New Species: September 21 to 30

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Here is a list of species described from September 21 to September 30. It certainly does not include all described species. Most information comes from the journals Mycokeys, Phytokeys, Zookeys, Phytotaxa, Zootaxa, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, and Systematic and Applied Microbiology, as well as journals restricted to certain taxa.

mysidella_hoshinoi

Mysidella hoshinoi is a new species of possum shrimp described in the past 10 days.

SARs

Plants

Fungi

Sponges

Flatworms

Annelids

Mollusks

Nematodes

Arachnids

Myriapods

Crustaceans

Hexapods

Ray-finned fishes

Lissamphibians

Reptiles

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Friday Fellow: Winter Flounder

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Can you spot the two fish in the photo bellow?

pseudopleuronectes_americanus

Perfect camouflage. Two winter flounders, Pseudopleuronectes americanus. Photo by Brent Wilson.*

Belonging to the species Pseudopleuronectes americanus, commonly known as winter flounder or black back, it is a flatfish native to the North Atlantic coast of Canada and the United States. It may reach up to 70 cm in length and 3,6 kg in weight, although in most areas it is smaller.

As with other flatfish, the winter flounder is asymetrical. It lives on the substrate, lying on one of its sides (in this case, on the left side) and its left eye has migrated to the right side, so that both point upwards.

pseudopleuronectes_americanus_2

Condemned to lie on its left side.

Living in very cold waters, the winter flounder suffers the risk of freezing during winter. As a result, its blod has a set of proteins that have the ability to reduce the freezing point of water, allowing it to remain liquid below 0°C.

The winter flounder is an important commercial fish in the USA and regarded as having a delicious meat. It has been overfished in the past decades and some populations have been depleted. Despite a recent large reduction in fishing pressure, many populations are recovering very slowly due to other factors, such as habitat degradation and low genetic variability. Furthermore, there are still some areas where overfishing may still be happening.

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References:

Duman, J. G.; DeVries, A. L. (1976) Isolation, characterization, and physical properties of protein antifreezes from the winter flounder, Pseudopleuronectes americanusComparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B: Comparative Biochemistry, 54(3): 375-380.

Wikipedia. Winter flounder. Available at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_flounder >. Access on September 17, 2016.

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What is behavior? Baby don’t ask me, don’t ask me, no more

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

One of the most difficult concepts to explain in biology is certainly life itself. But I am not here today to talk about the definition of life, but rather of another puzzling concept: behavior.

Behavior is the central subject of ethology and psychology, but it is also something more commonly understood by personal intuition, just like life, but no formal and widely accepted definition exists.

The simplest definition would be that behavior is something that is done. But in that case we fall into another difficult concept, the concept of “doing”, because what exactly is doing something?

araneus_diadematus

Nobody doubts that a spider building a web is a behavior. Photo by Hedwig Storch.*

Some definitions of behavior that have been published are the following:

  • Tinbergen (1955): “The total movements made by the intact animal”. According to this definition, only animals can behave, so an unicellular alga swimming towards light, or a plant closing its leaves after being touched cannot be considered behaviors. On the other hand, the fact that an animal is orbiting the Sun because it is on Earth could be a behavior.
  • Beck et al. (1991): “External visible activity of an animal, in which a coordinated pattern of sensory, motor and associated neural activity responds to changing external or internal conditions”. Here again only animals would behave and only animals with some sort of nervous system. A behavior needs to include a response to a changing condition, i.e., a stimulus.
  • Starr & Taggart (1992): “A response to external and internal stimuli, following integration of sensory, neural, endocrine and effector components. Behavior has a genetic basis, hence is subject to natural selection, and it commonly can be modified through experience.” This definition does not use the word “animal”, but includes the need for neural components, which is almost the same thing.
  • Wallace et al. (1991): “Observable activity of an organism; anything an organism does that involves action and/or response to stimulation”. A more simple and broad explanation that encompasses many things that the previous definitions would exclude, but still includes at least the criterion that it is a response to stimuli.
  • Raven & Johnson (1898): “Behavior can be defined as the way an organism respond to stimulation”. A definition similar to the previous one.
  • Davis (1966): “What an animal does”. Very ambiguous and contradictory, as the same book includes a section on behavior of plants.
  • Grier & Burk (1992): “All observable or otherwise measurable muscular and secretory responses (or lack thereof in some cases) and related phenomena such as changes in blood flow and surface pigments in response to changes in an animal’s internal and external environment.” Another confuse, long, complex and ambiguous definition.
dionaea_muscipula

