Review: The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi

By Carlos Augusto Chamarelli

Hi everybody! PK here and it’s book-reviewing time! As you probably know by now, Titan Books has released another tome of paleoart earlier this year in May 20, and once again Earthling Nature was offered a chance to get a copy and review it for everyone’s delight. What happened, however, is that the timing was a much unfortunate one with the World Cup messing absolutely everything in Rio, so I haven’t actually received my copy yet (at the time of this writing), but I did receive things that were posted in May these days, so I’m still hopeful.

Fortunately, I have a PDF version which I could read while waiting, so my impressions written here are based on that; it just means I can’t praise the paper and illustration quality and such as much as I did previously, but bear with me anyways.

Dinosaur attacks are mandatory for paleoart covers.

Dinosaur attacks are mandatory for paleoart covers.

The new book in question, entitled The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi, is a little reminiscent of Titan’s previous book on paleoart, Dinosaur Art – The World’s Greatest Paleoart, released in 2012 (and which you can view our critique right here), the difference being that instead of being a collection of works from 10 paleoartists, this time it focuses solely on the art – and some biography – of one of them: the Hungarian-born, Canadian-raised artist Julius Csotonyi. You know, like it’s said in the title.

I’ll start right off the bat saying that Csotonyi’s work is much impressive and definitely was one of the highlights of Dinosaur Art, so I think he is indeed one of the prime choices for a book solely focused on his work, and the text also provide interesting insights on these works as well as rather inspirational accounts of his rise to paleoartistic success. I mean, creating dinosaur murals for a museum? That’s some paleoart-nirvana right there.

Also, this picture. Nothing else needs to be said.

Also, this picture. Nothing else needs to be said.

Like Dinosaur Art, the book is full with beautiful artworks depicting prehistoric life from many time periods, some small and some spreading though pages as they should be to enjoy the details, plus there are examples of the usual start in childhood at dinosaur drawing in the beginning of it all, but what caught my attention the most was the presence of step-by-step pictures, showing the process of making a bunch of confusing lines like those of sketches become the saurian-masterpiece everyone loves. For those unfamiliar with Csotonyi ‘s style, he uses mostly digital tools, like a good modern paleoartist usually does; sometimes he uses brushes for a more traditional look, sometimes photomanipulation to achieve more realism, but the resulting picture always have that particular look and can be instantly recognized.

Mostly the reconstructed creatures possess striking patterns, but not striking colors; that, to me, is a key difference when dealing with realism with dinosaurs, and usually the more an artist make huge dinosaur colorful the less I’m inclined to judge their work as a reliable window to prehistoric life*. In this respect, Csotonyi achieves a good balance in the tone of colors, so the animals are neither boring nor garish to behold. The scenes depicted throughout the book vary, with some in the school of “dramatic prehistoric conflict”, others are more neutral and peaceful, and there are some which are anatomy and bones studies, so there’s something for every taste. It’s also worth noting that Csotonyi actually revisits older pictures and update their looks, as it was the case of the Anchiornis, which is important as depictions of dinosaurs will invariably change,and editing then as such is a good manner to make your picture still relevant.

Reenactment of Jaws Included.

Reenactment of Jaws Included.

I do have one or two points that I personally have mixed feelings about : the pictures where he uses actual photos for the landscape aren’t as good as those where he actually makes the scenery, and I understand it’s easier to do that than making the entire scene, but in some of these cases the shadows of the animals get a little in the eye, and it looks too much like the creature was in fact inserted into the scene rather than being part of it. On another point, some of the skins used in the photo manipulations can be a little jarring; the Edaphosaurus with a tuatara’s scaly skin and face being a good example of this. Then again, those can be regarded as very minor points as they don’t detract of the overall quality, so I’m not one bit bothered, and neither should you, as the book remains a incredible piece.

"Alright, alright! You can keep it! Geez."

“Alright, alright! You can keep it! Geez.”

In closing thoughts, The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi is yet another excellent book for everyone interested in dinosaurs and prehistoric life, depicted here in an evocative but not in a “dinosaurs are monsters” light, and it’s definitely worth checking. I promise that when (if) I get my copy I’ll update this review. Also, you can click here to go to his website give him a good ol’ Iguanodon thumbs-up.

