It doesn’t mean that this site will be abandoned, however, as I will continue to update the research topics and my publications here.
If you like to be informed about the progress - steadily but slowly - follow the link below. Please let me know your feedback about this change. Your opinion counts!
With the collected data, we hope to get more insight in the hypothesis that in these areas there might be ‘ecological stress’ as (one of the) factors that lead to these peculiar shell shapes. Also interesting that ‘ecological stress’ has been mentioned as a factor for uncoiling shells in freshwater Gastropods in a newly published paper (link).
Pictures that I received from Colombian sources, show a flourishing population in Colombia, Dept. Putumayo, Puerto Asis. As this is at the border of Ecuador, and no records for Lissachatina are known for northern localities at the eastern side of the Andes in Colombia, it seems probable that these snails have been “imported” from Ecuador.
To the poor inhibatants of this area, the sudden appearance of these snails is perhaps perceived like manna from heaven. Big bulky snails, ready to eat and use their mucus. Perhaps they are good for making some money too....
Little they know of the damage that is in store for them in their fields. Of the health risks they have to endure when one of the snails is infected.
And although the authorities have been informed, this area is way out of their attention. Slowly, but steadily, this plague will disperse.
Hope to keep you informed while I’m there.
Some historical malaco-trivia about messing up things with types... Our figureheads: Henry A. Pilsbry and William J. Clench.
In 1939, Pilsbry described several species from Ecuador and Colombia (Pilsbry, 1939). He based himself on material from R.W. Jackson, and Hno. Nicéforo Maria respectively. The taxa under dispute: Plekocheilus oligostylus, described from “Colombia”, and Plekocheilus nachiyacu, described from “Nachiyacu, Ecuador”.
P. oligostylus Pilsbry, 1939
P. nachiyacu Pilsbry, 1939
During a recent revision of Plekocheilus species from both countries, Francisco Borrero and I were pretty sure that we recognized both taxa. However, P. oligostylus was found among Ecuadorian material, while P. nachiyacu was identified with Colombian shells.
This seemed to be consistent with the data provided by Clench & Turner (1962):
When we asked the collections manager of the Philadelphia museum, Amanda Lawless, about details of P. nachiyacu, she provided proof of its label:
“Just to let you know that the label states that the lot is from Nachiyacu, Ecuador. I checked the original ledger as well and at the time this lot was donated by Pilsbry, he also donated two other lots from Ecuador and one from Colombia. The one from Colombia was a different species and had no other specific data, maybe Clench and Turner got confused by this one. With the lot, there is also an original handwritten slip of paper with specific locality info on it stating it is from Ecuador”.
This is the type of confusion I meant... Pilsbry right and Clench wrong, or vice versa? To be continued.
Clench, W.J. & Turner, R.D., 1962. New names introduced by H.A. Pilsbry in the Mollusca and Crustacea. - Special Publications, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, 4: 1-218.
Pilsbry, H.A., 1939. Sout American land mollusks, X. Species of Ecuador and Colombia. - Notulae Naturae 19: 1-6.
The original picture is shown in this blogpost.
From a literature search, it was not immediate evident where the retractor muscle was assumed to be attached in these specimens. Hence we decided to make a window in the last whorl.
As you don’t want to mess up a single specimen of a potentially new species, it was decided to first practice on a specimen with poor data. Tools to be used: a rotary-motortool with a diamond-tipped sewing disk, a dissecting needle, some pincers, and a laboratory spatule.
After some careful thought on where to begin and where to go, the lab was soon filled with noises that usually can be heard at the dentist. The smell of burned shell was also quite prominent.
After some time a window was opened, leaving the characteristics of the species (umbilical area, angled periphery) untouched. Time now to try to remove the body from the shell.
Due to the stiffness of the body, some poking on the foot was required to get the tissue throught the aperture. Then the body extraction could start.
In the end, the results were quite satisfying. An animal and a not too badly damaged shell.
The program (or rather the site) allows also for saving the data as KML file for visualizing in Google Earth.
Continuing with this work for the different species.
My temporary workdesk has been set up in Francisco’s house. But we already visited the Cincinnati Museum Center once, to put samples on alcohol that he recently collected in Colombia.
Summarizing posts will follows each few days.
Unfortunately, blogging is one of the things that I will have to temporize. No longer a daily post, but trying to do it as often as possible and hopefully enough to get you maintaining your interest in this blog.
Gorge in río Cañete
At this moment I see it as a restriction, like a gorge in the flow of a river. Hopefully this will be a temporary situation, although I ‘m unsure how long it will last. Making progress, steadily but very, very slowly....
Specimens from Duval County above, Nassau County below.
Just today I read the comprehensive and thorough paper of Herbert & Moussalli (2010). They have a section on Comparative morphological observations, in which they noted that “due to intra-specific variability, head-foot colour seems to be of limited value for species discremination [...]. In most cases, data on body coloration is available for too few specimens to make meaningful assessments”.
Although in this case the difference is caused by a pattern in the mantle tissue, my hypothesis is that this is merely due to intra-specific variation. To be tested when molecular data become available for both populations.
Herbert, D.G. & Moussalli, A., 2010. Revision of the larger cannibal snails (Natalina s.l.) of southern Africa -- Natalina s.s., Afrorhytida and Capitina (Mollusca: Gastropoda: Rhytididae). African Invertebrates 51: 1-132.
The abstract of his presentation was:
Land snails are important organisms
to understand biogeographical changes in different
regions. Their low dispersion ability produces a
particular population structure that resembles
historical patterns of genetic diversity. I compared
genetic patterns in two different species:
scalariformis (Orthalicidae) from the coast of
Peru and Systrophia
helicycloides (Scolodontidae) from the western
Amazonian basin. Both species presented a high
mutation rate in their mitochondrial genome and also
a high intraspecific divergence.
B. scalariformis shows two different lineages which correspond to its different morphotypes. El Niño Southern Oscillation ant the coastal desert could have played a key role in the modeling of the genetic structure in this land snail. On the other hand, S. helicycloides shows lineages with widely distributed and also restricted haplotypes. The actual genetic structure in S. helicycloides seems to be influenced by historical geoclimatic changes, like the rise of the Andes or Pleistocene refuges that both may have produced lineage differentiation. In this case, actual river dynamics could be influential on the distribution of the genetic diversity.
According to Romero, the
populations of Bostryx
are influenced by the
El Nino cycles and their influence on the expanding
and contracting ‘lomas’ vegetation islands in the
coastal desert. On the contrary, the
populations seem to
have been mixed under the influence of the river
dynamics in the Madre de Dios region.
Recently I joined the Facebook group Shell collectors are not bio-terrorists, but with some reluctancy.
Shell collection is an interesting hobby for many, an interesting profession in science for several and an entrepreneurial activity for some. As such it should be as unrestricted as possible and I see little harm in collecting dead shells. CITES regulations, or - more precisely - the poor practice by non-expert bureaucrats of intentionally good rules, should not be felt as a hindrance.
However, the situation is completely different if snail material is collected alive. Especially if it is not for scientific purposes. A example may elucidate my reluctance.
Recently, specimens were collected by person A and sent to person B, who was supposed to send it to institution X. However, he split the lot and sent half of the material to person C (on an entirely different continent) for his “private pet programme”. Although snails are perfect as pets as long as they are native, this clearly is a case which violates the expressed intentions of this group. First because there are examples of alien snails kept as pet animals which are potentially a threat for the native fauna (to put it mildly). But also because these snails can be vectors of parasites and become a health risk.
Thanks Don, for sending it around.
It is all about bureaucracy and aren’t we all confronted with that to some extend? I’m just thinking of collecting permits or shipping of snails. To become on topic again...
There is nothing we can do about it. Or is it? Not wanting to be over-pessimistic, but just forwarding some thoughts from an unexpected angle... Read the paper via the link below and let me hear your comments.
Charlton, B.G., 2010. The cancer of bureaucracy. How it will destroy science, medicine, education, and eventually everything else. - Medical Hypotheses 74: [1-5].
Also he explained what he plans to do during his 3-month stay. More phylogenetical work.
To be continued...
Pedro is a recently graduated biologist (M.Sc., Universidad San Marcos, Lima, Peru) and will do phylogenetic work on Orthalicidae.
After previous email contact, I met him during my recent field trip in Peru. Here we are in a lomas near Ancón, where we collected snails and a flowering Tillandsia plant for Fernanda Salinas, a Chilean botanist who is studying DNA of populations in the Chilean and Peruvian coastal desert..
The next few months I hope to do much work in cooperation with Pedro. Welcome to Holland!
The USDA found out because some people ended up in hospital, one of them with suspected cerebral angiostrongyliasis, after they had been fed with liquid from live snails. This was done during a African religious cult meeting.
“Always drama!” David said and right he is when it comes to this species.
