We had a good hunt on grasshoppers and beetles though.
Tomorrow traveling to Tucumán.
Despite the skewedness of this congress to botany, I found it very rewarding. The main messages that I take home are:
- The geological continuity between eastern Argentina (Sierra de La ventana) and South Africa (Karoo). The is directly relevant to the relationship between the genera Prestonella and Discoleus.
- Biotas are constantly changing in composition. Species are added to the pool and go extinct. Apart from pollinator-plant relationships, one should be very cautious with inferring relationships between animals and plants over longer times.
Understanding climate change and its potential impact on species, populations and communities is one of the most pressing questions of twenty-first-century conservation planning. Palaeobiogeographers working on Cenozoic fossil records and other lines of evidence are producing important insights into the dynamic nature of climate and the equally dynamic response of species, populations and communities. Climatic variations ranging in length from multimillennia to decades run throughout the palaeo-records of the Quaternary and earlier Cenozoic and have been shown to have had impacts ranging from changes in the genetic structure and morphology of individual species, population sizes and distributions, community composition to large-scale biodiversity gradients. The biogeographical impacts of climate change may be due directly to the effects of alterations in temperature and moisture on species, or they may arise due to changes in factors such as disturbance regimes. Much of the recent progress in the application of palaeobiogegraphy to issues of climate change and its impacts can be attributed to developments along a number of still advancing methodological frontiers. These include increasingly finely resolved chronological resolution, more refined atmosphere-biosphere modelling, new biological and chemical techniques in reconstructing past species distributions and past climates, the development of large and readily accessible geo-referenced databases of biogeographical and climatic information, and new approaches in fossil morphological analysis and new molecular DNA techniques (McDonald et al., 2008).
- Open grasslands may be important as ancient stocks for biodiversity and should not be replaced by newly planted tree stands, especially if these plantations involve non-native species.
- Western winds from over the Pacific (“Westerlies”) have a strong effect on the climate of (southern) South America. Their relative strength (or weakness) may explain the precipitation on the eastern side of the Andes. Further north the monsoon is predominant and it yet unsure to what extent this may affect the coastal area of e.g. southern Peru.
- From the examples I’ve seen, dispersal is often important to explain the distribution of plants and vagile animals. One presentation even explained a distribution gap between Central America and New Caledonia with a “trans-Pacific jump”.
- BEAST seems to have problems with sequences including gaps. However, I found BEAST performing less when the gaps have been removed. May need some sorting out...
The congress has had the advantage of bringing together very different disciplines. While this was at one hand a disadvantage (less presentations to which you can easily relate, less people you know beforehand), on the other hand presented a challenging advantage (more learning opportunities across discipline borders, quickly update of recent results i various fields). Centered on Gondwana, the congress has given me various insights and inspirations for my research. And never had such a good excuse to visit Argentina again :-)
MacDonald, G.M. et al,, 2008. Impacts of climate change on species, populations and communities: palaeobiogeographical insights and frontiers. Progess in Physical Geography 32: 139-172.
In the Evolution stream there was an interesting presentation by María Salinas on Tillandsia from coastal deserts in Chile and Peru. These plants occur in the same areas, affected by fog, where many snails have been found. Supported by phylogenetic evidence, she showed that unrooted Tillandsia, growing directly on a sandy substrate, have evolved independently three times in evolution.
Of general interest was a lecture on invasive species and novel ecosystems. Change in ecosystems has to be viewed as endemic, as opposed to the static conservation view of places and species. Invasive species are the elements of novel ecosystems and need not necessarily be seen as alien.
During the poster session I had several interesting connections to people, probing for in-depth information on the presented results. To be continued with some of them tomorrow.
A special lecture, given by William Bond, highlighted the importance of ‘open’ ecosystems, viz. grasslands, as globally important but poorly understood. They are usually assumed to be natural vegetation in areas that are too cold or too arid for trees. However open ecosystems also occur over vast areas where the climate is warm and wet enough for closed forests. Though commonly attributed to human disturbance and deforestation, open ecosystems include regions with very diverse biotas specialized for open habitats, implying a long evolutionary history. On shorter time scales, palaeoecological studies have shown that forests are often the younger vegetation ousting ancient grasslands. It is therefore dubious if the reforestation with the aim of carbon sequestration, is not counterproductive for biodiversity. Especially if non-native species are used for plantation. “Saving the planet” as a cover-up for destruction of natural ecosystems.
Another special lecture by Jerome Munzinger was devoted on the flora of New Caledonia. Ultramafic rocks (low P, Ca, K, excessive metals) are characteric for this archipelago. Calcareous rocks are, however, present on two of the three main islands.