When a venus flycatcher closes its leaf to capture a fly, is it behaving? Photo by Stefano Zucchinali.*

Trying to find a way to create a unified definition of what is behavior, a group of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, made a survey, published in 2009, in which they presented two lists to several biologists. The first contained a series of statements regarding behavior and the respondents should agree or disagree with the statement based on their assumption of what is behavior. The 13 statements were:

(A) ‘A developmental change is usually not a behavior.’
   (B) ‘Behavior is always a response to the external environment.’
(C)’A behavior is always an action, rather than a lack of action.’
(D) ‘All behaviors are directly observable, recordable and measurable.’
   (E) ‘People can all tell what is and isn’t behavior, just by looking at it.’
   (F) ‘Behavior is always influenced by the internal processes of the individual.’
   (G) ‘Behavior always involves movement.’
   (H) ‘Behaviors are always the actions of individuals, not groups.’
   (I) ‘Behavior is something whole individuals do, not organs or parts that make up an individual.’
   (J) ‘A behavior is always in response to a stimulus or set of stimuli, but the stimulus can be either internal or external.’
   (K) ‘Behavior is something only animals (including people) do, but not other organisms.’
   (L) ‘In humans, anything that is not under conscious control is not behavior.’
   (M) ‘Behavior is always executed through muscular activity.’

alopex_lagopus

An arctic fox changing its fur color between seasons is a behavior or not? Photo by Wikimedia user Longdistancer.*

The second list included a set of 20 phenomena and the respondents should say whether they considered each phenomenon as representing a behavior or not. (In parentheses are the above statements under which the phenomenon would not be considered a behavior).

  1. Ants that are physiologically capable of laying eggs do not do so because they are not queens. (C, G).
  2. A sponge pumps water to gather food (B, M).
  3. A spider builds a web.
  4. A rabbit grows  thicker fur in the winter (A, G, I, M).
  5. A plant’s stomata (respiration pores) close to conserve water (I, K, M) .
  6. A plant bends its leaves towards a light source (K, M).
  7. A person’s heart beats harder after a nightmare (B, I, L).
  8. A person sweats in response to hot air (G, I, L, M).
  9. A beetle is swept away by a strong current (F, M).
  10. A rat has a dislike for salty food (B, C, G, J, M).
  11. A person decides not to do anything tomorrow if it rains (B, C, G, J, M).
  12. A horse becomes arthritic with age (A, B, E, G, M).
  13. A mouse floats in zero gravity in outer space (E, F, G, M).
  14. A group of unicellular algae swim towards water with a higher concentration of nutrients (F, H, K, M).
  15. A frog orbits the Sun along with the rest of the Earth (F, M).
  16. Flocks of geese fly in V formations (H).
  17. A dog salivates in anticipation of feeding time (B, G, I, M).
  18. Herds of zebras break up during the breeding season and reform afterwards (H).
  19. A chameleon changes color in response to sunlight (G, M).
  20. A cat produces insulin because of excess sugar in her blood (B, G, I, M).

Only four statements (A, F, I, J) were generally agreed, while seven (B, C, E, G, H, L, M) had general disapproval and two (D, K) were neither strongly approved nor strongly disapproved.

Considering the phenomena, seven (2, 3, 11, 14, 16, 17, 18) met the criterion for approval as behaviors based on the results of the statements and seven (4, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 20) met the criterion for rejection. The remaining six phenomena (1, 5, 6, 7, 10, 19) had major divergences as to whether they were behaviors.

