Thursday, July 2, 2015

Order of Canada honours father of DNA Barcoding

Established in 1967 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Order of Canada is the cornerstone of the Canadian Honours System, and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. The Order recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country. Since its creation, more than 6 000 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the Order.

Yesterday the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston announced the new appointments to the order of Canada and among them Paul Hebert for his achievements as an evolutionary biologist, notably as a pioneer of DNA Barcoding. The Order of Canada has three different categories, companion, officer and member, ranked in order. Paul was made an officer which recognizes national service or achievement.

Congratulations to Paul, a well deserved honour.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Scutigera coleoptrata
Nearly 13,000 species of arthropods are currently classified in the Myriapoda. Although their name suggests they have countless legs, myriapods range from having over 750 legs (Illacme plenipes) to having fewer than ten legs. Their size ranges from microscopic to 30 cm in length. All of them are terrestrial.

There are four groups of myriapods, how they are related to each other is not yet well understood. Two of them, the symphyla and pauropoda, consist of tiny arthropods living in leaf litter and soil, both superficially resemble centipedes. The chilopoda includes the true centipedes which have only one pair of legs per body segment. They are predators; the first pair of appendages on the trunk are modified into a pair of claws with poison glands, which centipedes use to capture prey (usually other arthropods). The bite of large centipedes can cause humans some pain and discomfort, although there are no authenticated cases of human fatalities from centipede bites.

The diplopoda include the millipedes. Millipede segments are formed in early development by fusion of two adjacent embryonic segments; thus, each adult segment of a millipede bears two pairs of legs. Unlike the predatory chilopoda, most millipedes feed on decaying vegetation, although some are carnivorous.

ZooKeys has just published a conference volume on the  16th International Congress of Myriapodology held last year in Olomouc,Czech Republic. The congress organised by the Centre International de Myriapodologie brought together scientists, students and enthusiastic amateurs with specific interest in millipedes, centipedes, symphylans and pauropods, as well as velvet worms. This conference volume contains lots of very interesting articles and I am happy to report that quite a few use DNA Barcoding in their studies. Here they are including hyperlinks:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Antarctic biodiversity

Most people think of the Antarctic continent as a vast, icy waste, and the sea as uniformly populated by whales, seals and penguins. But that's simply not true. There's much biodiversity on land, especially among the micro-organisms, such as bacteria, and the seafloor is very rich in larger unusual species, such as sea spiders and isopods (the marine equivalents of slaters or wood lice). More than 8000 species are known from the marine environment.

An international team of researchers looked at how recent investigations have revealed the continent and surrounding ocean is rich in species. Studies were highly diversified into a variety of distinct ecological regions that differ greatly from each other. The team explicitly focused on demonstrating the diversity of various areas of the Antarctic continent and Southern Ocean, and noted several unusual ways in which patterns of biodiversity are produced in the region. Geothermal, heated areas, such as volcanoes, have played an important role as refuges from icy, glacial conditions on land. At sea, wind has an especially significant effect on diversity. Windier areas have more seabird species. Increasing wind speeds, associated with the ozone hole, have, quite unusually, improved conditions for wandering albatrosses, reducing their travel time and enabling them to become much heavier as adults.

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean have much more biodiversity, structured in more interesting ways than ever previously thought. Sub-glacial micro-organismal life provides an excellent example of a surprising recent discovery

The team also made a brief assessment of the conservation status of biodiversity in the region. The colleagues found that in some cases conservation measures are excellent, e.g. when it comes to the prevention of invasive alien species. For other issues, work by the Antarctic Treaty Parties is still required. For example, the area covered by special protection on land (the equivalent of national parks), and by marine protected areas at sea, is still too small, when measured by global targets such as those of the Strategic Plan on Biodiversity 2011-2020. The team drew particular attention to the need for comprehensive protection of the Ross Sea.

This is one of the planet's last, relatively intact, large marine ecosystems. It is unusual in this respect, and thus provides a suite of globally significant conservation benefits and scientific insights. Ultimately, the region will require a dedicated plan for biodiversity conservation, similar to those being developed for most other regions of the planet. We think there's plenty of appetite for developing it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

School Malaise Trap Program - Spring 2015

We were scrambling a little in the last weeks but here they are (and all the participating schools have them already) - the results of our School program spring run:

Despite the wintry conditions in some parts of Canada the 68 traps on average collected 453 specimens for the collecting period. Our collections group sorted 61,776 specimens and selected 17,290  to  be barcoded. Our final dataset was made up of 15,199 DNA Barcodes (not all  worked and short barcodes were discarded). Using BOLDs BIN analysis we could  determine that an impressive number of 2,968 species were collected over the three week period of the program, 308 of which were brand new to BOLD. The map below shows all of these collection sites, which include elementary schools, secondary schools, and comparison sites (blue markers).