Traditional vision is that NC is the eastern margin of Gondwana, that has had a stable climate over time. Hybridization of plant species is a key process in the speciation. Cryptic species add to the biodiversity.
Gondwanan flora and fauna is of Late Eocene origin, as NC was below the sea surface for about 20 Ma (65-45 Ma). The traditional view of NC as part of Gondwana has to be discarded. (More on this during the Thursday programme).
One of the posters highlighted the desertification in northern Patagonia, influenced by increasing wildfires and intensification of livestock in the area. Comparison with historical processes reveal that at the end of the 19th century, increased demand for wool in Europe, initiated a chain of events that eventually lead to the introduction of sheep farming in Patagonia. Common factors shared by historical and current desertification processes are a) changes do occur during short periods; b) remote global markets are driving local changes; c) extra-regional pressure for land-use change and production intensification; d) climatic variability plays a role. It may be inferred that is necessary to understand the role of exogenous drivers triggering land-use change in socio-ecological systems, i.e. how different drivers together during a short period may produce a rapid change through critical thresholds.
Finally, I asked the organizers if they know why the PDF is causing me problems. It seems to be an incompatibility and there is no workaround. I’m afraid that for now you have to be happy with my rather cryptic summaries.
Arrived in Bariloche last night and got to the congress this morning, which opened with a keynote lecture by V. Ramos on the geologic history of Patagonia; its southern connection through time. A very well presented talk by someone who knows his subject extremely well.
In the morning I followed a stream on Austral Cenozoic floras and their value in elucidating modern plant distribution. In the afternoon attended a series of lectures on tectonic evolution of Patagonia and adjacent terrains: implications to the early divergence of austral biota.
The day was concluded with a special lecture on Refugia revisited: the behaviour of tropical organisms during glacial-interglacial transitions.
Due to the fact that the CD with the abstracts seems to be copy-protected, I can’t give you more details at the moment. Will update if there is a workaround.
Finally, I was very pleased to meet Gabriela Cuezzo. We had already email contact for quite a while, but it is always a pleasure to meet an important colleague in person.
Before I left, I took a quick stroll through the public part of the museum and the temporary Darwin exhibition.
That’s what you call a classic museum, isn’t it?
Tomorrow, the museum will be closed (Carnival is starting here) and Sunday I’ll be traveling to Bariloche.
Some peculiar specimens were spotted, e.g. this Leiostracus perlucidus (Spix,1827) with a light blue part in the animal. As it was the only specimen on alcohol, i don’t know if this is maybe an artifact due to preservation.
Also this Drymaeus species, mislabelled as Bulimulus, caught my attention, as it is from an interesting locality (Minas Gerais) and has not been mentioned in Simone’s book.
Peltella palliolum (Férussac, 1821)
Cyclodontina sectilabris (Pfeiffer, 1850)
Anostoma depressum Lamarck, 1822
My first working day in São Paulo. When I arrived at the Museu do Zoologia de Universidade de São Paulo, Luiz Simone hadn’t arrived yet and so ended up in the library. Luiz picked me up upon arrival and took me to his laboratory.
As I learned, the museum has 200 M.Sc./Ph.D. students and postdocs, of which Luiz has now eight of them. Not a bad figure. We roughly outlined what I would try to achive this week and soon I was digging in the collection. This is very space-efficient organized.
Dry and alcohol material is mixed and sorted to families and then to genera. Luiz told me that a new building will be erected soon as annex, entirely devoted to the collections and with proper climatization.
I was especially interested in the fluid samples, of which part should be suitable for molecular study.
On Monday I will fly off to South America. My schedule is to visit Sao Paulo (work in the Museu Zoologia), Bariloche (congress Southern Connection), Tucumán (work in Instituto Miguel Lillo) and Peru (fieldwork).
I will try to post as much as possible on this blog, assuming that I will have access to the internet from time to time. Also I hope to publish pictures to my NeoSnail account on Flickr and if you have Twitter, you can follow me under the same name. A RSS link is here.
Follow NeoSnail on his first trip to the Neotropics since many years...
The sad news is that this service is free till 30 April. So, hurry up to enjoy your three months of free reading of all those (supposed to be) important Nature news.
And the future? Taxonomy on the (i)Phone... I hope so.
entitled Bibliography of Cuban terrestrial Mollusca,
including related and biohistorical papers on Cuban
malacology, is now available here.
This is the outcome of joint work with Adrián González, which had quite some elapsed time but was kick-started when Adrián send me his rough data.