The majority of shells on stamps are marine shells. They strike the eyes. Landsnails are underrepresented, and Neotropical landsnails are hardly figured on stamps.
Recently, Cuba issued a series of stamps to commemorate the 150th birthday of Dr Carlos de la Torre. Polymita picta and Liguus fasciatus are both shown in this series.
When I arrived on the airport of Tucumán, thunderstorms just were hitting the city. Everybody daring to be out under the sky was soaked within the minute. There was even a total “black-out” at the airport, when the whole plane was waiting at the bagage claim.
Anyway, Eugenia Salas was kind enough to pick me up at the airport. However, when she drove down to the city we had to pass some low areas where the streets had become rivers instead. She drove for ca. 10 minutes through the water and we made it safely to the place where I would stay during my visit. However, when I unpacked my stuff I realized that my laptop could have become wet. I opened it up, and after showing some wildly colourful screens it turned black and stayed that way.
No laptop, no data, no possibility to update my blog and photo stream.
Today I picked up my laptop from the repair shop. All I can say is: I hope to catch up a.s.a.p.
PS: Thanks to Gabriela Cuezzo for putting an old Windows machine at my disposal. That saved me from making notes during my visit the old-fashioned way, with pencil and paper.
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.
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.
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...
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...
As inevitable as such occasions, a happening has been organized and PR colleagues are working extra hours. To make it extra memorable, two ministers will be present... For those of you wanting to see a glimpse of all this, a webcast will be broadcasted between 13.30h and 14.30h (times GMT+1). To be seen here.
For the more science-based people, a symposium will be held from 9.30-12.30h. The keynote speech by Richard Lane, Director of Science, Natural History Museum of London, will also be webcasted. As this symposium is only for special invited guests, I will have to follow it on webcast myself.
To be continued...
During the symposium, of which I only saw the keynote (partially) through webcast, Richard Lane gave his thoughts about the future direction of taxonomy. His idea is that we will need to speed up the process of describing species, given the huge number currently still undescribed. Making use of new technologies and better ways of collaboration - both within and between institutions on (inter)national scale - he thinks that productivity can be boosted. Funding will be crucial, but need also new ways. It will be paramount to taxonomists to better present their expected results and their societal use or benefits to potential sponsors. The old way won’t work any more...
The launching session was well-organized but quite predictable. The Minister of Education, Culture and Research - a biologist himself - was passionate about the new institute. I found him impressive and inspiring. The Minister of Agriculture and Nature Protection gave a talk with all the right soundbites for the opening of the Dutch equivalent of the International Year for Biodiversity.
Now, the NCB Naturalis is officially a fact. Many years will follow of hard work and (painful) reorganisation to make it really happen...
Several weeks ago I noticed a message on the Taxacom list about the Systematics Research Fund. Based in the UK, this is a fund that is open to biologists all over the world. It offers small grants to cover e.g. contributions to publication costs, time on analytical equipment, specimen preparation or fieldwork equipment.
They have a long track record of applications being awarded that spans more than 10 years.
With a possible opportunity to do some work on carination later this year, it was a chance to apply for some money to cover additional field work and thereby potentially increase the depth of the study. However, being open to anyone anywhere, no doubt the competition will be very stiff. If you don’t see me listed on their page of awarded projects later this year, I wasn’t ‘standing out in the crowd’.
The purpose of this study was to biomonitor metropolitan areas of Porto Alegre (Brazil) for PAHs associated with atmospheric particles and check their effects on the DNA of the land mollusk Helix aspersa. The sampling sites are located in an urban area with heavy traffic: (i) Canoas, (ii) Sapucaia do Sul, and (iii) FIERGS/Porto Alegre. The samples were collected during a continuous period of 24 hours during 15 days using Stacked Filter Units (SFU) on polycarbonate filters (two separated size fractions: PM10-2.5 and PM<2.5). The concentrations of 16 major PAHs were determined according to EPA. Comet assay on H. aspersa hemolymph cells was chosen for genotoxicity evaluation. This evaluation shows that, in general, the smaller PM-size fractions (PM<2.5) have the highest genotoxicity and contain higher concentrations of extractable organic matter. In addition, associations between chemical characteristics and PM carcinogenicity tend to be stronger for the smaller PM-size fractions. DNA damage in H. aspersa exposed to atmospheric particulate in Metropolitan Area of Porto Alegre demonstrated association with PAHs in the fine filter (PM<2.5).
Ianistcki, M., Dallarosa, J., Sauer, C., Teixeira, C.E. & da Silva, J., 2009. Genotoxic effect of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the metropolitan area of Porto Alegre, Brazil, evaluated by Helix aspersa (Müller, 1774). - Environmental Pollution 157: 2037-2042.
I will come back on the book in an upcoming post.
Massemin, D., Lamy, D., Pointier, J.-P. & Gargominy, O., 2009. Coquillages et escargots de Guyane. Seashells and snails from French Guiana: 1-456. Mèze, Biotope / Paris, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle.
Olivier wrote me that he sampled both species and when he wanted to photograph them, put them on the mossy bark. The result can be seen here. Gulella didn’t completely devour the slug, but was a little daunty. The contents of the stomach and intestine was left untouched.
This isn’t a Neotropical story though, the film was shot on the Comores.
Let’s look at the things that have been planned and (most probably) will take place. Related to biodiversity is the reorganization of the National Museum of Natural History Naturalis to the Netherlands Center for Biodiversity Naturalis. It is more than just a new name. The Zoological Museum Amsterdam and the National Herbarium will be fusing, making it one of the bigger natural history institutions in Europe.
This sounds like competition. But in my view science is not about competition, getting top rankings and ‘rat racing’ for resources. Science should contribute to a better understanding of nature, enabling society to survive in a better way. Understanding the role of biodiversity is one of the key topics for sustainable development. And, hopefully, even understanding the role of snail biodiversity is a contribution to mankind.
If we continue to make such contributions during 2010, it will be rightly Year of Biodiversity.
Internet usage is rapidly growing. According to usage statistics, Latin America has a fast growing number of users. More and more journals are being electronically published, especially in the ‘developing world’. Paper publishing really has had its hey days. A strong impetus exists for e-publications of new taxa.
One of the remarks being made in this installment, is that publishing as PDF is less future-proof than usually thought. XML is presumably a better format, while others prefer RTF as standard. This is, however, no a solution for graphic formats, such as graphs or tree files usually published as supplementary materials.
Another issue is publishing of new taxa electronically in obscure journals. “To avoid confusion as grey literature becomes more readily available online, I recommend wider use of disclaimers. With theses and dissertations increasingly being made freely available online, as well as abstracts and conference proceedings, authors should be directed to clearly disclaim first-time use of names in all non-peer reviewed, manuscript-like, grey literature-type online publications.”. Now electronic ‘self-publishing’ becomes relatively easy and cheap, this may become a major issue.
It is clear that different views are being held in the taxonomic society, with a majority leaning to endorse the possibility of e-publications. In the end, whatever the Commission decides, some people will be unhappy. But anyone has had the option to give his/her opinion.
One of the CRIA projects is SpeciesLink, a distributed database that integrates information from biological collections. I mentioned it before. Currently restricted to Brazilian collections, it plans to widen its scope and hope to encompass all collections related to the Amazon Basin. Maybe, also the Suriname collection in Naturalis will be integrated in this system; this collection is currently being digitized.
When I did the ‘Bulimulidae check’ I found 225 records listed.
There is a possibility to plot the data on Google Maps.
CRIA also publishes two journals. Biota Neotropica is an open access, tri-lingual journal on conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. It is published online.
Checklist is a quarterly journal that publishes occurrence lists, geographic distribution maps and notes on the geographic distribution of taxa. It is also published online and open access.
So far, each of both journals has published only two molluscan papers (both on non-terrestrial snails). And although the relevance for Neotropical malacology of these journals is limited, I hope that in the future also papers on land snails will be published.
The picture was taken at Churí-tepui in southern Venezuela by Charles Brewer-Carias, whom I like to thank for his kind permission to share it here.
Collaboration between different institutions, in this case at the European level, is not as easy as it may seem. Between researchers no problem, but at an institutional level collaboration is not a piece-of-cake. With one more year to go, we’ll have to see where EDIT will end up and what will follow.
Anyhow, I was impressed by the viability of the Scratchpad tool. There is a wealth of options, most of which you can ignore to get the basics of the site. And one you have these basics, the ease with which different sources of information may be tapped and seamlessly integrate is quite fascinating. A major leap forward compared to what could be done, say, 30 years ago when I stopped my research.
When in the field, biologists (taxonomists) need to act as ‘walking dataloggers’, capturing data to be transferred to databases with as much ease as possible. Be upfront on the technology waves.
