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April 21, 2014

Wikinews interviews Paúl M. Velazco about new yellow-shouldered bat species

Wikinews interviews Paúl M. Velazco about new yellow-shouldered bat species

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Paul Velazco with a Vampyrum spectrum.
Image: Marco Tschapka.

Distribution range of species formerly ascribed to Sturnira lilium (gray tone) and the type localities (stars) of species in the S. lilium complex.
Image: Paúl M. Velazco.

Scientists at Chicago‘s Field Museum and New York‘s American Museum of Natural History have discovered three new species of yellow-shouldered bats, genus Sturnira, in the Neotropics. On Wednesday open-access journal ZooKeys published their paper on two of the new species, Sturnira bakeri and Sturnira burtonlimi. The two new species were previously confused with S. ludovici, and S. lilium and S. luisi, respectively. With the discovery, genus Sturnira now has the most species of any genus in family Phyllostomidae, the leaf-nosed bats.

Species S. bakeri was named after Dr. Robert J. Baker, who “has made enormous contributions to our [Authors of the ZooKey paper] understanding of bats, particularly to the evolution of Neotropical phyllostomids”; and S. burtonlimi after Dr. Burton K. Lim, who “collected the type series of this species and has made many other important collections throughout the Neotropics and beyond”, the authors noted in the paper.

Within the New World tropics, the distribution range of the genus, the new species’ known living areas are in Costa Rica and Panama for S. burtonlimi, and Western Ecuador for S. bakeri. The researchers identified differences between different specimens, including those in their teeth, skull shapes, and DNA sequences.

Wikinews interviewed one of the chiropterologists, Paúl M. Velazco of the American Museum of Natural History, about the study.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png The Sturnira genus now has 22 species, over 1.5 times larger than it was a year ago (14 species). Who contributed to this change? Did you participate throughout the entire process, or only the discovery of the last 2 species?

Paúl M. Velazco: The last Mammal Species of the World (Simmons, 2005) recognized 14 species for Sturnira. Since then three new species have been described [S. sorianoi Sánchez-Hernández et al., 2005; S. koopmanhilli McCarthy et al., 2006; and S. perla Jarrín-V. and Kunz, 2011] and one subspecies was elevated to the species level (S. hondurensis) by Gardner (2008). This brought the number of species of Sturnira to 18 by 2011. Along with my coauthor Bruce Patterson, we generated the most comprehensive phylogeny of the genus. For this we sequenced two nuclear and three mitochondrial genes from the liver or muscle tissue that had been frozen or preserved from each bat specimen, isolating nearly 5,000 base pairs of DNA. These sequences were obtained from specimens we have collected in the past (38) and from tissues we borrowed from different natural history collections. We published this phylogeny last year in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. Results of this study found that two subspecies of Sturnira lilium should be recognized as valid species (S. parvidens and S. paulsoni). Additionally we found three new species, two of them described in the ZooKeys paper. The third one hopefully will be published later this year.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The genus is called Sturnira Gray in the paper. I’ve not seen extra adjectives in genus names, before. What is the context for such name?

PMV: Usually in papers that deal with taxonomy and nomenclature, the first time that a genus or species is mentioned in text is accompanied by the authority that describes that taxon. In the case of Sturnira, it was Gray in 1842 that named the genus.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What caused your initial interest in the question in the genus? When did you become interested?

PMV: I have been studying bats for the past eighteen years and I am especially interested in the family Phyllostomidae that is endemic to the Neotropics. This family includes more than 160 species. It is the most diverse family of bats in the Neotropics, which together exhibits more variation in morphological features and feeding ecology than any other family-level group of mammals. Phyllostomid bats exploit an unusually diverse array of feeding habits including sanguivory, insectivory, carnivory, omnivory, nectarivory, pollennivory, and frugivory. Because of all mentioned before, phyllostomids are a really interesting group to work with. Sturnira and Platyrrhinus are members of this family.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The paper mentions that the genus is now the most speciose genus in the Neotropical family Phyllostomidae. What genus did it beat? How many species does it include?

PMV: The other genus with the most species in the family is Platyrrhinus. Currently, it has 20 species, but soon it will increase to 21. Along with another colleague, Burton Lim, we have a paper in press describing a new species based on molecular and morphological data from the Guianan Shield.

Dorsolateral views of the left mandibular toothrows in Sturnira bakeri (A, QCAZ 14635 ♀) and S. burtonlimi (B, ROM 104294 ♂), illustrating taxonomic differences in the shape of the metaconid and entoconid of m1 and m2.
Image: Paúl M. Velazco.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What equipment did you use?