We know that some data are still missing, but if you find any omissions or have suggestions for additions, please let us know.
We expect to formally publish this work within a few months. Hence, to be continued...
A colleague draw my attention to the following article that seems relevant for all those taxonomists out there who are struggling against the terror of Impact Factors and are wondering why taxonomy is such a discipline in decline in the Year of Biodiversity.
policies ensuing from the Convention on Biological
Diversity made huge funds available to study
biodiversity. These were mostly dedicated to projects
aimed at providing services to taxonomy via
information and technology, or to develop “modern”,
i.e., molecular, approaches to taxonomy. Traditional
taxonomy was overly neglected and is in serious
distress all over the world. It is argued that both
novel and traditional ways to study biodiversity are
essential and that the demise of traditional taxonomy
(based on phenotypes) in the era of biodiversity is
the result of an unwise policy, mainly fostered by
portions of the scientific community that aim at
taking total advantage of the funds dedicated to the
study of biodiversity.
BTW: Interesting journal in which this paper appeared...
Boero, F., 2010. The study of species in the era of biodiversity: a tale of stupidity. Diversity 2: 115-126.
The first is a book by Espinosa & Ortea, published by Spartacus Foundation and the Cuban Zoological Society. I haven’t seen it myself yet, but I found the following announcement of a book dealer:
This is a gorgeous book and I think that the photography here is possibly the best live animal photography that I have seen in all of my other titles. It is simply amazing and the book is also an amazing work. Its focus is to introduce us to the numerous families of terrestrial mollusks that live in Cuba. Most of the shells are show alive in their natural habitat in extreme close up. The text (in Spanish) gives us an overview of the shell family, its habitat , the characteristic of these shells and a lot of background information. My Spanish is not good enough to understand the more technical details that the authors have written but from what I can understand it is a carefully written and thoroughly researched book. The authors and the photographer are prominent workers in the scientific field and it is a shame that their names and their works are not well know in the USA. The last section of their book is a check list of 1393 species of land-shells found in Cuba.
From what I saw of the pictures in the announcement, some will be the same as those used in the book of González. They partly share the same photographer. Hopefully, they have corrected all the errors they made in the previous version of their checklist (Espinosa & Ortega, 1999). But a judgement should be postponed till I have actually seen the book.
The second book on Cuban terrestrial snails is, if possible, even more obscure and curious. It is a publication based on an unfinished manuscript of Torre & Bartsch. There is a quite complication story to this book (which is beyond the scope of this blog), that has been published as a tribute to Carlos de la Torre y Huerta (1858-1950) in 2008. From what I know, several new species are described in this book, casting an interesting question on the rules of nomenclature. Are they to be credited to the original authors (as posthume work) or to the editor of this book?
Again, let’s first see this book before making a judgement.
Finally, an impressive book will be published on February 16, entitled “Amazonia: landscape and species evolution. A look into the past”. I had the privilege to have a sneak preview and I can assure you this will be a reference work for those working on the biogeography of northern South America.
This book focuses on geological history as the critical factor in determining the present biodiversity and landscapes of Amazonia. We explore the different driving mechanisms for landscape evolution by reviewing the history of the Amazon Craton, the associated sedimentary basins, and the role of mountain uplift and climate change. Throughout the book we provide an insight into the Meso- and Cenozoic record of Amazonia that was characterized by fluvial and long-lived lake systems and a highly diverse flora and fauna. This fauna includes giants such as the ca. 12 m long caiman Purussaurus, but also a varied fish fauna and fragile molluscs, whilst fossil pollen and spores form relics of ancestral swamps and rainforests.
Finally, we review the molecular datasets of the modern Amazonian rainforest and aquatic ecosystem, and discuss the possible relations between the origin of Amazonian species diversity and the palaeogeographic, palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental evolution of northern South America. The multidisciplinary approach in evaluating the history of Amazonia has resulted in a comprehensive volume that provides novel insights into the evolution of this region and can serve as reference for a variety of scientists working in Amazonia.
The book is written by leading scientists of the Amazonian research community and should be of interest to all students and researchers concerned with the natural history of Amazonia. Potential readers will include geologists, geographers and biologists who wish to understand the evolution of landscapes and biota of this unique region.
I hope to briefly review this book after its publication.
Espinosa, J. & Ortega, J., 2009. Moluscos terrestres de Cuba: 1-191. Spartacus Foundation/Sociedad Cubana de Zoología.
Hoorn C. & Wesselingh, F. (eds.), 2010. Amazonia: landscape and species evolution. A look into the past: 1-447. Wiley-Blackwell.