 

*And don’t give me the “oh, but birds are dinosaurs, and they’re colorful, so dinosaurs must have been ALL colorful!” BS. It’s just embarrassing.

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The polyglot bee

by Piter Kehoma Boll

ResearchBlogging.orgCommunication is essential for humans, and so it is for other animals that live in groups. It is intersting that even though modern humans only came to be about 200,000 years ago, the number of languages which evolved in our species since then is huge. And two people who speak different languages usually cannot understand each other. Even simple hand gestures, like the beckoning sign, meaning “come here”, is rather different between cultures. Most of our communication is not inherited, but rather learned.

Three different ways to say “come here” with gestures. The first two are western style and the last is eastern style. Photos taken from from.onverse.com (left), scmorgan.com (center) and japanpowered.com (right).

Three different ways to say “come here” with gestures. The first two are western style and the last is eastern style. Photos taken from forum.onverse.com (left), scmorgan.com (center) and japanpowered.com (right).

But what about communication in other animals? Is it possible that different languages evolve in separate populations so that one group cannot understand what the other is saying?

One well-known and well-studied form of communication in animals is the honeybee waggle dance, used by honeybees to indicate the location of a food source to others. This dance informs the direction and distance of the food source from the hive in order to guide other bees to the right spot.

 

Scheme of the bee waggle dance. Picture by Wikimedia Common’s user Audriusa.*

Scheme of the bee waggle dance. Picture by Wikimedia Commons’ user Audriusa.*

Basically, what the bee does is to move in a path forming an 8-shaped figure. The angle of the dance in relation to the hive’s orientation indicates the angle of the food source in relation to the sun. The middle part of the dance, which represents the part where the two loops of the 8 overlap, is done with a frenetic waggle. The duration of this waggle part of the dance informs the distance of the food source from the hive.

There are many subspecies of honeybees and the waggle dance may have become different in each of them by evolution, creating different dance languages or dialects. It’s difficult, however, to compare those dialects because they can be adjusted to different conditions in the environment, so two hives must be in the very same environment to be compared. The best way to compare differences would be rearing different bee species in the same hive. But that is difficult because bees tend to attack foreigners as they are easily identified by smell.

Yet after some attempts, a group of scientists from Zhejiang University in China was able to create some mixed hives of European honeybees (Apis mellifera ligustica) and Asian honeybees (Apis cerana cerana). They observed the behavior of individuals from both species in the hive in order to find differences between their dances and how they communicate with each other.

Appis cerana cerana (left) and Apis mellifera ligustica (right). Photos by Wikimedia Commons' User Viriditas* (left) and Charles Lam* (right). Extracted from commons.wikimedia,org

Apis cerana cerana (left) and Apis mellifera ligustica (right). Photos by Wikimedia Commons’ User Viriditas* (left) and by Charles Lam** (right). Extracted from commons.wikimedia,org

The results were impressive. The dances were rather different for each species, but bees retained part of their original dance in mixed hives and changed other part. There was no difference in communicating the direction of food between the species when reared in the mixed hive, but Asian bees showed longer waggle duration than European bees to inform the same distance. Nevertheless, both species were able to understand the dance from individuals of the other species and reach the food source without trouble. Even when another food source in the same direction was closer to the hive, bees chose the more distant source informed in the dance.

It seems then that bees are excellent at understanding foreign languages, but not as good at “speaking” them. They retain a strong accent, but are able to be understood anyway.

Moreover, even though European and Asian bees are estimated to have diverged more than six million years ago, they still can understand each other. This indicates that the waggle dance is a quite conserved behavior.

The waggle dance seems to have a possible genetic part, such as the duration of the waggle, since it wasn’t affected by the mixed environment. But it also has a learned part, such as the information about the direction of food.

Those results raise good questions and indicate a path to follow to study and better understand social learning, i.e., learning from information gathered from other individuals rather than by personal experience.