PMV: For the ZooKeys paper, we examined several specimens under the stereoscope. The molecular phylogeny gave us the separation between species, from there our job was to focus on finding morphological differences between these groups.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Did you conduct field study to identify the species’ habits? If so, where and how did you do that?

PMV: I have done fieldwork in Belize and Peru, and my coauthor did field work in Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru, where we collected several specimens of Sturnira (including the third species that has not been described yet). But the two species that were described in the ZooKeys paper are based on specimens collected by our colleagues Dr. Robert Baker from Texas Tech University and Dr. Burton Lim from the Royal Ontario Museum.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How do you isolate of the living area of the new species from the living area of the old species?

PMV: We used the phylogeny of Velazco and Patterson 2013 (Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution) as a framework for this.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How long did the study take? What has been the most time-consuming activity?

PMV: It took almost a year. The most time consuming part was spending several hours behind the stereoscope looking for the diagnostic characters.

Sturnira tildae
Image: Burton K. Lim.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Who participated in the study? What were their roles?

PMV: Dr. Bruce Patterson from the [American] Museum of Natural History and I. I was the one in charge of finding the diagnostic characters and together we both worked on the manuscript.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Who do you collaborate with internationally about your study?

PMV: For this study I collaborated directly with Dr. Bruce Patterson from the Field Museum of Natural History, but studies like this cannot be completed without the contribution of scientific collections. We used specimens from the American Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Louisiana State University, Museum of Southwestern Biology, Museo de Historia Natural de la Universidad Nacional de San Marcos, Museo de Zoología of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley, Royal Ontario Museum, Texas Tech University, and the National Museum of Natural History.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What future research do you plan?

PMV: To keep doing what I love, which is going to the field, working at collections, and collaborating with the wonderful collaborators I have, all of this is an effort to try to understand bat diversity and evolution in the Neotropics, especially why phyllostomid bats are so successful at this. There is still much to discover, and hopefully we could, in time, implement conservation actions for species that have small distributions.



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February 28, 2014

Researcher discovers 39 new cockroach species, increasing genus Arenivaga fivefold

Researcher discovers 39 new cockroach species, increasing genus Arenivaga fivefold

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Friday, February 28, 2014

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Sexual dimorphism in Arenivaga.
Image: Heidi Hopkins.

Arenivaga distribution before and after the study.
Image: Heidi Hopkins.

Heidi Hopkins, a taxonomic researcher and PhD candidate at the Museum of Southwestern Biology of the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States, conducted a four-year study revising the Arenivaga genus of cockroaches, discovering 39 new species in the genus previously thought to contain 9 species. ZooKeys journal published her findings Wednesday.

The study involved examining over 5200 specimens from universities and collections throughout the United States. The researcher had to dissect the specimens’ genitalia to accurately distinguish the species as their external features were often not enough for identification. Hopkins was advised by Dr Kelly Miller during the investigation.

The species are also sexually dimorphic, making morphological association of females with males a challenge. The researcher published a key for adult males in the genus.

The study revealed a vaster distribution area than was previously thought, including additional regions in Southern US and over a half of Mexico.

Hopkins remarked about potential of further studies of the genus and Corydiidae, its parent family, “The extent of the radiation of this genus is quite surprising. These animals have remarkable adaptations that allow them to succeed in some of the harshest places on earth. I suspect that the thorough application of modern collection methods would reveal many more species of Arenivaga across Mexico, and many more species of Corydiidae in the deserts and dry places of the rest of the world.”

The study was a first revisit of the genus since 1920 with only one new species discovered since then. The study was supported by grants from American Museum of Natural History, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, National Museum of Natural History, and University of New Mexico.



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January 21, 2014

Cold as ice: Wikinews interviews Marymegan Daly on unusual new sea anemone

Cold as ice: Wikinews interviews Marymegan Daly on unusual new sea anemone

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In late 2010 a geological expedition to Antarctica drilled through the Ross Ice Shelf so they could send an ROV under it. What they found was unexpected: Sea anemones. In their thousands they were doing what no other species of sea anemone is known to do — they were living in the ice itself.

Edwardsiella andrillae and its habitat
Image: Daly et al.