The important thing is to have the data platform independent and freely exchangeable, avoiding laborious reworking of data afterwards. A ‘flat’ spreadsheet file looks like a good starting-point here.
Finally, there is the paradox between the number of taxonomists and the number of job openings. Relatively few taxonomists are left, their ranks being diminished by retirement and then replacement by more ‘en vogue’ disciplines. It seems as if catastrophes are the only events which open positions in this field. To the frustration of many young people who are interested but simply don’t get a chance.
We should take more efforts to make good use of the interest of “pro-amateurs”, people who are often spending considerable time effort to what they see as a ‘hobby’. With some guidance their efforts could become more effective.
This week, EDIT will have its General Meeting from 15-17 December in Portugal, Carvoeiro. Representatives of the 28 member institutions will gather for several topics. The first day is devoted to presentations by young taxonomists. After the General Meeting a one-day Training Course on Scratchpads will be given.
As one of the representatives of Naturalis I will travel today to Portugal and join the General Meeting tomorrow. Hope to learn the basics of Drupal mastering during the Training Course on Thursday.
When the internet connections allow, I will post some impressions during these days. Otherwise you will see some scribbles here after my return.
Recently, a group of biophysics and mathematicians has published a paper about shell structure and patterns. Although it is focussed on aquatic snails, I think it is equally relevant for those interested in land molluscs.
Can you see which of the two is the real shell and which the simulated one?
With only a few parameters defining the morphospace, the authors were able to simulate a wide variety of shell shapes and colour patterns.
In this work, we have shown that a single neurosecretory model can replicate both the growth of mollusk shells and the enormous diversity of pigment patterns they exhibit. The model is built around the general property of local excitation coupled with lateral inhi- bition common to most neural networks. A noteworthy feature in this model is that the same network architecture operates in both the spatial and time directions because the pigment patterns develop sequentially as the mantle lays down periodic increments of shell and pigment. Thus, the shell pattern records the complete time history of its neurosecretory activity. One might think of the pattern as an electroencephalogram, or the history of the thoughts of a mollusk! In general, waves propagating through a 3-dimensional neural network (e.g., a cortical column) have this same property: Local excitation/lateral inhibition extends laterally, as well as back- wards in space from where the excitation came, which is essentially backwards in time.
We now start to understand how mollusks may arrive at the bewildering variety of shapes and how variation within a taxon may occur. It opens up exciting new venues for further, evolutionary research.
Thanks to Nicole Webster, who mentioned this work during her talk at our internal Molecular Meeting and sent me the paper.
Boettiger, A., Ermentrout, B. & Oster, G., 2009. The neural origins of shell structure and pattern in aquatic mollusks. - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106: 6837-6842.
Evolution by natural selection requires three steps. New forms of organisms must arise, have an impact on fitness (survival or fecundity), and (ultimately) be heritable. The first step - how new forms arise - remains controversial. Traditionally, new phenotypes are ascribed to novel genotypes (mutants or recombinants). But developmental plasticity - the same genotype yields different forms in different environments - may be a much more important source of new forms than generally recognized.
The absence of heritable variation for direction of asymmetry in species that show a random mixture of asymmetric forms (i.e., equal numbers of right- and left-handed forms), identifies a unique phenotype - "direction of asymmetry" - for which there is no genotype. A wide-ranging survey of asymmetry variation within and among species of animals and plants offers some of the strongest evidence to date for a 'phenotype-precedes-genotype' mode of evolution. But this survey remains woefully incomplete. Museums, systematists and natural historians have much to offer.
Richard Palmer (University of Alberta), who is a visiting professor at the moment, did the key-note lecture on „Learning, developmental plasticity and evolution”.
Evolution by natural selection requires three steps. New variants of organisms: must arise, must have an impact on fitness (survival or fecundity), and must (ultimately) be heritable. The first step - how new variants arise - remains controversial. Traditionally, new phenotypes are attributed to novel genotypes (mutants or recombinants). But developmental plasticity may be a more important source of new variants than generally recognized.
The absence of heritable variation for direction of asymmetry in species that show a random mixture of asymmetric forms (i.e., equal numbers of right- and left-handed forms), identifies a unique phenotype - "direction of asymmetry" - for which there is no genotype. A wide-ranging survey of asymmetry variation within and among species of animals and plants offers some of the strongest evidence to date for a 'phenotype-precedes-genotype' mode of evolution. In addition, the tendency of many animals to learn (e.g., handed behavior) may facilitate both the origin and the amplification of right-left morphological differences via developmental plasticity. Such an interplay between learning and developmental plasticity might greatly enhance the rate of morphological evolution.
There were also lectures by Menno Schilthuizen and Edi Gittenberger on malacological subjects.
Menno talked about „A negative spiral: sex and body shape in tropical tree snails”, in which he showcased the work being doing on Amphidromus. The Malaysian species with which he is working, shows dimorphism and he concluded that probably aspects of the reproduction can explain why dimorphism does occur in this taxon. The coiled spermatophore plays an important role.
Edi Gittenberger eloborated „A very unlikely event”, in which he showed that although e.g. sinistrality is not rare in Japanese land snails, this can be traced back to three evolutionary events. And, as such, these may be considered rare events in evolutionary timeframe.
The first paper by Van Gemert & Van Leeuwen describes the jubilees of the Netherlands Malacological Society during the past 75 years and the way some of its members have been honoured.
In another paper, Van Gemert gives a survey of the members of the Board and of the editors of the NMV journals.
In the third paper, Kronenberg gives a list of all eponyms of NMV members or persons related to them. As he correctly says, the easy way of placing -i, -ae, -orum or -arum behind the person(s) name is too often followed. He concludes „Come on, dear malacologists, use your imagination”.
As far as applicable, I promise to better my life in this respect.
There are five species mentioned as prey for these reptiles: several veronicellid slugs - Belocaulus angustipes (Heynemann, 1885), Phyllocaulis soleiformis (d’Orbigny, 1835) and Sarasinula linguaeformis (Semper, 1885) -, an orthalicid tree snail - Mesembrinus interpunctus (Martens, 1887) and the invasive Bradybaena similaris (Férussac, 1821).
One of the reported snail species is Dipsas indica Laurenti, 1768, the common name of which is Neotropical snail-eater. This is probably based on Sazima (1989), who reported it from southern Brazil. According to the reptile database, this species is only found in Brazil in Bahia and Goias. However, it is also known to occur in Brazil and Paraguay.
Agudo-Padrón, I., 2009. Snail-eating snakes of southern Brazil region and their alimentary preferences. - Unitas Malacologica Newsletter 28: 11-12.
Sazima, I., 1989. Feeding behavior of the snail-eating snake, Dipsas indica. - Journal of Herpetology 23: 464-468.
Yesterday the Netherlands Malacological Society had its third meeting to celebrate its 75 years of existence. We have a tradition of making group photographs of these meetings. Here is the one taken yesterday in Naturalis, thanks to our Board member Jan Johan ter Poorten. He counted 108 members present.
Comparing the total number of molluscs in any of the IUCN categories with the data from last year, showed that there is an increase of five taxa in the Bivalvia and 89 in Gastropoda. Hence, a stunning 94 in total. The - new - factsheet on molluscs highlights a few selected species.
94 more species added to bring the total of assessed species up to 2306. Is this really stunning? Or just still a gross underestimation of the reality? And if so, why is so little progress obtained?
When I recently spoke to an insider, he said „the IUCN isn’t interested in invertebrates at all. And who cares about molluscs anyhow? The Red List is simply politics”.
That is a provocative conclusion. If true - and I have little reasons to doubt that my spokesperson was wrong - it is the death-blow to mollusc conservation efforts. Despite anything else that may be written in Tentacle, etc.etc.
Do we simply waste our time?
EDIT has a special programme (WP5) that is devoted to cybertaxonomy and a special page that presents an overview of tools: Biodiversity Service & Application Tracker.
Software is divided both in type (applications, data) and in categories (from bibliography to taxonomy). In several categories there are recent additions, but an option is present to receive RSS feeds.
Due to technical problems my blog hasn't been updated for a few days. I apologize to those of you who regularly check the updates. Also I noticed that some posts have been mixed up. Working on the fixes, stay tuned...
Also in southern Peru snails may be found in the very arid coastal area.
This is a picture taken by Ralf Hesse near Nazca. A detailed shot reveals that here there are two forms present. The slender form resembles Bostryx hennahi (Gray, 1830), the stouter shells B. styliger (Beck, 1832).
It became interesting when I saw different photographs taken by him in the same area. These show that the latter species exhibits a transition to carinate forms; the latter resembles Bostryx reentsi (Philippi, 1851) known to occur slightly more southward near Chala.