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References:

Su, S.; Cai, F.; Si, A.; Zhang, S.; Tautz, J. & Chen, S. 2008. East Learns from West: Asiatic Honeybees Can Understand Dance Language of European Honeybees PLoS ONE, 3 (6) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002365

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Elephants don’t have fun painting

by Piter Kehoma Boll

ResearchBlogging.orgElephants are considered animals of high intelligence and social complexity, able to solve puzzles, use tools, show empathy and have self-awareness. Moreover, of course, they have an amazing memory.

When in captivity, elephants use to become stressed and bored, which leads many institutions that have them to develop programs of specific activities for enrichment in order to improve the well-being of these animals.

One of those common activities is painting, where the elephants paint on a canvas while holding a painting brush with their trunks. Despite this and other activities usually being considered good ways to reduce stress in elephants, there are no rigorous studies testing such assumptions.

An elephant painting at Melbourne Zoo. Photo from the original article by English et al., 2014.

An elephant painting at Melbourne Zoo. Photo from the original article by English et al., 2014.

A group of researchers from the University of New England, Australia, decided to test the effects of painting activities on elephants in captivity. They used four Asian elephants from the Melbourne Zoo which were used to the activity of painting.

Each morning, two of the four elephants were taken to the painting area, where one received food and the other painted. The painting sessions lasted less than five minutes.

The behavior of the elephants was monitored some hours before and some hours after the painting sessions and divided in three situations: (1) days in which the elephant painted, (2) days in which the elephant did not paint, but others did, and (3) days in which no elephant painted.

The final results showed that the painting sessions did not alter significantly the behavior of the elephants. There were no evidences of reduction in the stress levels of animals submitted to the painting sessions. Even during the painting, at least two of the elephants did not seem to be very interested in the activity, paying more attention to the keeper than to the canvas.

So we can conclude that painting canvas did not alter the humor of elephants and the activity has the sole purpose of public entertainment and fund raising by selling the canvas. The elephants remain as bored as they have always been in captivity.

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Reference:

English, M.; Kaplan, G. & Rogers, L. 2014. Is painting by elephants in zoos as enriching as we are led to believe? PeerJ, 2 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.471

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The New Guinea flatworm visits France – a menace

by Piter Kehoma Boll

ResearchBlogging.orgFor as long as life exists, it spreads. Organisms move (even if only as gametes or spores) and conquer new environments if they fit. If it wasn’t so, life wouldn’t be found all over the world. Recently, however, due to human dispersion, species are much more likely to reach places far away from where they were born. We considered a species living outside its native area as exotic. And there are a lot of them. I wonder if there is any place where no exotic species exist.

In my first post in this blog, I talked about how exotic species are not always a threat to native ecosystems. But many of them are, indeed, dangerous to local diversity. The ISSG (Invasive Species Specialist Group) lists what are considered the 100 worst invasive species. Strangely, they fail to mention the top worst invasive species, Homo sapiens.

Among those 100 species, a very famous one is the giant African land snail, Achatina fulica. Native to East Africa, it has been introduced worldwide and is a major pest in gardens and agricultural sites, and can also be an intermediate host of several parasites that infect humans.

The giant African land snail Achatina fulica. Photo by Eric Guinther. Extracted from commons.wikimedia.org

The giant African land snail Achatina fulica. Photo by Eric Guinther*. Extracted from commons.wikimedia.org

As an attempt to control the populations of Achatina fulica, some “genius” decided to introduce one more exotic species in the areas where A. fulica was a pest: a voracious generalist predator of land snails.

Let's fight against an exotic pest with another exotic pest!

Let’s fight against an exotic pest with another exotic pest!

As a result, the predator snail Euglandina rosea, known as the rosy wolfsnail or cannibal snail, was introduced in areas infested by A. fulica. But E. rosea is native to North America while A. fulica is native to East Africa. In order to be effective, E. rosea had to be a generalist predator, feeding on any kind of snails. And that’s what it does…

The rosy wolfsnail Euglandina rosea. Photo by Tim Ross. Extracted from commons.wikimedia.org

The rosy wolfsnail Euglandina rosea. Photo by Tim Ross. Extracted from commons.wikimedia.org

Euglandina rosea started to prey on A. fulica, but… ops! It also attacked native land snails and led several species to extinction in Pacific Islands. It became a pest even worse than the giant African land snail…

Not satisfied by the damage caused by this predator, people decided to introduce one more species in order to control A. fulica. And the chosen one was another voracious generalist predator of land snails, the New Guinea flatworm Platydemus manokwari. As its name suggest, thee New Guinea flatworm is native to New Guinea, again a different place, and so, in order to feed on the giant African land snail, it had to feed on any kind of land snail. Thus, it became a pest as harmful as the previous one and led several species of land snails to extinction in Pacific Islands.