Discovered by the ANDRILL [Antarctic Drilling] project, the team was so unprepared for biological discoveries they did not have suitable preservatives and the only chemicals available obliterated the creature’s DNA. Nonetheless Marymegan Daly of Ohio State University confirmed the animals were a new species. Named Edwardsiella andrillae after the drilling project that found it, the anemone was finally described in a PLOS ONE paper last month.

ANDRILL lowered their cylindrical camera ROV down a freshly-bored 270m (890ft) hole, enabling it to reach seawater below the ice. The device was merely being tested ahead of its planned mission retrieving data on ocean currents and the sub-ice environment. Instead it found what ANDRILL director Frank Rack of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, a co-author of the paper describing the find, called the “total serendipity” of “a whole new ecosystem that no one had ever seen before”.

The discovery raises many questions. Burrowing sea anemones worm their way into substrates or use their tentacles to dig, but it’s unclear how E. andrillae enters the hard ice. With only their tentacles protruding into the water from the underneath of the ice shelf questions also revolve around how the animals avoid freezing, how they reproduce, and how they cope with the continuously melting nature of their home. Their diet is also a mystery.

Cquote1.svg What fascinates me about sea anemones is that they’re able to do things that seem impossible Cquote2.svg

—Marymegan Daly

E. andrillae is an opaque white, with an inner ring of eight tentacles and twelve-to-sixteen tentacles in an outer ring. The ROV’s lights produced an orange glow from the creatures, although this may be produced by their food. It measures 16–20mm (0.6–0.8in) but when fully relaxed can extend to triple that.

Genetic analysis being impossible, Daly turned to dissection of the specimens but could find nothing out of the ordinary. Scientists hope to send a biological mission to explore the area under the massive ice sheet, which is in excess of 600 miles (970km) wide. The cameras also observed worms, fish that swim inverted as if the icy roof was the sea floor, crustaceans and a cylindrical creature that used appendages on its ends to move and to grab hold of the anemones.

NASA is providing funding to aid further research, owing to possible similarities between this icy realm and Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Biological research is planned for 2015. An application for funding to the U.S. National Science Foundation, which funds ANDRILL, is also pending.

The ANDRILL team almost failed to get any samples at all. Designed to examine the seafloor, the ROV had to be inverted to examine the roof of ice. Weather conditions prevented biological sampling equipment being delivered from McMurdo Station, but the scientists retrieved 20–30 anemones by using hot water to stun them before sucking them from their burrows with an improvised device fashioned from a coffee filter and a spare ROV thruster. Preserved on-site in ethanol, they were taken to McMurdo station where some were further preserved with formaldehyde.

This map shows the location of the Ross Ice Shelf in the Antarctic, and the two known localities for E. andrillae relative to McMurdo Station
Image: Daly et al.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png How did you come to be involved with this discovery?

Marymegan Daly: Frank Rack got in touch after they returned from Antarctica in hopes that I could help with an identification on the anemone.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What was your first reaction upon learning there was an undiscovered ecosystem under the ice in the Ross Sea?

MD I was amazed and really excited. I think to say it was unexpected is inaccurate, because it implies that there was a well-founded expectation of something. The technology that Frank and his colleagues are using to explore the ice is so important because, given our lack of data, we have no reasonable expectation of what it should be like, or what it shouldn’t be like.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png There’s a return trip planned hopefully for 2015, with both biologists and ANDRILL geologists. Are you intending to go there yourself?

MD I would love to. But I am also happy to not go, as long as someone collects more animals on my behalf! What I want to do with the animals requires new material preserved in diverse ways, but it doesn’t require me to be there. Although I am sure that being there would enhance my understanding of the animals and the system in which they live, and would help me formulate more and better questions about the anemones, ship time is expensive, especially in Antarctica, and if there are biologists whose contribution is predicated on being there, they should have priority to be there.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png These animals are shrouded in mystery. Some of the most intriguing questions are chemical; do they produce some kind of antifreeze, and is that orange glow in the ROV lights their own? Talk us through the difficulties encountered when trying to find answers with the specimens on hand.

MD The samples we have are small in terms of numbers and they are all preserved in formalin (a kind of formaldehyde solution). The formalin is great for preserving structures, but for anemones, it prevents study of DNA or of the chemistry of the body. This means we can’t look at the issue you raise with these animals. What we could do, however, was to study anatomy and figure out what it is, so that when we have samples preserved for studying e.g., the genome, transcriptome, or metabolome, or conduct tests of the fluid in the burrows or in the animals themselves, we can make precise comparisons, and figure out what these animals have or do (metabolically or chemically) that lets them live where they live.