Torre, C. de la & Bartsch, P., 2008. Los moluscos terrestres Cubanos de la familia Urocoptidae: 1-730 + 1-23. Editoria Científico-Técnica, La Habana/Ruth Casa, Panama.
Albuquerque et al. (2009) studied populations in Brazil, Bahia, Lauro de Freitas. They collected samples of the snails and took measurements of shell height and total weight as proxy for condition. Five environmental variables were considered: temperature range, mean temperature, humidity, precipitation and human population density.
The results show that humidity had a significant influence on length and weight, and temperature was the only significant factor that influenced condition. Partial regression showed that the influence of human population density partially overlapped the climatic factors.
Albuquerque, F.S., Peso-Aguiar, M.C., Assuncao-Albuquerque, M.J.T. & Galvez, L., 2009. Do climate variables and human density affect Achatina fulica (Bowditch) (Gastropoda: Pulmonata) shell length, total weight and condition factor? - Brazilian Journal of Biology 69: 879-885.
Borrero, F.J., Breure, A.S.H., Christensen, C., Correoso, M. & Mogollón Avila, V., 2009. Into the Andes: three new introductions of Lissachatina fulica (Gastropoda, Achatinidae) and its potential distribution in South America. - Tentacle 17: 6-8.
During the opening op de Biodiversity Year, the comparison was made between the library of Alexander the Great and the extinction of species. In a recent thread on the Taxacom list, the same metaphor was used in a posting by Richard Pyle:
I am increasingly convinced that the study of biodiversity is far and away the most important endeavor in the history of humanity, certainly until now, and very possibly into the future as well. I say this not as a self-proclaimed naturalist, but as someone who thinks objectively.
Future humans will always be able to study physics and geology and chemistry.
But what they won't necessarily always be able to study is history. As we know
from our feeble attempts to interpret phylogenetic patterns among taxa (and
as is also well known by archaeologists and all other manner of historians),
the ability to infer history is highly dependant on the information that transcends time. The more of that information that is obliterated (extinctions without fossilizations, grave robbers and other destruction of archaeological sites, the burning of the Library of Alexandria, etc.), the harder it is to reconstruct history with confidence.
So...what is the value of reconstructing history? Well...there are the obvious reasons, of course. But whereas conventional history reaches back over a few thousand years, and archaeology reaches back maybe a few tens of thousands of years (or perhaps even a few hundreds of thousands of years), evolutionary history spans some four BILLION years. Human history, of course, appears (at first glance) to be much more relevant to the current and future well-being of humanity. The stuff of past civilizations and politics will certainly help guide us in our future efforts, so it seems
as though those thousands of years of human history trump the billions of years
of evolutionary history. But this is very narrow-minded thinking, blinded by anthropocentrism (there....I used an "ism" word, so now I'm a bona-fide
philosopher...) We only assume this higher relevance because we are
more skilled at deciphering the threads of information available to us. It's
analogous to a scholar who thinks that the only important poetry worth
reading is that which is written in the English Language, because English
happens to be the only language the scholar understands. Politicians come
and go. Countries come and go. Civilizations come and go. The human species
came, and will go. But biodiversity spans almost the full scope of this rock we live on (both in space, and in time).
We are at a major inflection point in human history because we are now, finally, just beginning to grasp the basic aspects of the language of genomics (and derivatives like proteinomics). This is important, because the largest library of information that will ever exist in this solar system (maybe in this entire region of the galaxy) is largely written in this language (it's also written in the way organisms interact with each
other and form ecosystems). The information contained in this library is much,
MUCH more valuable to humanity than the historical insights it may give us about evolutionary history. Sure, that stuff is cool to us (we loves the cladograms; especially the ones we have reason to be confident in). But for the rest of the (non-nerd) scope of humanity, it's the *practical* information contained in that library that is of greatest value (especially to those humans living a few decades to a few centuries from now, who will actually know how to put it to practical use). We can already guess at
what some of this practical information relates to (e.g., highly efficient solar energy capture, highly precise and diversely useful nanotechnology; not to mention the vast world of ecosystem services, etc., etc.) But we probably haven't even yet imagined the most valuable stuff buried in that library stuff we will only be able to fathom after we get past the "see spot run" stage of our ability to read and interpret the information (and the crude metrics of community ecology that we've had at our disposal so far).