Several respondents contradicted themselves. For example, many of them agreed that only animals can behave (statement K) but also considered that algae swimming towards water with higher concentration of nutrients is a behavior (phenomenon 14).

blowing_dandelion

Most people would not consider that dandelion fruits carried by the wind are behaving.

Despite the high rate of disagreement, the group decided to propose a definition of behavior. And it is:

“Behavior is the  internally coordinated responses (actions or inactions) of whole living organisms (individuals or groups) to internal and/or external stimuli, excluding responses more easily understood as developmental changes.” (Levitis et al., 2009)

The question is not settled, though, and probably never will. Later, Dr. Raymond M. Berger, discussing the same subject, tells us that under the view of Descriptive Psychology, a behavior always includes eight parameters in the following formulation:

<B> = <I, W, K, K-H, P, A, PC, S>, in which:

B = behavior (e.g., Mary playing her queen of hearts in the contexts of a game of bridge).
I = identity of the person whose behavior it is (e.g., Mary)
W = want, the thing the person is attempting to achieve (e.g, to win a trick in the bridge game).
K = know, the cognitive parameter, the knowledge of how things work (e.g., queen vs. king, hearts vs. diamonds).
K-H = know-how, the ability to do what is being done (e.g., the ability to understand the rules of bridge, or the ability to move physical objects).
P = performance, the bodily processes involved in the behavior (e.g., Mary grasping and laying down her queen).
A = achievement, the outcome of the behavior (e.g., Mary takes the trick).
PC = personal characteristics, the indivudual’s difference parameter (e.g., Mary’s deep knowledge of strategy).
S = significance, what the behavior mean (e.g., Mary is playing bridge).

cardgame_bridge

Playing a cardgame is certainly a behavior. A very complex one.

Such a “definition” is, in my opinion, too complex for most circumstances of animal behavior. However, I’m not completely happy with the definition by Levitis et al. either. I think it is hard to tell the difference between a response given by the whole organism vs. one of its parts. For example, when I cough because water entered my trachea, is my whole organism responding or only part of it? Would that be a behavior?

Also, I’m not sure whether we should really consider developmental changes as something different from other responses. If I had to define behavior, I most likely would say it is:

“An activity performed by an organism that is a response to a stimulus and is dependent on the organism’s internal processes”.

eye_dilate-thumb_300px

Why should a pupil changing size according to the environmental light not be considered a behavior?

And you? What do you think is behavior?

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References:

Bergner, R. (2011). What is behavior? And so what? New Ideas in Psychology, 29 (2), 147-155 DOI: 10.1016/j.newideapsych.2010.08.001

Bergner, R. (2016). What is behavior? And why is it not reducible to biological states of affairs? Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 36 (1), 41-55 DOI: 10.1037/teo0000026

Levitis, D., Lidicker, W., & Freund, G. (2009). Behavioural biologists do not agree on what constitutes behaviour Animal Behaviour, 78 (1), 103-110 DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.03.018

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Friday Fellow: Rosy Crust

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

If you are walking through a forest in Europe you may find the bark of some trees covered by a thin rosy or orange crust. Commonly known as rosy crust, its scientific name is Peniophora incarnata.

peniophora_incarnata

Rosy crust growing on a dead branch. Photo by Jerzy Opioła.*

As with most fungi, the rosy crust is saprobic, i.e., it feeds on dead material, in this case dead wood, so that it is more commonly found attached to dead branches. It affects a variety of plant species, especially flowering plants, but may eventually grow on pine trees.

Sometimes considered a pest because of its ability to rotten wood, the rosy crust has also some interesting benefits. It has shown to have antimicrobial activity, being a potential source for the production of antibiotics, and is also able to degrade some carcinogenic products used to treat wood, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

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References:

EOL – Encyclopedia of Life. Peniophora Incarnata – Rosy Crust. Available at: <http://www.eol.org/pages/1009530/overview&gt;. Access on September 22, 2016.