Daly explained how she obtained these images of the anemone’s anatomy.
Image: Daly et al.

Just knowing a whole lot about a single species isn’t very useful, even if that animal is as special as these clearly are — we need to know what about them is different and thus related to living in this strange way. The only way to get at what’s different is to make comparisons with close relatives. We can start that side of the work now, anticipating having more beasts in the future.
In terms of their glow, I suspect that it’s not theirs — although luminescence is common in anemone relatives, they don’t usually make light themselves. They do make a host of florescent proteins, and these may interact with the light of the ROV to give that gorgeous glow.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What analysis did you perform on the specimens and what equipment was used?

MD I used a dissecting scope to look at the animal’s external anatomy and overall body organization (magnification of 60X). I embedded a few of the animals in wax and then cut them into very thin slices using a microtome, mounted the slices on microscope slides, stained the slices to enhance contrast, and then looked at those slides under a compound microscope (that’s how I got the pictures of the muscles etc in the paper). I used that same compound scope to look at squashed bits of tissue to see the stinging capsules (=nematocysts).
I compared the things I saw under the ‘scopes to what had been published on other species in this group. This step seems trivial, but it is really the most important part! By comparing my observations to what my colleagues and predecessors had found, I figured out what group it belongs to, and was able to determine that within that group, it was a new species.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png It was three years between recovery of specimens and final publication, why did it take so long?

MD You mean, how did we manage to make it all happen so quickly, right? 🙂 It was about two years from when Frank sent me specimens to when we got the paper out. Some of that time was just lost time — I had other projects in the queue that I needed to finish. Once we figured out what it was, we played a lot of manuscript email tag, which can be challenging and time consuming given the differing schedules that folks keep in terms of travel, field work, etc. Manuscript review and processing took about four months.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What sort of difficulties were posed by the unorthodox preservatives used, and what additional work might be possible on a specimen with intact DNA?

MD The preservation was not unorthodox — they followed best practices for anatomical preservation. Having DNA-suitable material will let us see whether there are new genes, or genes turned on in different ways and at different times that help explain how these animals burrow into hard ice and then survive in the cold. I am curious about the population structure of the “fields” of anemones — the group to which Edwardsiella andrillae belongs includes many species that reproduce asexually, and it’s possible that the fields are “clones” produced asexually rather than the result of sexual reproduction. DNA is the only way to test this.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Do you have any theories about the strategies employed to cope with the harsh environment of burrowing inside an ice shelf?

MD I think there must be some kind of antifreeze produced — the cells in contact with ice would otherwise freeze.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png How has such an apparently large population of clearly unusual sea anemones, not to mention the other creatures caught on camera, gone undetected for so long?

MD I think this reflects how difficult it is to get under the ice and to collect specimens. That being said, since the paper came out, I have been pointed towards two other reports that are probably records of these species: one from Japanese scientists who looked at footage from cameras attached to seals and one from Americans who dove under ice. In both of these cases, the anemone (if that’s what they saw) was seen at a distance, and no specimens were collected. Without the animals in hand, or the capability of a ROV to get close up for pictures, it is hard to know what has been seen, and lacking a definitive ID, hard to have the finding appropriately indexed or contextualized.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Would it be fair to say this suggests there may be other undiscovered species of sea anemone that burrow into hard substrates such as ice?

MD I hope so! What fascinates me about sea anemones is that they’re able to do things that seem impossible given their seemingly limited toolkit. This finding certainly expands the realm of possible.



Sister links

  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg Edwardsiella andrillae

Sources

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This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.

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March 25, 2013

Wikinews interviews co-discoverers of Ziegler\’s crocodile newt

Wikinews interviews co-discoverers of Ziegler’s crocodile newt

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Monday, March 25, 2013

A Tylototriton ziegleri male
Image: Nguyen Thien Tao.

A Tylototriton ziegleri female
Image: Nguyen Thien Tao.

The species natural habitat
Image: Nguyen Thien Tao.

Black knobby newt larvae
Image: Nguyen Thien Tao.

DNA sequencers

A curved calipers

A photo of the field study
Image: Nguyen Thien Tao.

In February, Japanese herpetologists Kanto Nishikawa, Masafumi Matsui (of the Kyoto University), and Tao Thien Nguyen (of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology) discovered Ziegler’s crocodile newt in Vietnam. The new species, called Tylototriton ziegleri, is characterised by a unique morphology, most noticeably the rough skin. The researchers noticed the new set of species features when examining a specimen in National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo and confirmed the species after a field study and DNA analysis.

