooKeys 618: 129-144. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.618.8886

Second of its kind ‘sharpshooter’ leafhopper from Brazil ‘strikes’ with its colouration

When, in 2014, Brazilian researchers stumbled across a never-before-seen red-eyed leafhopper feeding inside the rosettes of bromeliads, growing in the restingas of southeastern Brazil, they were certain it was a one-of-a-kind discovery. Described as new-to-science species, as well as genus (Cavichiana bromelicola) and added to the sharpshooter tribe Cicadellini, it became the first known case of a leafhopper feeding on otherwise nutrition-poor bromeliads in their natural habitat. 

Newly described sharpshooter species Cavichiana alpina (left) and the only other leafhopper (Cavichiana bromelicola, right) known to feed on bromeliads
Photo by Gabriel Mejdalani

Several years later, however, a team of entomologists from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro carried out fieldwork in a mountainous area of southeastern Brazil and, as a result, another bromelicolous leafhopper species of the genus was discovered: Cavichiana alpina. Only, the new one appeared even more spectacular. 

The new species, described and illustrated in the open-access journal Zoologia, is known from Itatiaia National Park (southeastern Brazil), where it can be found at altitudes above 1,800 m a.s.l. In fact, its characteristic mountainous habitat came to determine its species name (alpina). In contrast, its relative was originally described exclusively from sea level regions, even though the latest field trips have recorded it from a site located at 1,250 m a.s.l. 

Slightly larger than the previously known C. bromelicola and similarly red-eyed, what most remarkably sets apart the newly-described species is its colouration. Rather than a single large yellow blotch contrasting against the dark-brown to black back of the insect, this sharpshooter sports a motley amalgam of red and blue covering most of its upper side.

In conclusion, the researchers explain that the peculiarity of the two known Cavichiana species is best attributed to a putative common ancestor that had likely once been widely distributed in southeastern and southern Brazil. Later, they speculate, a vicariant event, such as the uplift of the southeastern Brazilian mountain ranges during the latest Eocene and Oligocene, might have caused its diversification into two separate species.

Newly described sharpshooter species Cavichiana alpina (top) and the only other leafhopper (Cavichiana bromelicola, bottom) known to feed on bromeliads in their natural habitat
Photo by Gabriel Mejdalani

Original source: 
Quintas V, Takiya DM, Côrte I, Mejdalani G (2020) A remarkable new species of Cavichiana (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae: Cicadellinae) from southeastern Brazil. Zoologia 37: 1-8. https://doi.org/10.3897/zoologia.37.e38783