This carination is hypothesized to be the result of ‘ecological stress’, in the case of the Chilean species by displacement through flooding or mud streams beyond the limits of their normal habitat. Indeed, there is reference in literature about climatic variability along the Chilean and southern Peruvian coast (Garreaud & Battisti, 1999; Vargas et al., 2006), due to the El Niño phenomenon.
Recently, studies have suggested that this mechanism also extended to the Nazca region during Pleistocene times (Eitel et al., 2005; Mächtle et al, in press). They hypothesize that a much more humid climate existed during the Pleistocene, with an increased aridification during the Holocene. Between 1000-1400 a semi-arid period would have occurred. The presence of loess in parts of the area on the flank of the Andes is an important argument in their papers. Radiocarbon dating of shells found amidst the loess dates this layer at ca. 10.000 yr BP. They postulate that the formation of the loess was influenced by monsoons crossing the Andes from Amazonia and leading to a higher precipitation.
Figure 3 from Mächtle et al. (in press), with the erroneous classification as Scutalus chiletensis granulatus Weyrauch; this is a species from N-Peru.
Hesse & Baade (2007) pointed out that an alternative explanation for the loess formation could be the fog vegetation occurring in coastal Peru and Chile (Garreaud et al., 2008). The occurrences of floods and debris flows has been recorded for the Ilo region in southern Peru (Keefer et al., 2003), but it may have also occurred in the Nazca region.
In conclusion, the occurrence of carinate shells with a transition to normal shell forms near Nazca is an interesting find. And although the evidence provided in literature points to floods and debris flows as a possible factor, more detailed research is needed to understand the mechanism of carination at play here.
Eitel, B., Hecht, S., Mächtle, B., Schukraft, G., Kadereit, A., Wagner, G.A., Kromer, B., Unkel, I. & Rendel, M., 2005. Geoarchaeological evidence from desert loess in the Nazca-Palpa region, southern Peru: palaeoenvironmental changes and their impact on pre-Columbian cultures. - Archaeometry 47: 137-158.
Garreaud, R. & Battisti, D., 1999. Interannual (ENSO) and interdecadal (ENSO-like) variability in the Southern Hemisphere tropospheric circulation. - Journal of Climate 12: 2113-2123.
Garreaud, R., Barichivich, J, Christie, D.A. & Maldonado, A., 2008. Interannual variability of the coastal fog at Fray Jorge relict forests in semiarid Chile. - Journal of Geophysical Research 113: G04011.
Hesse, R. & Baade, J., 2007. Palaeoenvironmental changes in the Nazca-Palpa region, southern Peru--alternative interpretations of geoarchaeological evidence. - Archaeometry 49: 595-602.
Keefer, D.K., Moseley, M.E. & deFrance, S.D., 2003. A 38000-year record of floods and debris flows in the Ilo region of southern Peru and its relation to El Niño events and great earthquakes. - Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 194: 41-77.
Mächtle, B., Unkel, I., Eitel, B., Kromer, B. & Schiegl, S., in press. Molluscs as evidence for a late Pleistocene and early Holocene humid period in the southern coastal desert of Peru (14.5⁰S) - Quartenary Research.
Vargas, G., Rutllant, J. & Ortlieb, L., 2006. ENSO tropical-extratropical climate teleconnections and mechanisms for Holocene debris flows along the hyperarid coast of western South America (17⁰-24⁰S). - Earth and Planetary Science Letters 249: 467-483.
The large dots show the total number of land snails (grey dots) and Orthalicidae (black dots) in each of the selected countries (from left to right: Costa Rica, Panama, French Guiana, Suriname, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Brazil).
At present, only the regression line for the Orthalicidae is significant, but a recent paper shows that defining a Species-Area Relationship is more than “just the functional relationship between species number and area” (Williams et al., 2009).
The figure above still serves the pupose to illustrate my argument that snail diversity in Peru is relatively higher than in other countries. There may be different factors beneath the surface. Hopefully, more on this subject later,.
Williams, M.R., Lamont, B.R. & Henstridge, J.D., 2009. Species-area functions revisited. - Journal of Biogeography 36: 1994-2004.
Electronic publication is usually interpreted as e-version of papers in journals. Some journals, like PLoS, only appear electronically and this quite rapidly followed by other journals. Even museums are progressing on this track, the journals of e.g. Naturalis will undoubtedly no longer be printed within a few years.
Another way of publishing electronically is putting data in databases, making these avaialble on the net, or in dedicated templates, e.g. Scratchpad, EOL, LifeDesk. In short: web-based taxonomy. This is potentially more useful on a longer term as the comprehensiveness is much bigger. Moreover it may be coupled to initiatives like Open Taxonomy, stimulating non-professional users to contribute in various ways.
With the on-going rat-race, it is the SCI that rules the universities and even natural history museums are getting influenced. Taxonomists are stimulated to perform “high profile research” (alpha-taxonomy being ‘sooo 20th century...’) and only publications in “high-ranking SCI journals” are being seen as useful. It may be the dilusion of the day, but this viral idea is spreading rapidly. While in some science departments journals are being trashed after 10 years, their contents being totally irrelevant, taxonomic publications will stay useful and remain so since 1758. Some ‘managers’ fail to grasp this fact and unless they manage to change the Code or make taxonomy obsolete in other ways, impact factors should be treated in a different way.
Recently, PLoS has introduced article-level metrics of usage. Although this might be considered as progress by some, I still wonder when contributions to (web-based) taxonomy will be fully valued. Without that, SCI-ranking in its current form has to be valued of little use for taxonomy. About SCI and the pitfalls of citation index, see also Reedijk & Moed (2008).
Reedijk, J. & Moed, H.F., 2008. Is the impact of journal impact factors decreasing? - Journal of Documentation 64: 183-192.
Today two messages from different sources interlocked in the end.
First, I read on the Taxacom discussion list an advertisement for a PhD-student. “Student should be curious, driven and excited enough about science that it is what they might choose to do were they to [do] win the lottery”. Lottery?? I was puzzled to see scientific work being compared to winning a lottery. Yes, I know that it is hard for scientists to find a proper job and, yes, it is sometimes a matter of good luck to have an application being granted. But is this so structural that you can speak of a lottery?
An hour later I incidentally found the paper of Lawrence (2009) and then I realized: it is becoming more and more a lottery! What started out many years ago as a way to stir up competition between scientists, has become a rather perverted system. Read Lawrence’s paper!
Science is like society in general: not every change is a good change. For sure, this one is not.
Lawrence, P.A., 2009. Real lives and white lies in the funding of scientific research. - PLoS Biology 7(9): e1000197.
A number of presentation were given, of which I like to mention especially Edi Gittenberger’s one on left- and right handedness in snails. Landsnails of the Venezuelan tepuis was the topic of my presentation.
Since the celebrator of the jubilee had received his Festschrift already on his birthday, it was necessary to have another gift for him. In the end, we decided to make a bibliophile edition of the Festschrift.
We also gave him the unique copy of the final proof of the volume.
Needless to say that Dolf van Bruggen appreciated both gifts.
The money is part of the budget of the Ministry for Education, Culture and Science and will be spread over the next five years. It was made after a proposal by Naturalis successfully made it through various rounds of competition.
On Wednesday the news was made public in the museum. As proposed 20 million will be spent on the collection, viz. digitalization and merging of collections. The remaining 10 million will be spent on research, investing in new laboratories and equipment.
There was coffee and cake to celebrate this, but hey! we might wait till the budget has been sanctioned by the Parliament...
The allocation of the money is a major step towards an integrated institute for biodiversity research. However, there are several more steps to make before the museum as a new, enlarged organisation can open up its doors of the new building, probably in 2015. Although it may be wise to have a ‘plan B’ given the financial situation of the government in the coming years, it surely is a hopeful sign of the current priority for taxonomy and biodiversity in the Netherlands.
The interesting thing is to see how the animal discoloured after I put it in alcohol 70%. Its beige coloured body when alive, turned grayish while the alcohol showed a yellowish hue. Apparently the body colour dissolved, but I can’t remember to have seen that before when preserving snails; a quick search in Scholar didn’t return any useful hits. Something to sort out later.
As a consequence this is also the end of the living type specimen story. R.I.P. Hugo and Marisabel.
Cowie et al. (2009) just published a risk assessment for alien non-marine mollusc species that are of importance to the USA. There procedure might be applicable in other countries and their results lists many species that are generally considered as pests. In their procedure a ranking was made, using scores on biological and human-interaction attributes. The biological attributes include e.g. natural climatic range, phylogenetic relationships, adult size, egg/juvenile size, reproductive potential and breeding system. Human-interaction attributes are e.g. introduction pressure, invasion history, major pest elsewhere and economic potential. By summing up the scores a simple measure (S) of pest potential was attained. Dividing each S value by the number of attributes scores resulted in P values. The result is a ranking of all 46 species(-groups) considered, from high to low pest potential.