On February 18, the researchers successfully published the paper at Current Herpetology,published by the Herpetological Society of Japan.

Masafumi Matsui asked Kanto Nishikawa to identify the species from the museum. After a discussion with Tao Thien Nguyen, younger brother of T. Q. Nguyen, co-author of an existing Tylototriton vietnamensis species, Kanto Nishikawa identified the species as a new one.

Last Friday, Wikinews interviewed the research team about the study.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What is most particular in the new species morphology?

Kanto Nishikawa: Very rough skin.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What kind of environments do the newts live in?

KN: Secondary and primary forest, near wet land.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What do the newts eat?

KN: Probably small invertebrates, like earthworms, insect, and snails…

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What equipment was used during the research?

KN: Calipers for measuring specimens, DNA sequencer and PC for molecular analysis.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What were the roles of the people involved in the research? What activity was most time-consuming?

KN: Collecting in the wild, analysis of data, and getting research permission.
Tao Thien Nguyen: I am also co-author of paper.
TTN: I was conducted survey in Hagiang and Cao Bang provinces during two year 2010 and 2011. I collected total 10 samples of Tylototriton in the nature habitat for our research,
TTN: I like Nikon camera very much and the photos taken by Nikon D300 body with Macro-len 60:2.8,

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Who did you have to get research permission from?

KN: From local government or national museum where Mr. Tao belongs to. We need many permissions not only for conducting research, but also exporting (= borrowing) specimens. This is common for researchers.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What was the purpose of the field study? Is an alive individual required for DNA analysis, for species description and depiction, or for something else?

KN: Yes, for collecting alive one for DNA, and compiling information on habitat, ecology, breeding sites of the species.



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January 24, 2013

Wikinews interviews Aurélien Miralles about Sirenoscincus mobydick species discovery

Wikinews interviews Aurélien Miralles about Sirenoscincus mobydick species discovery

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Aurélien Miralles with a Many-scaled Cylindrical Skink in Morocco in July 2012.
Image: Mr Philippe Geniez.

The Sirenoscincus mobydick.
Image: Aurélien Miralles.

Sirenoscincus yamagishii, another species in the same genus.
Image: Mr Falk Eckhard.

Sirenoscincus yamagishii (edited photo).
Image: Mr Falk Eckhard.

The Sirenoscincus mobydick, dead specimen on a leaf.
Image: Mrs Andolalao Rakotoarison.

A group of researchers published a paper about their discovery of a new species of Madagascar mermaid skink lizards last December. The species is the fourth forelimbs-only terrestrial tetrapods species known to science, and the first one which also has no fingers on the forelimbs.

The species was collected at Marosely, Boriziny (French: Port-Bergé), Sofia Region, Madagascar. The Sirenoscincus mobydick name is after the existing parent genus, and a sperm whale from the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

This week, Wikinews interviewed one of the researchers, French zoologist Aurélien Miralles, about the research.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What caused your initial interest in Madagascar lizards?

Aurélien Miralles: Well, I would say that since I am a child I am fascinated by the biodiversity of tropical countries, and more especially by reptiles. I did a PhD on the evolution and systematics of skink lizards from South America. Then, I get a Humboldt grant to do a postdoc in Germany, at the Miguel Vences Lab, in order to study Malagasy skinks. Madagascar being a fabulous hotspot for reptiles (and not only for reptiles actually), it was a very nice opportunity. Professor Vences proposed me to associate our complementary fields of expertise: he is expert in herpetology for Madagascar, and I am expert in skinks lizards (family Scincidae). It was a very fruitful experience, and many other results have still to [be] published.

Approximate location of the species discovery.
Image: OpenStreetMap.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How was the new species discovered?

AM: By a very funny coincidence actually. In 2010, I went to Madagascar for a long trip through the south of the island, in the semi-arid bush for collecting lizards and snakes samples. Then, during the last days, just before coming back to Germany, I have visited by coincidence the zoological collection of the University of Antananarivo. In that place, I found an old jar of ethanol with two weird little specimens previously collected by a student who didn’t realize it was something new. Being expert on skinks, I immediately recognised it was something very probably new, very different from all the other known species.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What does “Sirenoscincus” stand for?