And, of course, as we all know, the biodiversity library is burning. If what I read in the latest issue of Popular Science is reasonably accurate, we destroy all copies of some 30,000 volumes in this library every year. All that information, some fraction of it undoubtedly very valuable to humanity and not written elsewhere in the library, gone forever. One more scroll from the Library of Alexandria that no future human will ever
even know existed, let alone have a chance to read and understand. To most
people, this warrants little more than a shrug of the shoulders -- in much the same way that a young child might shrug his or her shoulders when told that the last copy of Homer's the Odyssey, or the Origin of Species, or General Relativity, or the complete works of Shakespeare, or any of the major religious tomes were destroyed and lost forever. We would look at such a child as though they were incredibly na?ve, in much the same way that humans 100 years from now will look upon us as we try to justify the study of biodiversity only in terms of what's important to a taxonomist.
So....to (finally) address Mike's question: "How is exploratory discovery framed properly as good science?" When we do taxonomy and systematics, we are doing much, much more than "good science". We are building the card catalog for the most important library that has ever existed, and ever will exist (at least from the perspective of humans). Taxonomy generates the cards, and systematics organizes them in a useful way. When we stomp through the forests and swim over the reefs collecting our specimens, we are gathering a few precious copies of those books and storing them in the vaults of our natural history museums where (with luck and funding), the
information they contain will persist beyond the time when no more copies exist in nature. Unlike physics; unlike chemistry; unlike geology; the clock is ticking on our ability to capture this information before it's gone.
As Chris Thompson would say: "Oh, well...." (not sure if that counts as “positive”).
I’m copying his post extensively here, as I couldn’t have agreed more. Though, the discussion on Taxacom moved on and I’ll want to share both the contributions of Bob Mesidov  and Kenneth Kinman .
Richard Pyle's post reminds us that salvaging what we can from the
burning library would be a good idea. As old-hand Taxacomers know, I've
been promoting biodiversity salvage for years. Unfortunately, the
near-universal response to that plea has been the shoulder-shrug of the
small child as Homer and Dante get chucked in the flames. I've therefore
given up the promotion, pulled my biodiversity salvage blog off the Web
and promised myself not to publish any more salvage papers. Instead, I
plan to just continue salvaging invertebrates from 'at-risk' remnants in
developed areas. (Something I'd recommend to Mike Ivie.) Some of these
salavaged specimens make it into my taxonomic papers, but most begin
their long sleep anonymously on museum shelves. The world's human
population has increased by a quarter - almost another China - since Rio
1992. This growth can easily be correlated with increasingly intensive
use of existing agricultural land, and the 'bringing of land into prod
uction' (i.e., habitat destruction). There is simply no way to stop or
slow down biodiversity loss in a pro-natalist world. Even the most
biodiversity-friendly politicians and strategists aim only at finding a
balance between conserving nature and 'achieving economic growth and
sound social outcomes' (quote from a recent biodiversity white paper).
This balance point is continually moving in the direction of Humans 1,
Other species 0. Such is life.
I totally agree with Bob that the main reason for today's
biodiversity decline is mainly due to humans advocating pronatalist
policies, whether they are religious leaders looking for future
converts, political leaders needing another generation of soldiers, or
corporations wanting a cheap labor force and expanding consumer base.
Population expansion only benefits the most affluent percentage of
humans (especially the uppercrust of the most affluen). Although the
Chinese policy of one child per family may seem severe and an
overreaction, at least they recognize the problem of the human
population explosion and are trying do to something about it.
Instead we should be criticizing long-standing pronatalist
policies like those of certain religions, particularly the most
conservative elements of Roman Catholicism and Islam. In particular
human suffering should be minimized by making birth control easier and
perhaps celebrating even people like Kevorkian who are at least trying
to help those wanting to die peacefully in spite of religious
interference in the right to die with dignity, without martyring
themselves to unnecessary pain (while those who believe that such
painful martyrdom is necessary to attain salvation are free to do so).
There are too many humans in the world already, and efforts to increase
population (especially to curtail population control measures) are
harmful to many humans, not mention the biodiversity of non-human
What we should be trying to maximize is the QUALITY of the lives
of humans, not their numbers or how much "stuff" they can accumulate.
Zero population growth for humans was a goal proposed several decades
ago, and it is still a goal towards which we should strive, not only for
the benefit of humans overall, but all non-humans as well. "Manifest
destiny" and unchecked human dominance are the hallmarks of human
arrogance and selfishness run amuck for too long. It's not only bad for
non-humans, but millions of suffering humans as well.
Which let Bob suggest to look at the following link:
Not sure that anyone wants to know this, but the hopeless cause 'Saving
biodiversity' has a match on the other side of Ken's dialectic:
At least we can be entertained by Nina Paley's great cartoons...