The results show a mixture of land and freshwater families, the latter often important because they are vectors for parasites. The ranking of the Succineidae is remarkable as they are generally not considered as significant pests, but they are now frequently found with horticultural imports (Cowie et al., 2008).
The number of Neotropical groups is rather limited; most groups have a wide-spread distribution. Orthalicids are not listed in this survey, possibly they are not (yet) a major quarantine issue in the USA.
The biology of invasive species still needs further research and also the interaction with plant ecosystems is virtually unknown. Despite the many efforts by Cowie and others, there remains more than enough to do for curious minds...
Cowie, R.H. & Robinson, D.G., 2003. Pathways of introduction of nonindigenous land and freshwater snails and slugs. - In: G. Ruiz & J.T. Carlton (eds.) Invasive species: vectors and management strtategies: 93-122. Island Press, Washington DC.
Cowie, R.H., Hayes, K.A., Tran, C.T. & Meyer III, W.M., 2008. The horticultural industry as a vector of alien snails and slugs: widespread invasions in Hawaii. - International Journal of Pest Management 54: 267-276.
Cowie, R.H., Dillon jr, R.T., Robinson, D.G. & Smith, J.W., 2009. Alien non-marine snails and slugs of priority quarantine importance in the United States: a preliminary risk assessment. - American Malacological Bulletin 27: 113-132.
The first one is of course the Unitas Malacologia world congress, to be held in Thailand in July 2010. When I found the flyer this week in my mailbox, I was a bit disappointed. It seems that the organizers have tried to outperform the Antwerp congress by increasing the number of symposia (currently there are 13 themes listed). Does it mean that the plenary sessions are gone?
Most themes are so specialized, that it is difficult to imagine how you could fit a topic to them outside the selected themes. And you must really have something done recently (I guess, preferably not yet published but close to submit as a paper) to be allowed.
There seem some hours scheduled for poster presentations. Are they the garbage can for all the people who fall outside the symposia themes?
Right now, more questions than a transparent set-up.
Another interesting congress will be the VI Southern Connection Congress, uniting researchers related to Australia, Africa and South America. This time it will be held in Argentina. Ah... sounds a lot interesting right away :-)
During the previous congress in South Africa, the status of Prestonella as a member of the Orthalicoidea was disclosed. It would be nice to be able to present some further insights gained meanwhile.
Ton de Winter and Ira Richling discussing some Neotropical helicinids.
As a specialist in Helicinidae she was interested to see our small collection. Due to time shortage, she took notes on interesting things and found some alcohol preserved material that she took for further studies.
We also discussed on her observations on Costa Rican Drymaeus. There she observed this genus quite common as a ‘garden snail’, with two species represented on the campus in San José. She found D. sulphureus and D. inusitatus to be blue-bodied. The latter species is restricted to the Caribbean side of the country. These snails are more blue in the lowland, becoming paler higher up in the mountains.
Víctor Alamo (URP)
Franz Cardoso (UNMSM)
Pedro Huamán (UNMSM)
Aldo Indacochea (CONCYTEC)
Valentín Mogollón (UNFV)
Carlos Paredes (UNMSM)
Mario Peña (particular)
Víctor Rivadeneira (URP)
Violeta Valdivieso (FONDEPES)
This brings the total number to 14, all professional malacologists. In the latest edition of Coan et al. (2009) we found the following additions: Dativa Beltran Rodríguez, Víctor Camacho, Bertha Fernández Padilla, Ángel E. Flórez B., Rosa Hernández, Hernando de Macedo, Javier Ortíz de la Puente, Julia Rodríguez, Pedro Verástegui Mackee, Salmón Vilchez Murga and Felix Woytkowski. We could add the upcoming generation of students and others interested in molluscs, e.g.: Federico Gutierrez, Edgar Meza Figuero, Grace Montalvan Naranjos, Carlos Rivero. In total 31 malacologists. Other names may be added, but surely this is a more realistic overview than the one presented in our paper.
Coan, E.V., Kabat, A.R. & Petit, R.E., 2007. 2400 years of malacology (4th ed., rev.): 729 + 14 pp. Available at http://www.malacological.org/pdfs/2400years07/Biblio-Bio.pdf. Accessed 28 October 2008.
Coan, E.V., Kabat, A.R. & Petit, R.E., 2009. 2400 years of malacology (6th ed.): 830 pp. Available at http://www.malacological.org/publications/2400_malacology.php. Accessed 3 August 2009.
Tarazona, J., Gutiérrez, D., Paredes, C. & Indacochea, A., 2003. Overview and challenges of marine biodiversity research in Peru. - Gayana 67: 206-231.
It is the Festschrift for Dr A.C. van Bruggen on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Of the 12 malacological papers, two deal with Neotropical snails.
Some quite intensive months have come to an end. Well nearly so, because there will be a special meeting of the Dutch Malacological Society for this occasion on 26 September.
Dolf, congratulations again!
It sits in the sidebar, below the tags. Click “A Snail’s Blog” and add the resulting link to the subscriptions in your favorite RSS Reader. This way, you will notice when this Snail has been active again...
On the Google discussion group on Open Taxonomy Projects, Bob Mesidov posted today an outline of tasks suitable for involving non-experts. His draft is here; be sure to read also this.
Excellent draft indeed. We might have to realize, however, that these tasks are aimed (IMHO) at the high-end of the potential target group, i.e. those people who already have a keen interest in 'taxonomy' and biology (although they might not realize it or might call it differently).
In my view, there could be at least two other groups that have potential as targets, albeit they will have to be approached in a different way.
a. People with a special interests and skills in one of the tasks but without a keen or proven interest in biology. They need to be either stimulated to link their skills to biological specimens or the biology component need to be 'wrapped' in such way that recognize it as something reasonable to do.
An example: Someone who has as hobby Photoshopping pictures, could do polishing some biological pictures from time to time when presented in the right context.
b. Ordinary people without any interest in biology, but offered some special tasks in the context of e.g. a game; also the example of Captcha could be such a context.
Examples: proofreading using Captcha, landmarking images using a game.
If so have any feelings about this topic, let me know via the comments or by becoming a member of the Google group.
Update: an outline of the workflow can be found here.
Here are some Blaesospira echinus infernalis unlucky to have this fate.
The picture is courtesy of Adrián González.
One of the factors influencing the decline of taxonomy is the low ranking in the statistics that are used for the SCI-ranking of journals and the H-ranking for authors. On both, taxonomical work and authors usually can be found at the tail end. Needless to say that this reinforces the negative imago of taxonomy (a so-called ‘perverse feed-back loop’).
The authors propose a quite elegant principle to be followed by all taxonomists and taxonomic journals, called Appropriate Citation of Taxonomy. “The principle is to ensure that common elements of taxonomic papers, generally considered de facto citations by taxonomists but not by ISI, are presented in a format that is considered a valid citation by ISI”. In short, if you can’t beat them, join them...
By citing the original works of species names or DNA sequences, taxonomists can ensure that taxonomical work will be given appropriate citation. Even if the list of references is curtailed by the editors, one should at least cite five taxonomic papers.
The only remaining condition is, that the taxonomist is able to publish in a SCI/ISI-covered journal... That is not so simple as it may seem, as the original ISI-coverage was rather arbitrary (including e.g. the Journal of Conchology), while leaving out similar journals (e.g. Basteria and Archiv für Molluskenkunde). And as a befriended editor recently told me, it may only be possible to be included in the ISI-list by paying a substantial fee... Who said that taxonomists are on the loosing end of the battle for money?
As the authors say: taxonomists and taxonomic journals: ACT!
Seifert, K.A., Crous, P.W. & Frisvad, J.C., 2008. Correcting the impact factors of taxonomic journals by appropriate citation of taxonomy (ACT). - Persoonia 20: 105.
I expected them to feed on algae and on the ‘malaco-mix’ described here. But earlier this week I catched one feeding on reusable putty (also known under the brand name ‘Blu-Tack’).
Needless to say that their excrements are also blue...
It contains some nice posts on a recent trip to Jamaica, with some video shots made traveling to rainy Dolphin Head. His observations on annulariids are really nice, given the (wet) circumstances that they were made. My attention was, however, draw by a picture of a crawling orthalicid. It is Orthalicus undatus jamaicensis (Pilsbry, 1899), caught at night. If you hadn’t figured out yet, once more a proof that being a malacologist is a very tough business...
Looking around on his site, I also found a highly attractive picture of Gaeotis nigrolineatus. When I asked Richard about this picture, he said that it was made under controlled conditions. While shooting a series of shots, it deposited its eggs on the leaf.
Notice the blue appearance of the animal. It reminds me of certain blue Drymaeus...
Keep the good work up, Rich.
The search for solutions has started and the main direction is clear. Online, online, online whatever can be done that way. Are there any inspirational examples perhaps?