AM: I am not the author of the genus name Sirenoscincus. This genus name was already existing. It has been described by Sakata and Hikida (two Japanese herpetologists). “Sireno” means mermaid. “Scincus” means skinks, a group of little lizards on which I am particularly focusing my studies. So, Sirenoscinus means “mermaid skink”, in reference to [the] fact it has forelimbs but no hindlimbs.

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick.
Image: A. Burnham Shute.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How deep underground do the lizards live?

AM: Hard to answer this question because nothing is known on the ecology of this species. But more reasonably, we can hypothesize, by comparison to similar species of skinks, that it is probably living just under the sand surface, [a] few centimeters deep, probably no more, or below [a] rock, leaf litter, or piece of dead wood.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What do the lizards eat?

AM: Again, by analogy, I would say most likely small invertebrates (insects, larvae, worms etc…).

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What equipment was used during the research?

AM: Classic equipment (microscope) and also a state-of-the-art device: a micro CT-scan. It is a big device producing [a] 3D picture of the internal structure without damaging the specimen. It is actually very similar to the scanner used in human medicine, but this one is specially designed for small specimens. Otherwise, I am currently studying the DNA of this species and closely related species in order to determine its phylogenetic position compared to other species with legs, in order to learn more about the evolutionary phenomena leading to limb loss.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png There are several news sources that have a photo of the species. Is it a photo as seen in a CT-scan?

AM: No, this picture showing a whitish specimen on a black background is not a CT-scan. It is a normal photograph of the collection specimen preserved in alcohol (the one that was in the jar). You can see the complete of picture (including CT-scan 3D radiography, drawing…) in the original scientific publication.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you know when the newly discovered mermaid skink species was put into the jar? Do you have its photo (of the jar)?

AM: No, I have no picture of the jar. The specimen has been collected in November 2004.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What were the roles of the people involved in the research? What activity was most time-consuming?

Miguel Vences in the field in Madagascar, in 2006.
Image: Miguel Vences.

AM: As first investigator, I did most of the work…and the longest part of the work was to examine closely related species in order to do comparisons…and also to check the complete bibliography related to this topic and to write the paper.
Mrs Anjeriniaina is the student who […] collected the specimen a couple of years ago.
Mrs Hipsley and Mr Müller learnt me how to use the CT-scan, and helped me concerning some point relative to internal morphology. Mr Vences helped me as supervisors. Additionally, all of them have corrected the article, and gave me many relevant advices and corrections, thus improving the quality and the reliability of the paper.

A picture from the field area where Sirenoscincus mobydick has been collected.
Image: Mrs Andolalao Rakotoarison.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Did you get in touch with an external entity to get the new species officially recognised?

AM: No. In zoology, it is only needed to publish the description of a new species (and to give it a name) in a scientific journal, and to designate a holotype specimen (= specimen that will be the official reference for this species), to get this new species “officially” recognised by the scientific community. That does not mean that this new species is “correct” (it might be invalidated by subsequent counter-studies), but that means that this discovery and the new name of [the] species are officially existing.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Are there any further plans on exploring the species habitat and lifestyle?

AM: No, not really for the time being, because ecology is not our field of expertise. But other studies (including molecular studies) are currently in progress, in order to focus on the phylogenetic position and the evolution of this species.



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June 26, 2011

Scientists discover 300 new species on island of Luzon in the Philippines

Scientists discover 300 new species on island of Luzon in the Philippines

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Location of Luzon
Image: Magalhães.

Scientists have identified more than 300 previously unknown species of land and sea creatures, according to a news release from the California Academy of Sciences. They were discovered on a six-week-long expedition that ended in early June, and focused on the Philippine island of Luzon.

The California Academy of Sciences, together with over two dozen Philippine colleagues, conducted the expedition that recorded the new terrestrial and marine life forms. Academy scientists who work in exotic places frequently discover new species, commonly only a few at one time. Finding 300 species that may be unknown on a single expedition is considered to be extraordinary, according to SF Gate.

The findings will be confirmed using microscopes and DNA sequencing. The identification, scientific description and classification of each specimen as new or old, could take many months or even years.

Cquote1.svg [W]e found new species during nearly every dive and hike as we surveyed the country’s reefs, rainforests, and the ocean floor. Cquote2.svg

—Terry Gosliner, Dean of Science, California Academy of Sciences

The expedition leader, Terry Gosliner, an invertebrate zoologist who is also Dean of Science at the California academy, said, “The Philippines is one of the hottest of the hot spots for diverse and threatened life on Earth. Despite this designation, however, the biodiversity here is still relatively unknown, and we found new species during nearly every dive and hike as we surveyed the country’s reefs, rainforests, and the ocean floor. The species lists and distribution maps that we created during this expedition will help to inform future conservation decisions and ensure that this remarkable biodiversity is afforded the best possible chance of survival.” He emphasized the need for scientists to gather in-depth information about the rare life forms there so they can be given a chance to survive.