Until very recently it was thought that the New Guinea flatworm infestation was restricted to the Indo-Pacific Region, not so far from home. However, a recent paper by Justine et al. (2014) reports its presence in a hothouse in Caen, northern France. This report extends significantly its occurrence over the world and indicates that it may be much more spread than previously thought. Unfortunately, people are more interesting in preserving their gardens than preserving biodiversity. So those predatory pests will probably keep being introduced as biological controls, even though they pose a threat to ecosystems.

The New Guinea Flatworm Platydemus manokwari. Photo by Pierre Gros, taken from Justine et al., 2014, via commons.wikimedia.org.

Bonjour tout le monde! I came to visit Paris! The New Guinea Flatworm Platydemus manokwari. Photo by Pierre Gros**, taken from Justine et al., 2014, via commons.wikimedia.org.

Fortunately, in France, P. manokwati seems to be restricted to greenhouses. Let’s hope that it won’t be found somewhere else.

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References:

Albuquerque, F., Peso-Aguiar, M., & Assunção-Albuquerque, M. 2008. Distribution, feeding behavior and control strategies of the exotic land snail Achatina fulica (Gastropoda: Pulmonata) in the northeast of Brazil. Brazilian Journal of Biology, 68 (4), 837-842 DOI: 10.1590/S1519-69842008000400020

ISSG, Invasive Species Specialist Group. 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species. Availabe at: < http://www.issg.org/database/species/search.asp?st=100ss >. Access on April 04, 2014.

Justine, J., Winsor, L., Gey, D., Gros, P., & Thévenot, J. 2014. The invasive New Guinea flatworm in France, the first record for Europe: time for action is now. PeerJ, 2 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.297

Sugiura, S., Okochi, I., & Tamada, H. 2006. High Predation Pressure by an Introduced Flatworm on Land Snails on the Oceanic Ogasawara Islands. Biotropica, 38 (5), 700-703 DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2006.00196.x

Sugiura, S., & Yamaura, Y. 2008. Potential impacts of the invasive flatworm Platydemus manokwari on arboreal snails. Biological Invasions, 11 (3), 737-742 DOI: 10.1007/s10530-008-9287-1

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Paleontology, biology and human life in face of 3D Printing

by Carlos Augusto Chamarelli

Hi there folks! After a long time absent I finally gathered enough willpower and decent topic material to post something in this humble site of ours. In this article I’ll talk about a relatively recent technology that is quickly growing and can revolutionize the way we study fossils and other biological subjects, as well as the way we can help humanity in an applicable way.

But first, some shameless advertising because it’s always good to spread this kind of thing around: if you missed Bill Nye’s debate against that other guy you can watch it in its entirety clicking here. Regardless of whether you believe Bill inadvertently helped the Creation Museum go ahead in building its replica of Noah’s Ark (until they run out of money again, that is) or not, it’s still a great source of entertainment to watch and show your kids, teaching them the difference between spouting nonsense that vaguely sounds convincing to actual debating using facts and that’s okay to not know something rather than pretending you know all. Second but not less important, Cosmos: an Space Time Odyssey episodes are available online by clicking here. As of now I myself couldn’t watch because my internet lets me down, but for those who missed it or don’t live where it’s airing, go ahead and watch it for your brain’s content.