And what was collected? Here an overview pie chart:

I am particularly fond of scorpionflies and one rare find was this little critter (Boreus brumalis). Adults emerge late in the year, and are active on mild winter days when they are often seen on or near the moss in which they develop. As the common name snow scorpionflies suggests, they are often seen on the snow surface. The program started when large parts of the country still had snow which might explain our luck collecting a member of this group in one of our traps

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Antarctic sponges

Sponges constitute an important component of marine ecosystems in the waters around Antarctica. As filter feeders that rely on food particles suspended in the water passing through complex networks of canals lined with flagellated cells, they provide protected niches for many other organisms.
Some 350 sponge species have been described from the seas around Antarctica, many of which occur nowhere else. This high proportion of endemic species most likely is a reflection o the isolation of the continent, which separated from Gondwana around 140 million years ago. Progressive cooling of the climate, together with the development of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, set up effective barriers to dispersion, and stimulated ecological specialization.

A team of researchers from Germany and New Zealand has now carried out the first comprehensive molecular genetic survey of sponge diversity in Antarctic waters, using DNA Barcoding. The colleagues found out that Antarctic sponges are a surprisingly diverse group. In fact, the degree of species richness found in the waters around the coldest continent is comparable to that found in tropical sponge communities. Their analyses also supports the idea that Antarctic sponges developed as a largely isolated population, descendants from a small number of ancestral forms that evolved in the waters off Gondwana prior to the break-up of the supercontinent. Some species of Antarctic sponges are known to be widespread on the continental coasts, but very little is known about the genetic relationships between them.

In spite of their considerable ecological significance, Antarctic sponges have never before been investigated with modern molecular methods, which permit rapid and unambiguous species identification and yield insights into the evolution of the group. 

Our results make it possible to create a library of DNA barcodes, which can be used for comparative investigations of the group. We can determine, for instance, whether an ostensibly circumpolar species actually represents a single species or a collection of diverse local forms. Such information is of great significance for the conservation and management of the marine resources in the seas around this unique landmass, which is acutely threatened by global climate change.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Discoveries of the week #43

Reproduction in arthropods is an interesting area of research where intrasexual and intersexual mechanisms have evolved structures with several functions. The mating plugs usually produced by males are good examples of these structures where the main function is to obstruct the female genitalia against new sperm depositions. In spiders several types of mating plugs have been documented, the most common ones include solidified secretions, parts of the bulb or in some extraordinary cases the mutilation of the entire palpal bulb. Here, we describe the first case of modified setae, which are located on the cymbial dorsal base, used directly as a mating plug for the Order Araneae in the species Maeota setastrobilaris sp. n. In addition the taxonomic description of M. setastrobilaris sp. n. is provided and based on our findings the geographic distribution of this genus is extended to the Northern hemisphere.

A new jumping spider from Mexico.The species name refers to the anatomy of some brittles used as a mating plug,
no DNA Barcode

Despite the alarming rates of deforestation and forest fragmentation, Madagascar still harbors extraordinary biodiversity. However, in many arthropod groups, such as spiders, this biodiversity remains mostly unexplored and undescribed. The first subsocial Madagascan species of the theridiid spider genus Anelosimus were described in 2005 when six new species were found to coexist in the Périnet forest fragment within Andasibe-Mantadia NP. However, this discovery was based only on a few specimens and the extent of this Madagascan radiation has remained unknown. We here report on a thorough survey of >350 colonies from Périnet, and three pilot surveys into additional Madagascar forests (Ambohitantely, Ranamofana, and Montagne d’Ambre). The morphological, molecular and natural history data from these surveys facilitated a revised taxonomy and phylogenetic hypothesis of Madagascan Anelosimus. This subsocial clade currently comprises six previously known (A. andasibe Agnarsson & Kuntner, 2005, A. may Agnarsson, 2005, A. nazariani Agnarsson & Kuntner, 2005, A. sallee Agnarsson & Kuntner, 2005, A. salut Agnarsson & Kuntner, 2005, A. vondrona Agnarsson & Kuntner, 2005) and 10 new species: A. ata sp. n., A. buffoni sp. n., A. darwini sp. n., A. hookeri sp. n., A. huxleyi sp. n., A. lamarcki sp. n., A. moramora sp. n., A. tita sp. n., A. torfi sp. n., A. wallacei sp. n.. With the exception of A. may and A. vondrona, all other species appear to be single forest endemics. While additional sampling is necessary, these data imply a much higher local richness and endemism in Madagascan forests than in any other comparable area globally. The phylogenetic results establish a sister clade relationship between the subsocial Anelosimus in Madagascar and the American ‘eximius group’, and between the solitary A. decaryi on Madagascar and a solitary American clade. These findings imply duplicate colonizations from America, an otherwise rare biogeographical pattern, calling for more detailed investigation of Anelosimus biogeography.