On the 42-day expedition, academy officials said in the news release that the creatures found include “dozens of new insects and spiders, deep-sea armored corals, ornate sea pens, bizarre new sea urchins and sea stars, a shrimp-eating swell shark, and over 50 colorful new sea slugs.”



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August 28, 2010

Oil-eating microbe found in the Gulf of Mexico

Oil-eating microbe found in the Gulf of Mexico

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

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A group of researchers led by Terry Hazen, a senior ecologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have discovered a new species of microorganism. Hazen’s team started research in May this year. Their findings were based on more than 200 samples collected from 17 deep-water sites in the Gulf of Mexico between May 25 and June 2. The new species is distinctive for its oil-consuming activity in a wide range of conditions, and is playing a role in depletion of oil spills in the area.

Scientists had been puzzled by the disappearance of oil in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Detailed maps were made on how the spilled oil went underwater and how far it was spread; however, some of it seemed to have disappeared.

A grant from the Energy Biosciences Institute, and a partnership led by the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois that is funded by a USD 500 million, 10-year grant from BP, was the basis for support of the research. The U.S. Department of Energy and the University of Oklahoma Research Foundation also supported it.

The field study was conducted during the first week. As Hazen said, “We deployed on two ships to determine the physical, chemical and microbiological properties of the deepwater oil plume. The oil escaping from the damaged wellhead represented an enormous carbon input to the water column ecosystem and while we suspected that hydrocarbon components in the oil could potentially serve as a carbon substrate for deep-sea microbes, scientific data was needed for informed decisions.”

Sample analysis was eased because the researchers used the pocket-sized Berkeley Lab DNA sampler PhyloChip. It allowed researchers to detect the presence of thousands of species of bacteria in samples from a wide range of environmental sources, without the culturing procedures usually performed in a furnished lab workplace. With the device, Hazen and his co-researchers discovered that a dominant microbe, making up 90 percent of all the bacteria in the oil plume, is a new species, closely related to members of Oceanospirillales family, more specifically Oleispirea antarctica and Oceaniserpentilla haliotis.

The previous works were measuring low levels of oxygen in certain areas to detect microbes activity. Researchers thought that increased activity would lead to more aerobic activities, such as breathing, which depletes the oxygen content in water. However, the newly discovered species doesn’t seem to be consuming much oxygen from the water column. The study found that oxygen saturation outside the oil plume was 67-percent, while within the plume, it was 59-percent. By Terry Hazen’s words, “The low concentrations of iron in seawater may have prevented oxygen concentrations dropping more precipitously from biodegradation demand on the petroleum, since many hydrocarbon-degrading enzymes have iron as a component… There’s not enough iron to form more of these enzymes, which would degrade the carbon faster but also consume more oxygen.”

Analysis of changes in the oil composition as the plume extended from the wellhead pointed to faster than expected biodegradation rates with the half-life of alkanes ranging from 1.2 to 6.1 days. This microbe thrives in cold water, with temperatures in the deep recorded at 5 degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit).

The summer observations showed the bacteria managed to consume the oil spill relatively quickly in June. Some commenters noted that the previously released oil dispersant COREXIT can have significantly eased the process of interaction of the microbes with the oil by making oil particles smaller and easier to access. As Hazen explained, “We’ve been out there continuously… Once the oil flow stopped on July 15, within two weeks we saw most of the plume disappear.”

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July 16, 2010

Researchers discover last common ancestor of apes and monkeys

Researchers discover last common ancestor of apes and monkeys

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Friday, July 16, 2010

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Saadanius hijazensis, a new species of fossil primate closely related to Old World monkeys and apes.
Image: Iyad S. Zalmout.

Researchers have unearthed a new fossil primate that they think may be closely related to the common ancestor of apes and Old World monkeys, collectively known as catarrhine primates. Paleontologist Iyad Zalmout of the University of Michigan discovered the new species, Saadanius hijazensis near Mecca in Saudi Arabia; the discovery gives new insights into human evolution.