Yes, there is one in an unrelated field like astronomy, Clickworkers. Imagine you would have a similar tool for any taxonomic group, identifying patterns of characters in images stored at a database.
Or look at this amazing project, Recapcha, proving that you don’t have to rely on a single participant’s biases.
The closest example of a participation of non-experts in taxonomy is the Collembola site, where many of the images were provided by amateurs.
The ultimate example would be a ‘taxonomy game’ where the players from all over the world got playfully help to contribute to taxonomic work (and perhaps have some interesting time as well seeing the diversity of life). As far as we know, such game doesn’t exist yet.
The common denominator is Open Taxonomy Projects.
The aim is to restructure the work done by biological taxonomists so that anyone, anywhere can contribute to a taxonomic project via the Web.
From the FAQ of this group:
Isn't the job nearly finished? Aren't most species known and classified?
That might be true for birds and mammals and tall trees, and for certain animal and plant groups of economic or medical importance. The rest of the living world is still largely unknown. A recent estimate is 8-9 million species in total on Earth. Taxonomists have so far named and described fewer than 2 million. Most of the undescribed species are small, rare or both.
Why invite non-specialists to help do taxonomy?
Because there aren't enough professional taxonomists in the world, and their numbers are decreasing. Despite this decline, taxonomic knowledge is still fundamentally important in medicine, farming, forestry, fishing, land management and conservation. Taxonomic work is also urgently needed to learn about species headed for extinction in disappearing habitats.
Isn't taxonomy too hard for ordinary people? Don't you need a university degree and special training?
You need special training and experience to become a professional taxonomist. You don't need either to do many of the basic tasks in taxonomy, like documenting and comparing specimens. Open taxonomy projects will sharpen your skills with online games and training.
How are open taxonomy projects going to work? Isn't there a risk that the results won't be as good as taxonomy done by professionals?
Open taxonomy projects will be structured and managed by professional taxonomists in the same way that open-source software is developed. There will be sub-tasks, sub-task maintainers, milestones, version checking and strict adherence to all the rules of formal taxonomy and taxonomic publishing. The difference will be in the results. More specimens will be identified and more species described in less time with more people involved and with better quality control.
Isn't a lot happening these days with digital tools to make taxonomy more efficient? Can't you get increased taxonomic output that way?
There are a lot of new 'cybertaxonomy' tools. What they do is speed up some steps in the taxonomic process, like checking the scientific literature and generating identification keys. Other steps remain slow because they have to be done by humans, not computers. This slower work includes collecting and documenting specimens, comparing specimens, looking for specimen characters to assist identification and classification, testing the usefulness of those characters, etc. Overall, taxonomic output is limited by the slowest steps in the taxonomic workflow. Open taxonomic projects will speed up those slower steps by linking busy, isolated specialists with online volunteer communities that are active 24/7.
If you are interested in this topic, don’t hesitate and participate!
Today an observation on hearsay evidence by my youngest son. In my garden there is a little pond, one of the edges is partly overgrown by Hedera. Frogs are continuous inhabitants and in springtime the tadpoles are a favourite prey for one of the neighbour’s cats (someone said that they might get high on them). But this afternoon, my son saw how three tadpoles started to feed on an unlucky Cornu aspersum that felt off the Hedera plants into the water.
When I came home a couple of hours later, my son recalled his observation during dinner. I quickly went to the pond to look at the ‘locus delictus’. Only to find a dead snail floating on the water.
Just a few centimeters away the empty shell was floating on the water. I picked it up and laid it on the edge and grabbed my camera to take pictures.
That’s when the wobbling started.
Closer examination revealed the originator of this movement. A (possibly succineid) snail had attached itself to the bigger shell. Will need to examine it in the lab next week to be sure of its identity.
Malacophagy is not uncommon in various groups of animals. Barker (2004) lists mammals, birds, beetles, flies, spiders and various other groups (including carnivorous molluscs) as predators. But I never heard of tadpoles attacking snails. However, this may be incidentally and to be seen as ‘an occasion not to be missed’. From the viewpoint of the tadpoles..., of course. Eat and be eaten. Nature’s laws can be cruel.
Barker, G.M. (ed.), 2004. Natural enemies of terrestrial molluscs: 1-640. CAB International, Wallingford, U.K.
So far I fed them slices of cucumber (about 1 cm thick), of which they predominantly eat the skin. Sometimes I find the slices partly eaten away.
Curious about what others have tried, I found an interesting paper by Krull (2006) on tropical arboreal snails. He describes the rearing of Liguus and Pleurodonte species under lab conditions. Both species occur in Florida and especially the mentioning of Liguus is interesting, as it is related to my snails.
The biology of Liguus is rather well-known (details in Krull, 2006) and seems to me to be quite distinct from the Plekocheilus living on tepuis in a very humid climate. However, they both are living on the vegetation and are no ground dwellers.
The paper describes the application of an artifical food that was developed especially for Liguus. I suppose it may suit other (non-carnivorous) land-snails too. The basic ingredients are broccoli (calcium!), beer, buttermilk, a chewable multi-vitamin and calcium carbonate, with oat flour added for consistency. That already must be power food! Other ingredients sometimes added to this menu were honey, yoghurt, bananas, carrots and algae-formulated fish food. His lab must be truly a gourmet restaurant... All ingredients were blended and mold spores were added; then the resulting mixture was sprayed on the glass wall of the tanks that Liguus was kept.
Not having kitchen facilities in my lab, I have chosen not to blend the ingredients but feed my snails piece-meal. Whatever happens, they will end up in ethanol, one day...
Pete Krull added in emails that “the food mixture works well for any species that ‘scrapes’ food from tree limbs, rocks or other hard substrate”. His experience extends to Orthalicus, Pleurodonte and Otala species. The latter usually eat the green parts of vegetation, but they thrive also on the food mixture.
Liguus (now a ‘species of special concern’ in Florida and no longer reared) and Orthalicus require sunlight or artificial UV light to grow, mate and multiply.
Krull, P., 2006. Rearing tropical arboreal snails in the laboratory. - Tentacle 14: 3-5.
In their review, Nyfeller & Symondson (2001) list 53 reported observations of predation on snails and slugs. Some of these observations were made in captivity, but most in the field. For a casual observation of malacophagy, see Du Preez (2001).
However, malacophagy does not necessarily play a role in spider-snail interactions. Spiders can also use shells for shelter (e.g. Mikulska, 1961) or nesting sites (e.g. Moreno-Rueda et al., 2008). It is probably this second role that was observed by Deeleman-Reinhold and mentioned in my first post on this subject.
Bristowe, W.S., 1939-1941. The comity of spiders, 2 vols.: 1-228. - Ray Society, London.
Du Preez, K., 2001. Snaily tales. - Strandloper 266: 10-12.
Johnson, J.Y., 1863. Description of a Lycosa from Madeira. - Annals and Magazine of Natural History 12: 152.
Mikulska, I., 1961. Parental care in a rare spider Pellenes nigrocileatus (L. Koch) var. bilunulata Simon. - Nature 190: 365-366.
Moreno-Rueda, G., Marfil-Daza, C., Ortiz-Sánchez, F.J. & Melic, A., 2008. Weather and the use of empty gastropod shells by arthopods. - Annales de la Société Entomologique de France (n.s.) 44: 373-377.
Nyfeller, M. & Symondson, W.O.C., 2001. Spiders and harvestmen as gastropod predators. - Ecological Entomology 26: 617-628.
Pollard, S.D. & Jackson, R.R., 2004. Gastropod predation in spiders (Araneae). In: G.M. Barker (ed.), Natural enemies of terrestrial molluscs: 497-503. - CAB International, Wallingford, U.K.
A very quick search in Scholar didn’t reveal any relevant reference about mucous threads and snails, other than to marine and freshwater molluscs. I wonder if anything has been reported in the scientific malacological literature. Perhaps the observation in Borneo with spiderlings associated to shells was merely by chance. If the threads are really mucous from the snails, one would suspect some evolutionary advantage connected to this behaviour.
If you have any suggestion, please let me know.
As an arachnologist she associated the lines with spiders. She collected a number of the shells and examined them at home under a microscope. The shells were all sealed with an operculum and apparently were alive at the time of collecting. In one of the shells a spiderling was found.
Were these shells used as a resting place? As a place to hide egg sacs? And why were those shells hanging in the air?
In literature, one case has been reported from Madagascar where spiders used empty shells for resting and to hide their egg sacs (Fage, 1926). However, living snails of this genus as known to adhere themselves to limestone rocks (Schilthuizen et al, 1999).
Currently, the precise nature of this observation remains unknown.
Fage, L., 1926. Sur quelques araignées de Madagascar, nouvelles ou peu connues et sur leur curieuse industrie. - Archives Zoologique Expérimentales 65: 5-17.