Now for my topic properly, the astounding technology in question is 3D printing. If you’re unfamiliar with 3D printing: it’s the process to which a tridimensional model made in a computer is transformed into a physical object by means of a machine – the 3D printer – that will sculpt the desired object. In 3D. I first came to know of this technology sometime during 2006; it was during the development of Spore, and Maxis considered offering a service to which players could import their creations and receive it as physical miniature, and it did come live two years later when the game was released. It had some limitations such as not being able to reproduce overly thin features and a very grainy texture thanks to the material used, which also made the model incredibly fragile. Since then 3D printing became more refined and widespread. Nowadays there are several online services to which you can order your very own 3D models such as Shapeways, i.Materialise, Sculpteo and so on, and make them in better details and made of more durable materials than before.

Yup, EBA is out of business.

Yup, EBA is out of business.

Apart from the alluring prospect of printing your favorite video game characters and prototyping for engineers (my priorities are set right), 3D printing also offer some interesting possibilities when it come to the study and teaching of biology – specially paleontology – and the development of prosthetics. For instance, regarding the former, it can help paleontologists in the extraction of fossils. As of now, the process to which fossils are dug up and prepared to be analyzed properly in a lab is something along the lines of:

Find fossil bed -> very carefully excavate the site -> find fossil embedded in rock -> very carefully excavate fossil -> shed tears as you accidently damage the fossil while excavating -> wrap fossil in plaster and ship it to the lab and hope it arrives safely -> receive fossil in lab -> very carefully remove plaster not to damage fossil -> shed tears as you accidently damage fossil while removing plaster with saw-> further shed tears as you accidently damage the fossil during analysis.

Pictured: shed tears.

For the reasons above, it’s understandable that methods that allow studying these fossils while minimizing risks are very welcome. One such method that quickly gained notoriety was the use of CT scans, which generated 3D models of the specimens to which scientists could peek at their inner structures without actually cracking open the fossil. It was by this very technique we came to know that Pachycephalosaurus had a sturdier helmeted skull than previously thought, making the old assumption that they butted heads just a little bit more plausible. While this was an amazing step forward in the study of fossils, the next step came soon after; this technique was mostly used on fossils already cleaned up of sediments, but the same method proved to be just as effective to fossils still encased in rock slabs.

Some paleontologists were afraid that excavating the rock would damage the skeletons they work so hard to retrieve. As a solution, they simply extracted the rock around with the fossil inside, scanned it thus generating a 3D model like its predecessor, and then printed it. The result was a near perfect replica of what was encased in the rock. I can’t stress enough of how amazing this is: the remains of a creature, extinct for millions and millions of years, reproduced as if removed from its mineral tomb for everyone to look and touch.

In this case, shed tears of joy.

All seems to be favorable evidence that printing fossils might become an even bigger part of paleontology in the future. While I personally don’t believe this process would come to replace the usual method of digging up fossils entirely, as foreshadowed by the nameless paleontologist in Grant’s team in Jurassic Park, – in fact, even if the 3D print is a perfect replica, it still doesn’t beat the real thing – I do believe that employing this technique would minimize the risks of damaging specimens; the fossils would still need to be removed from their locations lest they continue to erode and be affected by earthquakes, rains and whatnot as was the case of the forelimbs of the baby Chasmosaurus unearthed just a few months ago in Canada, which could have been further damaged had it not been removed. Not only it would help knowing exactly where paleontologists should remove the sediments if they judge it to be necessary, the 3D model generated could help in both having a bigger picture of the creature they’re dealing with, as in arranging the pieces to form a posture if the animal was alive (assuming that it’s possible for them to fit in the machines), as well as aiding museums show said findings to the public.

The process to which fossil replicas are made for museum exhibitions is just as risky and labor intensive as the digging of fossils: a team of artisans is employed to make castings out of the original fossils – very carefully not to shed tears as they accidently damage the fossil in the process- and once ready probably months later the skeleton is assembled and put to the public’s delight. The problem is, because of its complexity and requirement for skilled workmanship to achieve maximum quality, these replicas are hard to come by, and so the museums that get to expose them take extra care that they’re not damaged, in the form of a polite sign asking visitors not to touch it when in reality they really want to punch whoever break them in the face. The problem of interchangeability is minimized if the museum makes more replicas intended to other museums, as it was the case of the dodo skeleton offered by the Royal Ontario Museum.

Say “thanks, Royal Ontario Museum”.