The specimen, a partial skull, dates to the Oligocene, approximately 29 to 28 million years ago, and exhibits puncture wounds from a large predator that may have killed it. Saadanius is thought to have been a tree-dweller and lived at a time when the Arabian peninsula had not yet split away from the African continent, forming the Red Sea. The discovery may help resolve the dating of the split between Old World monkeys and apes. Paleoanthropologists have traditionally dated the divergence to between 25 and 23 million years ago, based on early fossils of the two groups. Genetic studies, however, date it to between 30 to 35 million years ago.

Although Saadanius shares some features with living catarrhine primates, such as a bony ear tube, called an ectotympanic, it also possesses other features more common in the fossils of primitive or basal catarrhines, from which Old World monkeys and apes did not evolve. These basal features include a longer face and the lack of a frontal sinus.



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December 4, 2009

American botanist Lou Jost discovers world\’s smallest orchid

American botanist Lou Jost discovers world’s smallest orchid

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The Platystele, shown against a ruler.
Image: Lou Jost.

American botanist Lou Jost, one of the world’s leading orchid hunters, has discovered the smallest orchid in the world among the roots of a larger plant in a nature reserve in Bolivia, South America. The 2.1mm wide flowers have transparent petals, which are only one cell thick. The finding tops the previous record of Platystele jungermannioides with 2.5mm flowers.

Lou Jost discovered the new species accidentally, looking at a bigger plant from the Cerro Candelaria reserve in the eastern Andes. The reserve was created by a British organisation World Land Trust in partnership with Fundacion EcoMinga, for which the discoverer works. In fact, Ecuador is the place of discovery of more than 1,000 new species of orchids in the past century.

“I found it among the roots of another plant that I had collected, another small orchid which I took back to grow in my greenhouse to get it to flower. A few months later I saw that down among the roots was a tiny little plant that I realised was more interesting than the bigger orchid. Looking at the flower is often the best way to be able to identify which species of orchid you’ve got hold of – and can tell you whether you’re looking at an unknown species or not.” he said.

The finding was identified as belonging to genus Platystele, like the previous record holder, and is the 60th new species of orchid that Dr Jost had discovered in the past decade.



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July 4, 2009

Three new dinosaurs discovered in Australia

Three new dinosaurs discovered in Australia

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Scientists in Queensland, Australia have discovered three new species of dinosaur in the mid-Cretaceous Winton Formation. The find has been published in the 2009 online journal PLoS ONE by Queensland Museum palaeontologist, Scott Hocknull et al.

Winton, Queensland, Australia
Image: Fikri and Roke.

Skeletal remains of two giant (titanosauriform) herbivorous sauropods along with one lightweight carnivorous theropod were found.

Diamantinasaurus matildae (meaning “Matilda’s Diamantina River Lizard”) derives its name from the Diamantina River which meanders through Queensland, Australia, and the Greek word sauros, which means lizard. The name matildae honours a national song of Australia, “Waltzing Matilda” penned by poet and writer A.B. “Banjo” Patterson whilst visiting near the town of Winton. Diamantinasaurus was a very large and heavy lithostrotian sauropod which has been compared to a gigantic modern-day hippopotamus.

The discoverers’ impression of Diamantinasaurus

Wintonotitan wattsi was named firstly for the town of Winton, followed by Titan, a giant in Greek mythology. Wattsi honours Keith Watts, the original person who discovered the bones and donated them to Queensland Museum back in 1974. This plant-eating, tall, basal sauropod was nicknamed “Clancy” and has been said to resemble a present-day giraffe.

A reconstruction of Australovenator, showing known fossils.

Australovenator wintonensis (meaning “Winton’s Australian hunter”) is named after Australia (from Latin Australis), and venator, the Latin word for hunter. The name wintonensis again means from the town of Winton. This allosauroid was nicknamed “Banjo”. “The cheetah of his time, Banjo was light and agile. He could run down most prey with ease over open ground,” said Hucknell. “He’s Australia’s answer to Velociraptor, but many times bigger and more terrifying.”

“Banjo” and “Matilda” were both found entangled together in a 98- to 95-million-year-old billabong.

Anna Bligh, Premier of Queensland, was called upon to unveil the fossil remains on July 3 at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History.

“The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and Queensland Museum have successfully partnered to uncover this greatest concentration of dinosaur bones ever found in Australia,” said Bligh. “This State Government-funded initiative has revealed to the world the first new sauropods to be named in Australia in over 75 years, and the most complete carnivorous dinosaur skeleton ever found in our country.”



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