Lee, H., Yun, S., Jang, S., Kim, G., & Kim, J. (2015). Bioremediation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Creosote-Contaminated Soil by Peniophora incarnata KUC8836 Bioremediation Journal, 19 (1), 1-8 DOI: 10.1080/10889868.2014.939136

Suay, I., Arenal, F,, Asensio, F. J., Basilio, A., Cabello, M. A., Díez, M. T., García, J. B., González del Val, A., Gorrochategui, J., Hernández, P., Peláez, F., & Vicente, M. F. (2000). Screening of basidiomycetes for antimicrobial activities Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, 78 (2), 129-140 DOI: 10.1023/A:1026552024021

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New Species: September 11 to 20

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Here is a list of species described from September 11 to September 20. It certainly does not include all described species. Most information comes from the journals Mycokeys, Phytokeys, Zookeys, Phytotaxa, Zootaxa, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, and Systematic and Applied Microbiology, as well as journals restricted to certain taxa.

petrolisthes-paulayi

Petrolisthes paulayi is a new crab described in the past 10 days.

SARs

Plants

Amoebozoans

Fungi

Sponges

Cnidaria

Flatworms

Annelids

Nematodes

Arachnids

Myriapods

Crustaceans

Hexapods

Cartilaginous fishes

Ray-finned fishes

Lissamphibians

Reptiles

Mammals

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Friday Fellow: Samambaiaçu

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

It’s more than time to bring a fern as a Friday Fellow, and I decided to start with one of my favorites, the Neotropical tree fern Dicksonia sellowiana, known in Brazil as Samambaiaçu or Xaxim.

dicksonia_sellowiana

A samambaiaçu in a forest in southern Brazil. Photo by Wikimedia user DeadWood II.*

The samambaiaçu occurs from southern Mexico to Uruguay and is usually found in moist forests, being a remarkable species of moist forests in southern Brazil, especially in Araucaria moist forests. It may reach several meters in height and the fronds (leaves) reach up to 2,4 m in length.

During most of the 20th century, the fibrous stems of the samambaiaçu (usually called “xaxim”) were extensively used for manufacturing flower pots or plates that served as a substrate for cultivating orchids and other epiphytic plants. As a result of this exploitation, as well as the destruction of its native habitat, the samambaiaçu is currently included in the Brazilian Red List of endangered species.

The trade of xaxim is currently forbidden by law in Brazil, so if  you ever find someone selling it somewhere, please, communicate the authorities!

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References:

Schmitt, J., Schneider, P., & Windisch, P. (2009). Crescimento do cáudice e fenologia de Dicksonia sellowiana Hook. (Dicksoniaceae) no sul do Brasil Acta Botanica Brasilica, 23 (1), 283-291 DOI: 10.1590/S0102-33062009000100030

Brazil. Law Nº 9.605/98. Available at: <http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/leis/L9605.htm >.

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Badass bacteria are thriving in your washing machine

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

You probably have heard of bacteria (and archaeans) that live in extreme environments on Earth, such as hot springs or lakes with high salinity, where most lifeforms would die horribly in a few seconds. We usually think of those places as existing in some remote locations, in the deep sea or in protected areas far away from civilization.

But thanks to human technology, this kind of environment is now available right in our homes, in our dishwashers, washing machines and water heaters.

buchnera_aphidicola

Buchnera, a genus of bacteria found in the gut of aphids (seen as the several spotted circles inside a gut cell here) was found in extremely hot home environments. Photo by J. White and N. Moran.*

On a recent study published on PeerJ, a group of scientist examined the community of microorganisms living in several home environments and found out that many species thrive in environments with high temperature, extremes pH or extreme concentrations of certain chemical compounds.

Some of the findings were rather unusual… For example, a bacterium found in places with extreme temperature was Buchnera, a genus usually associated with the gut of aphids.

You can read the full article here.

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Reference:

Savage, A., Hills, J., Driscoll, K., Fergus, D., Grunden, A., & Dunn, R. (2016). Microbial diversity of extreme habitats in human homes PeerJ, 4 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.2376

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