Madagascar is home to an incredible amount of often endemic biodiversity and spiders are no exception to this. But contrary to a lot of charismatic vertebrate groups comprehensive research into spider diversity is largely lacking. This study looks into one genus of cobweb spiders and 10 new species are described most of which restricted to very small areas implying a much higher hidden diversity.

Material of the paederine genera Domene Fauvel, 1873 and Lathrobium Gravenhorst, 1802 from the Dayao Mountains, southern China, is examined. Eight species are identified, three of them described previously and five undescribed. Four species are described and illustrated for the first time: Domene hei Peng & Li, sp. n., Lathrobium jinxiuense Peng & Li, sp. n., L. kuan Peng & Li, sp. n. and L. leii Peng & Li, sp. n. One probably undescribed species of Lathrobium remains unnamed.

A number of new rove beetles from the Dayao Mountains, China. The first species is named to honor a colleague that helped collecting, the second after the type locality. The third name means 'broad' and refers to a rather wide structure in the morphology. The last species was named after another field trip helper.
no DNA barcode

Scapheremaeus gibbus, Scapheremaeus luxtoni
Scapheremaeus gibbus

Two new species of oribatid mites of the genus Scapheremaeus (Oribatida, Cymbaeremaeidae), S. gibbus sp. n. and S. luxtoni sp. n., are described from New Zealand. Scapheremaeus gibbus sp. n. is morphologically most similar to S. humeratus Balogh & Mahunka, 1967, but differs from the latter by the number of notogastral, genital and adanal setae, morphology of bothridial setae, position of adanal lyrifissures and absence of humeral processes. Scapheremaeus luxtoni sp. n. is morphologically most similar to S. yamashitai Aoki, 1970, but differs from the latter by the morphology of notogastral and rostral setae, morphology of leg solenidia φ2 and development of humeral processes. The species Scapheremaeus zephyrus Colloff, 2010 is recorded for the first time in New Zealand. An identification key to the known New Zealand species of Scapheremaeus is provided.

The species of the mite order Oribatida are of economic importance as hosts of various tapeworm species, but also as important contributors to the breakdown of organic material in the soil, very similar to earthworms. Mites are among the most diverse and successful of all the invertebrate groups. About 40 000 species have been described and there are many colleagues that say this is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are two newcomers from New Zealand. One named after some anatomical structure and the other to honor acarologist Malcolm Luxton.
no DNA barcode

Paracolomerus gonglius, Phyllocoptruta beggerianae, Rhyncaphytoptus fuyuniensis
Paracolomerus gonglius

Three new species of eriophyoid mites from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China, are described and illustrated. They are Paracolomerus gonglius sp. n. and Phyllocoptruta beggerianae sp. n. collected on Rosa beggeriana Schrenk ex Fisch. & C. A. Mey. (Rosaceae), and Rhyncaphytoptus fuyuniensis sp. n. collected on Cotoneaster ignavus E. L. Wolf (Rosaceae). All eriophyoid mites described here are vagrants on the undersurface of leaves and any apparent damage was not observed.