While the dodo skeleton was a very nice gesture for other museums, it is a rather small specimen. It’s one thing to make a replica of a bird’s skeleton and ship it to other museums while still providing an affordable price. It’s quite another trying to do the same with a huge dinosaur skeleton like an 85 feet long Brachiosaurus. But imagine if museums could print these skeletons, regardless of their size and complexity. I don’t want to be mean to the people in the trade of fossil replicas, but the idea that a museum could print their own skeletons to their exhibitions using the skeleton models created by MRI scanning is a fascinating one, and advantageous not only to the museum but those who study in it. It’s not something still in the realm of imagination: there is already the employment of 3D printing to reproduce animal’s skeletons for educational purposes (as well as other areas, but we are a biology-centered blog), so plans to make an actual exhibition out of entirely 3D printed specimens seems to me to be just as far out in the future as the use of 3D printed skeletons in biology classrooms that give students a more tangible and interactive tool for learning.

Another interesting use of 3D printing in the field of biology is its medical use. Somewhere in the world someone thought that using polymers and metal to make miniatures was too mundane, and skin tissue was a better material. Whatever the case is that brought about the use of this technology in the medical area, 3D printing functional organs seems to be a new reality, and anything from functional ears, hearts, livers, even eyes are being worked on to aid patients in need of transplants or face reconstructions. More recently, only few days ago, a woman successfully got a 3D printed skull replacement.

I don’t want to post a picture of it here, so here’s a picture of Gummy instead.

I don’t want to post a picture of that here, so have a picture of Gummy instead.

So while more complex organs are still on their developmental phase, there’s this immediate use where 3D print can be used to replace bone structures, even prosthetic limbs. In order words, not only 3D printing opens ups possibilities to print miniatures of your favorite Pokémon and learn about prehistory, it also gives a bright future to those struggling in the line of organ donations. Instead of waiting in line, medics could simply print a new organ.

I just want to finish this post by saying that this is what I find most fascinating about technological advancement: you start out with a simple tool with maybe one or two uses, and then people will create new forms of this tool, for uses one couldn’t possibly imagine. Something that started as a printer that didn’t use paper came to be the door to many other wonderful developments. The downsides of the modern 3D printers regarding their price, operation and general availability are really only temporary.

Well then, I hope you have enjoyed my blabbering article and, as usual, comments and questions are appreciated!

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Friday Fellow: Tropical Kingbird

by Piter Kehoma Boll

ResearchBlogging.orgThis is the first bird featured in Friday Fellow and I have chosen it for a special reason: it’s binomial name is Tyrannus melancholicus, the melancholic tyrant. Isn’t it almost poetic?

Found from southern United States to the northern half of Argentina, the Tropical Kingbird, known as sirirí or suiriri in Spanish and Portuguese, is very well adapted to human disturbed areas, so it is easily spotted along roads or at gardens and parks. Populations inhabiting areas of great seasonality usually migrate to warmer areas, mainly towards southern United States during the winter in the southern hemisphere.

Tropical kingbird in São Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Dario Sanches. Extracted from commons.wikimedia.org

Tropical kingbird in São Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Dario Sanches*. Extracted from commons.wikimedia.org

Tropical Kingbirds are mainly predators, capturing insects intercepted in flight. They don’t seem to be very sensitive to chemical defenses of butterflies, eating even some unpalatable ones and species with similar color patterns, though some species highly unpalatable are indeed rejected. Ocasionally they may also eat fruits.

During the breeding season, they form couples and build together a bowl-shaped nest using small branches, straw and nylon and plastic threads. The female usually lays three eggs in the nest and both birds incubate them and take care of the chicks.

As a consequenceof its adaptability to humans, it is not endangered at all, at least until now, and has a status of Least Concern (LC) by IUCN.

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References:

Cintra, R. 1997. Spatial Distribution and Foraging Tactics of Tyrant Flycatchers in Two Habitats in the Brazilian Amazon. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment, 32 (1), 17-27 DOI: 10.1076/snfe.32.1.17.13459

Legal, E. 2007. Aspectos da nidificação do siriri, Tyrannus melancholicus (Vieillot, 1819), (Aves, Tyrannidae) em Santa Catarina. Atualidades Ornitológicas On-line, 140, 51-52

Pinheiro, C. E. G. 1996. Palatablility and escaping ability in Neotropical butterflies: tests with wild kingbirds (Tyrannus melancholicus, Tyrannidae) Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 59 (4), 351-365 DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8312.1996.tb01471.x

Wikipedia. Tropical Kingbird. Available online at < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Kingbird >. Access on March 27, 2014.