Schilthuizen, M., Vermeulen, J.J. & Davison, G.W.H., 1999. A note on the ecology of West-Malaysian calcicolous snails (Mollusca: Gastropoda: Diplommatinidae, Cyclophoridae, Vertiginidae, Streptaxidae). - Malayan Nature Journal 53: 351-354.
This may not sound alarming, but in fact it threatens the lubricating oil of taxonomy. So a new business model might be necessary to enable continuation of this essential work.
Will individual scientists be required to pay a fee for each taxon published? Or institutions asked for a contribution related to the work of their taxonomists? What will be the side effects of a change in business model related to new taxon names?
Another rumor popped into my mind, telling that new zoological names have been on offer to the best bidder. I can’t find the source right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually happened. Speaking about scientific integrity...
Finally there is a discussion on the number of species described each year. No one seems to know, although reference is made to a paper** which gives estimates for different groups. But I think hard data may only become available when the use of Zoobank has become mandatory.
Interesting times are ahead...
* Peter Dance originally came up with this title for a presentation that was cancelled. It will now appear as a paper later this year.
**Bebber et al., 2007. Predeicting unknown species numbers using discovery curves. Proceedings Royal Society London, B 274: 1651-1658.
I have to look it up in the library. Next week, when the Queen’s Day - Liberation Day holiday period is over.
This morning, a very light rain moistened my garden after a quite long period of dry weather. When I looked outside I found a number of snails in my backyard crawling on the vegetation. There were quite a number of Cornu aspersum - which I had noticed already by the gnawing of several plants. In total I could find 6 adult specimens of Cepaea nemoralis.
When I entered the data on the site, it appeared that no observations had been made in the past within 5 kms of my house. Also, no other recent observations had been entered in the database.
When I made an evening stroll through the village, I came across another population. Here the snails had moved into trees among herbaceous vegetation.
The website is open till September. Then all pan-European data will be analyzed and a publication will be written by all national coordinators.
Is competition useful in science? Yes, it can. However, it depends in what context and with what means you are competing.
I can see the advantages if there is competition using your brains (or groups of brains, for that matter). It will predominantly occur in laboratory settings or theoretical contexts. The ultimate goal is to have a Nature or Science citation, thanks to those scoring guys&girls (but that quite another chapter). The craziest thing I heard about in this context, is two groups within the same institute competing and closing their doors to avoid painstakingly that someone in the room next door might have a peek of what is on their computer screen...
For me it becomes a whole different thing when it come to doing field work. Giving the few resources available nowadays, both material and in human capacity, I would suspect a willingness to share forces and distribution of specimens. Notably when it comes to quite inaccessible places like the tepuis in southern Venezuela.
The sad thing is that obviously two European groups are competing in that area. One having more financial power, making it very hard for the others to get even helicopter transport and forcing them to do an 8-day march through hostile terrain.
For me, this may be competition for the honour, but I consider it far from the scientific spirit that inspired many explorers of this continent.
After the formal meeting, a special publication was presented called “Schitterende schelpen en slijmerige slakken” [Beautiful shells and slimy snails]. It contains 44 contributions highlighting different fields of malacology and illustrating the joy that people have in malacology, either as a hobby or - the happy few - as a professional. The book is for sale here. I’m a co-author of two papers, so hopefully you will forgive me plugging it here.
Sylvia van Leeuwen presenting the book ‘75 years of NMV’.
Yours truly was also elected as a Board member (again!) and I hope to serve the next 6 years on the team to sustain and promote malacology.
In the afternoon a traditional ‘contributions by members’ was held, in which members of the society can briefly show interesting things (usually shells), announce new developments or discoveries. I showed ‘Hugo’ and ‘Marisabel’ and a brief part of the film Tepuy to give an impression of their natural habitat.
During the day my poster on Venezuelan land snails was on show.
It was a busy, but most enjoyable day. Only the start of more activities to celebrate 75 years of NMV.
For the younger generation it may be difficult to imagine why it is so charming to see all the new journals on their stands in the library. They smell as freshly printed paper should. You can pick the journals up and glance through them, picking up interesting articles. Can you really find any new paper readily when using a search machine like Scholar?
Nowadays it has become custom to distribute PDFs. You can store them easily, take them to anywhere on your laptop, view them on your screen with a few touches of buttons. But I notice that when I really want to study a paper I tend to print it out; and I know I’m not the only one doing it. Not directly an environment-friendly way.
It’s one of the dilemmas each scientist is facing. Especially taxonomists want to have access to the original source and often find themselves among piles of literature, sifting out the data they need for the paper under construction.
At the end of the discussion at Naturalis it was decided to have both the online and printed versions of the journal. The best of both worlds. For how long it lasts. Because sooner or later the library budget will be cut, printed versions will become unavailable and old volumes stored out of easy reach to economize on space. All options being discussed now and then.
I would consider it a paradise lost.
Due to the ever-growing competition, scientists are reluctant to share data and - in the case of taxonomists - specimens, even when they know that elsewhere a specialist could benefit from studying them. Jealousy may be another factor that plays a role. This week a colleague of mine casually referred to a discussion on internet about ‘malacologists as pirates’. Although I haven’t seen the actual site (yet), this blog is being referred to. I presume it is because of this post. Much later than I had the blog posted, I heard some rumors about “stealing taxa that had been worked on for years”, etc.etc. No doubt, an awful story. But can’t you expect these things to happen? Personally I promote cooperation rather than competition. With the ever-growing scarcity of human resources in taxonomy, I feel that one should strive for synenergy rather than to pick ideas from and compete with others. The biodiversity crisis means too much work for too few taxonomists. But I also realize that humans are part of the ecosystem and if the same niches are to be filled, inevitably some will turn out to act as predators.
A rather philosophical entry, amidst a pile of work (several deadlines closing soon). Next time, it will be real malacology. I promise.
Pictured are (in vertical order) two Amplirhagada species, two Torresitrachia species and an as yet unnamed one.
All originate from the Kimberley region in Western Australia, said to be “Australia’s last true wilderness”.
Should you find nothing that interests you anymore in the Neotropics, this seems the place to be!
Many thanks to Frank for sending and to Vince Kessner who made these beautiful pictures of these Australian beauties.
Not sure yet if I will visit (would love to, but as always one has ones priorities...). Anyway, my priority for the next 10 days will be a private trip abroad. Stay tuned and I hope to continue after my return.
Together with Menno Schilthuizen (right) at the Town Hall’s reception.
Mark Lomolino during his key note
Secondly, I attended the reception at the Town Hall in Leiden for the congress on Evolutionary islands. Already acquiainted with some participants, more to follow during the coming days.
Although Wallace will be reminded in the Austalasian Realm with the Wallacean Line, his writings on his travels to Amazonia are probably less known. No more time right now, but I hope to come back on this subject soon. The rest of this week I will be busy with Darwin-mania, viz. the congress on Evolutionary islands.
Many museums have their registration system only in-house, few have it public in a web-based database. This can be a huge advantage for scientists abroad (like I can testify; e.g., the Florida State Museum database is a frequently used source for me).
Today I received notice from Paul Valentich-Scott that the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History had updated their database on their website with the recently published material on Bostryx. They update now every evening and, as Paul said, it’s a great motivation for their cataloguers.
Perhaps an idea for all those collection managers who struggle with poorly motivated technicians, acting as data typists. Or perhaps are the managers part of the problem themselves? Too many chiefs, too few indians...
I like to acknowledge here the work of those ‘indians’, who provide the scientists indispensable support.
I’m an ardent user of online gazetteers and was somewhat unpleasantly surprised when my favorite gazetteer (GNS) showed a persistent error during the last days. Just in the middle of painfully looking up localities for two projects...:-(
Looking on the net for some possible work around, I found this site. When you skip the heading and scroll down you will find a nice listing of alternatives. Always handy when technology lets you down...
But perhaps there is lesson to learned here: better have a downloaded copy on your harddisk or, even better, a hard copy on your bookshelf.
For sure, 2009 will be the year of Darwin. No doubt, the ‘Darwin industry’ (Stephen J. Gould) will pour out a lot of products. And many events will be held; to name only one: the symposium on evolutionary islands.
Darwin’s theory on evolution has been dubbed “The most important idea since Aristotle” (Tijs Goldschmidt). It is a theory with a ‘high societal impact’ and surely Darwin’s publication would have been high-ranked if the citation index had existed in his time.
‘The origin of species’ is seemingly the result of a flash of intuition. A great idea developed by a great genius. In reality, Darwin developed the idea over a period of 20 years during which he laboriously collected, categorized and interpreted many, many specimens. Science is often hard work for tiny results. Making progress, but often painfully slow. We might therefore commemorate not only Darwin’s work, but grasp the opportunity to place all scientific work in the spot-lights. Not only Darwin’s Year but the Year of Science.