And even more new mites. This publication presents three new species from China. They belong to a group that has been recognized as containing important agricultural and forestry pests. The first and third species were named after the type locality, number two after its host plant, Rosa beggeriana.
no DNA barcode

Convolvulus austroafricanus, Convolvulus iranicus, Convolvulus peninsularis, Convolvulus xanthopotamicus
A global revision of Convolvulus L. is presented, Calystegia R.Br. being excluded on pragmatic grounds. One hundred and ninety species are recognised with the greatest diversity in the Irano-Turanian region. All recognised species are described and the majority are illustrated. Distribution details, keys to species identification and taxonomic notes are provided. Four new species, Convolvulus austroafricanus J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, sp. nov., Convolvulus iranicus J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, sp. nov., Convolvulus peninsularis J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, sp. nov. and Convolvulus xanthopotamicus J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, sp. nov., one new subspecies Convolvulus chinensis subsp. triangularis J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, subsp. nov., and two new varieties Convolvulus equitans var. lindheimeri J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, var. nov., Convolvulus glomeratus var. sachalitarum J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, var. nov. are described. Convolvulus incisodentatus J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, nom. nov., is provided as a replacement name for the illegitimate Convolvulus incisus Choisy. Several species treated as synonyms of other species in recent publications are reinstated including C. chinensis Ker-Gawl., C. spinifer M.Popov., C. randii Rendle and C. aschersonii Engl. Ten taxa are given new status and recognised at new ranks: Convolvulus namaquensis (Schltr. ex. A.Meeuse) J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, stat. nov., Convolvulus hermanniae subsp. erosus (Desr.) J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, stat. nov., Convolvulus crenatifolius subsp. montevidensis (Spreng.) J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, stat. nov., Convolvulus fruticulosus subsp. glandulosus (Webb) J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, stat. nov., Convolvulus capituliferus subsp. foliaceus (Verdc.) J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, stat. nov., Convolvulus hystrix subsp. ruspolii (Dammer ex Hallier f.) J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, stat. nov., Convolvulus hystrix subsp. inermis (Chiov.) J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, stat. nov., Convolvulus rottlerianus subsp. stocksii (Boiss.) J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, comb. et stat. nov., Convolvulus calvertii subsp. ruprechtii (Boiss.) J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, stat. nov., Convolvulus cephalopodus subsp. bushiricus (Bornm.) J.R.I.Wood & R.W.Scotland, stat. nov. The status of various infraspecific taxa is clarified and numerous taxa are lectotypified. This account represents a new initiative in terms of taxonomic monography, being an attempt to bring together the global approach of the traditional monograph with the more pragmatic and identification-focussed approach of most current floras while at the same time being informed by insights from molecular systematics.

Not much left to say for me. A comprehensive monograph on this genus the belongs to the family of plants known as Morning glory.
no DNA barcode

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A flatworm on the move

Photograph by Makiri Sei
Platydemus manokwari, the New Guinea flatworm, is a highly invasive species, already reported in several regions of the Pacific area, and as well as in France. This is the only land planarian that made it on the list of the '100 worst invasive alien species'.  It feeds on land snails and thus represents a danger to endemic species. Very flat, it is about 50 mm long and 5 mm wide. Although it lives on the ground, it is able to climb trees to follow and consume native snails.

A new study published in PeerJ reports on new occurrences of Platydemus manokwari in several additional countries and territories: Singapore, New Caledonia (including mainland and two of the Loyalty Islands), an additional island in French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna (from two of the islands, Uvea and Futuna), the Solomon Islands, Puerto Rico and Florida, USA - the latter being the first records on the American continent.

Specimens of the flatworm from various territories were identified by their characteristic appearance, a histological study and DNA Barcoding. 

Sequences of COI comprised two haplotypes, “Australian” (with a minor variation on a single nucleotide in a single specimen among 13) and “World” (France, New Caledonia, Singapore, Tahiti, Florida, Puerto Rico; all identical in 19 specimens). The two haplotypes were found together in the same locality only in the Solomon Islands. The difference of 4.8% between the two variants of P. manokwari found here could be either considered as relatively high intraspecific variation, or as evidence for the presence of two different species. In view of the limited morphological and anatomical differences found between specimens with known haplotypes, and the small size of our sample, we provisionally conclude that a single species, Platydemus manokwari, is involved.

The country of origin of Platydemus manokwari is New Guinea, and Australia and the Solomon Islands are the countries closest to New Guinea from which samples were used. This suggest that two haplotypes exist in the area of origin of the species, but that only one of those (the 'World haplotype') has, through human agency, been widely dispersed. 

The record in Florida is of particular concern because it is in mainland America. Until now, infested territories were mostly islands, and a spread from island to island is usually limited. However, the flatworms now established in Florida will not be subject to these limitations. In addition to their natural spread, flatworms can easily be passively spread through infested plants, plant parts and soil. Therefore, Platydemus manokwari could potentially spread from Florida throughout the U.S., and this should be considered a significant threat to North America.