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The lack of taxonomists and its consequences on ecology

by Piter Kehoma Boll

ResearchBlogging.orgI have already written on the problems of taxonomy in small and not-so-cute groups in a previous post, where I talked about the fact that several species, after being described, are completely ignored for decades or centuries. Here I will focus on the other extreme: the species yet to be described.

This is not a very big problem in very well studied groups, such as vertebrates and flowering plants, but less attractive groups, like worms, suffer a lot by the lack of taxonomists. I am going to use land planarians as an example, again, since it is the group that I work with.

Land planarians have been shown to be important predators of invertebrates in forests, as well as good indicators about the degree of disturbance in those ecosystems, but most species are still unknown. Only in Brazil, more than a hundred species have been described only for the Atlantic Rainforest and possibly at least an equal number is yet unknown. The situation is even worse in other regions of the country or neighbouring countries, where there are almost no species described at all.

Despite this small knowledge of the group, eventually some works regarding community structure are published, where a list of land planarians from the study site is presented. Let’s take a look at some of those lists:

1. Species of land planarians in four different habitats of the National Forest of São Francisco de Paula, southern Brazil. In Carbayo et al., 2001:

Carbayo et al. 2001

There are 28 distinguished species, but only one identified (Geoplana ladislavii), one not sure (Geoplana pavani) and two with the same name, but refering to different species (Notogynaphallia marginata). The others were yet unknown.

 

2. Species of land planarians in four different habitats of the National Forest of São Francisco de Paula, southern Brazil. In Carbayo et al., 2002:

Carbayo et al., 2002

A similar table, in the same area, by the same authors, about one year later. We can see 3 new species in the study: Geoplana franciscanaGeoplana josefi and Notogynaphallia guaiana, which were described in 2001. They were probably among the species listed in the first study, but which of them? Was Geoplana franciscana the species assigned as Geoplana sp.1, Geoplana sp.2, Geoplana sp.3…?

 

3. Abundance of species of land planarians in Araucaria Forest of the National Forest of São Francisco de Paula, southern Brazil. In Antunes et al., 2012.

Antunes et al., 2012

The same area again, 10 years later. We can see that there are more species already described, but many more still awaiting a name.

 

When we consider a single study about ecological communities by itself, the fact that the species found are not named is not such a big deal, since the main purpose is to measure patterns of abundance, richness and diversity and the interaction of biotic and abiotic factors on the communities. However, when comparing studies, the unidentified species become simply useless data. How can you be certain about what Geoplana sp.5 is in each study?

We urgently need more taxonomists working on those less prestigious groups, so that our ecological studies may have a wider role in conservation and understanding of nature.

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References:

Antunes, M., Leal-Zanchet, A. M. & Fonseca, C. 2012. Habitat structure, soil properties, and food availability do not predict terrestrial flatworms occurrence in Araucaria Forest sites. Pedobiologia, 55 (1), 25-31 DOI: 10.1016/j.pedobi.2011.09.010

Carbayo, F., Leal-Zanchet, A. M. & Vieira, E. M. 2001. Land planarians (Platyhelminthes, Tricladida, Terricola) as indicators of man-induced disturbance in a South Brazilian rainforest. Belgian Journal of Zoology, 131, 223-224

Carbayo, F., Leal-Zanchet, A. M. & Vieira, E. 2002. Terrestrial flatworm (Platyhelminthes: Tricladida: Terricola) diversity versus man-induced disturbance in an ombrophilous forest in southern Brazil. Biodiversity and Conservation, 11 (6), 1091-1104 DOI: 10.1023/A:1015865005604

Sluys, R. 1998. Land Planarians (Platyhelminthes, Tricladida, Terricola) in biodiversity and conservation studies. Pedobiologia, 42, 490-494

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