Finally Surinam. Seemingly haphazardly mentioned. But the coming 6 months I will be able to work full-time at Naturalis on a project on Surinam land snails. So, personally, 2009 will bind together these three subjects. Hopefully with some interesting results worth sharing with you.
Although most of you are unknown to me, I wish you all a good Christmas time and a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Please, do return in 2009, when this blog will be continued...
The thesis consists of eight chapters of which several will be published later in peer-reviewed journals. I mentioned already the chapter on prime and remnant species. Other chapters deal with an introduction to the family Chondrinidae, the historical biogeography of the genus Chondrina, a phylogenetic analysis of the Abida secale-complex and its ecophenotypic variation and finally a taxonomic revision of the Chondrinidae.
In the discussion I found the part on the altitudinal gradients and shell morphology particularly interesting. To what extent is selection expressed when comparing samples collected on different mountain transects? Also the factors explaining the variation were discussed. The methodology applied may be applicable to some questions I have about some Peruvian species, e.g. here. Other parts of Bas’ thesis will surely also be inspirational during future work.
More information can be found here (at the time of writing offline, but check as he promises to be back a.s.a.p.). Anyhow, proficiat Dr Bas!
B. Kokshoorn, 2008. Resolving riddles and presenting new puzzles in Chondrinidae phylogenetics. Leiden, Ph.D. thesis: 1-188.
In the same newspaper the potential risk of invasive molluscs was made the issue of the day, under the heading “State ineffective as snails and slugs sneak in”:
Fending off alien plants and animals is a constant, uphill battle in Hawaii but it must be sustained for the health of the agricultural industry and the tourism economy as well as the native environment.
Limited funding, manpower and political will have left the islands porous to harmful species. The state needs to put together an improved system of checks and inspections, which may cost more up front, but save both businesses and taxpayers the expense and difficulties of eradication or containment.
A recent survey of 40 plant nurseries around the state, conducted by a University of Hawaii at Manoa biosciences research program, found all of them were infested with alien slugs and snails.
Of equal concern was that nursery operators had no idea of the infestations and were moving their products from island to island and elsewhere, possibly spreading the pests.
Five of the 29 alien species discovered had never been reported in Hawaii previously and many had not been reported on particular islands before. Some nurseries unknowingly had as many as 17 invasive species.
The report of the survey in the International Journal of Pest Management comes as the state goes through the annual hit-or-miss exercise of checking imported Christmas trees for pests through eyeballing them and the low-tech method of shaking or pounding evergreens to displace bugs and whatnots.
In some years, the holiday trees, mostly from the Pacific Northwest, have arrived with wasps and other insects and been turned away. In others years, lizards and snakes have escaped officials' notice, much to the alarm of the residents who found them in their homes.
This year, slugs have made appearances, which Robert Cowie, a snail-slug specialist at the university who also was involved in the survey, described as "potentially quite serious pests." Though the environmental risks aren't known, some of the infested nurseries were supplying plants to restore native habitats in particularly vulnerable places like Kahoolawe.
The slugs and snails could also prove damaging to vegetables such as lettuces and cabbages, specialty fruits and floral crops.
The survey found a pattern for the gastropods among the nurseries - arriving first on Oahu, escaping to establish themselves around the island, then being transported to neighbor islands through horticultural traffic.
Cowie suggests the state study horticultural distribution networks to find a way to put controls at key points. That could be productive, but the state should take a comprehensive look at how it could best intercept invasive and alien species, much as California and other states head off island produce for fruit flies
I just can’t imagine that the responsible civil servants will be happy about this editorial. And maybe some politicians are becoming a bit itchy too. Usually they are up to defend any activity that brings in money and jobs. After all snails and slugs don’t vote....
Thanks again, Carl!
The photos were kindly supplied by Edward de Bock.
These are some pictures that I made with Image Tricks and several settings to manipulate colour, focus, distortion, style, halftone and lumine.
Viewed in another context one would call this art. But after all, science is an art.
One of the interesting links that did work, was on páramos in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. It has a nice set of pictures and references to literature. Another one leads to a specialist site of blueberries (Ericaceae). More lightly is the site on Peruvian orchids, with beautiful photographs. Very nice pictures both of the landscape and of plants in the Andes of Mérida, can be found in the image gallery of the Programa Andes Tropicales.
Unfortunately, I cannot show any pictures from these sites due to copyrights.
I also took some material with me from Venezuela and loaded my laptop with some additional literature. No doubt that this week will be both enjoyable and productive somehow.
"...but a checklist is not the place to introduce taxonomic changes". Here it hinges on the interpretation of the word 'checklist'. In a strict sense one could say a checklist is merely a compilation from literature what others have presented. The checklist as a mirror of points of views from other experts. Its only aim is to present an overview and to bring together in one place what might be scattered in a wide array of literature. No own judgement need to be added.
In my 'annotated checklist' for Ecuador I make some taxonomic changes by introducing a few new synonymies. I think the word 'annotated' clearly indicates that some expert judgement is included.
"Also, in all but a few instances I have not included new locality records, even though the [...] collection contains many new records. My reason for not including these is that the data are not yet based on careful taxonomic study". Here the point implies a trade-off between on the one hand presenting quality data only, having useful data that could part turn out erroneous to stay unnoticed in collections and on the other hand, presenting all available data, scrutinized as good as possible, hoping to keep the number of errors within limits.
What is the best way? To me this dilemma reminds me of the dancing procession of Echternach (a village in Luxembourg). Three steps forwards, two steps backwards.
I would say: progress may be slow, but at least there is progress. Just make sure that you don't include the obvious misidentifications and illogical new distribution records that may be based on them. Keep on the safe side of taxonomy, but don't to be too shy to make an error. "One must always be open for new evaluations (critique) of one's work". And I would like to add: one must always be open to admit an error. It can even be a good starting point for a new paper :-)
Anyway, words of wisdom that can make you think twice. Thanks F!
Anyway, I was struggling with some topics due to inexperience. Admittedly my lack of time and resources forces me sometimes to look for 'quick-and-dirty' a.k.a. easy solutions. Instead of puzzling for hours and hours it is sometimes very tempting to ask it to the 'group', just hoping that someone will be helpful. Shame on me, but what other choice would you be making when one wants to be productive with very limited time? It's like making use of stepping stones when crossing a river. Every time a little hop, hoping to reach the other margin without becoming too wet...
Eike Neubert, unknowingly of this incident, wrote to me: "In a museum nothing is really lost, only hidden". How far away should it be hidden to be considered lost?
Update: Believe it or not, within one week after this posting the missing vial unexpectedly was found by a colleague in a different room than where I had stored my material. Only to prove the saying... :-)
Fortunately, another project is nearing completion. My study of Orthalicidae from Ecuador is entering the reviewing phase. I will solicit the critical review of some colleagues before I submit the paper to a journal.
What have I be doing, you might wonder, that brought me in this mood? Actually I started compiling a checklist of the Orthalicinae from Ecuador. This was inspired by two persons. First, Francisco Borrero with his very good checklist of Colombia; still a work in progress, but even so. The second person is Giovanni Cuno, an Ecuadorian student who is currently a guest at home.
I'm surprised what could be achieved within nearly two days of hard work. The Bulimulinae are well under way, except for the genus Drymaeus. There are some questions about species from the Galápagos, that I've emailed to Christine Parent, but otherwise I'm quite satisfied with the result.
When searching for data from museum collectiosn that have been made available via a database, it struck me that - speaking in general - the quality is rather poor. I know it is a Herculean task, but still I was somewhat disappointed about the results of my queries. On the way I happened to find, however, a nice overview of museum collections with contact data and the status of their collection; the links that follows lists the collections where Neotropical molluscs are housed (http://www.inhs.uiuc.edu/cbd/main/collections/mollusk_links/museumlist.html#SA). It's not complete, e.g. the collection of Naturalis is not mentioned and updated till September 2000, but at least it is a start.
Meanwhile, I'm making progress on the Venezuelan Plekocheilus. Started to describe a new species from the southern part of the country. Unfortunately, there is only one (adult) specimen. As it originates from one of the tepuis, it will be difficult to collect additional ones. I should contact Valentí Rull to hear about the procedures for collecting in that area. Perhaps there is a way to do some field work...perhaps.... Hmm, tantalizing idea....
The main work that I did on Neotropical snails was done during the 1970's. After receiving my Ph.D. in 1979 I switched career and worked for the government and as a private management consultant. For many years I was an officer of the Dutch Malacological Society (Nerderlandse Malacologische Vereniging) and tried to keep an eye on relevant literature as good as possible. But I always kept my interest in Neotropical snails, especially the family Bulimulidae.