Tag Archives: conservation

They only care if you are cute: how charisma harms biodiversity

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Which of the two species shown below is more charismatic?

Tangara_chilensis

Tangara chilensis (Paradise Tanager). Photo by flickr user ucumari.*

854px-apocrypta_guineensis2c_volw-wyfie_op_f_sur2c_manie_vd_schijff_bt2c_f

Apocrypta guineensis (a fig wasp). Photo by Wikimedia user JMK.**

You probably would pick the first one. And if I’d ask you which one deserves more attention and efforts to be preserved, you would likely choose the bird as well, or at least most people would. But what is the problem with that? That’s what I am going to show you now.

As we all know, the protection of biological diversity is an important subject in the current world. Fortunately, there is an increase in campaigns promoting the preservation of biodiversity, but unfortunately they are almost always directed to a small subset of species. You may find organizations seeking to protect sea turtles, tigers, eagles or giant pandas, but can you think of anyone wanting to protect beetles? Most preservation programs target large and charismatic creatures, such as mammals, birds and flowering plants, while smaller and not-so-cute organisms remain neglected. And this is not only true in environments that included non-biologist people, but in all fields of research. And more than only leading to a bias in the protection of ecosystems, this preference leads to thousands of understudied species that could bring biotechnological revolutions to humandkind.

In an interesting study published this week in Nature’s Scientific Reports (see reference below), Troudet et al. analyzed the taxonomic bias in biodiversity data by comparing the occurrence of data on several taxonomic groups to those groups’ diversity. The conclusions are astonishing, although not that much surprising. The most charismatic groups, such as birds, are, one could say, overstudied, with an excess of records, while other, such as insects, are highly understudied. While birds have about 200 million occurences above the ideal record, insects have about 200 million below the ideal number. And the situation does not seem to have improved very much along the years.

41598_2017_9084_fig1_html

The bias in interest is clear. The vertical line indicates the “ideal” number of occurrences of each group. A green bar indicates an excess of occurrences, while a red bar indicates a lack of occurrences. Birds and Insects are on the opposite extremes, but certainly the insect bias is much worse. Figure extracted from Troudet et al. (2017).***

Aditionally, the study concluded that the main reason for such disparity is simply societal preference, i.e., the most studied groups are the most loved ones by people in general. The issue is really a simple matter of charisma and has little to do with scientific or viability reasons.

The only way to change this scenario is if we find a way to raise awareness and interest of the general public on the less charismatic groups. We must make them interesting to the lay audience in order to receive their support and increase the number of future biologists that will choose to work with these neglected but very important creatures.

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See also:

Once found and then forgotten: the not so bright side of taxonomy

The lack of taxonomists and its consequences on ecology

Unknown whereabouts: the lack of biogeographic references of species

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Reference:

Troudet, J.; Grandcolas, P.; Blin, A,; Vignes-Lebbe, R.; Legendre, F. (2017) Taxonomic bias in biodiversity data and societal preferences. Scientific Report 7: 9132. https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-09084-6

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***Creative Commons License
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Friday Fellow: Hummingbird Bobtail Squid

by Piter Kehoma Boll

If you are digging through the sand at the bottom of the clear tropical waters around Indonesia and the Philippines, you may end up finding a colorful little creature, the hummingbird bobtail squid, Euprymna berryi, also known as Berry’s bobtail squid.

Euprymna_berryi

A beautiful specimen photographed in East Timor. Photo by Nick Hobgood.*

Measuring about 3 cm if male or 5 cm if female, the humminbird bobtail squid is actually more closely related to cuttlefish than to true squids. Its body has a translucent skin marked by many black chromatophores, and to the human eye the animal seems to have a color pattern formed by a blend of black, electric blue and green or purple dots.

During the day, the hummingbid bobtail squid remains most of the time buried in the sand, coming out at night to capture small crustaceans, which it hunts using a bioluminescent organ in its gill cavity.

In some areas around its distribution, the hummingbid bobtail squid is captured and sold in small fisheries, but as the data on the distribution and population dynamics of this species are very poorly known, there is no way to say whether it is vulnerable or endangered in any way. As a result, it is listed as Data Deficient in the IUCN Red List.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Barratt, I., & Allcock, L. (2012). Euprymna berryi The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T162599A925343.en

Wikipedia. Euprymna berryi. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euprymna_berryi&gt;. Access on March 8, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Sun Beetle

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Who says beetles cannot be cute? Take a look at those guys:

pachnoda_marginata

They are eating a piece of banana. Photo by Wikimedia user Evanherk.*

These little fellows are beetles of the species Pachnoda marginata, commonly known as sun beetle or taxi cab beetle. Native from Africa, they reach up to 30 mm as adults and 60 mm as larvae and are one of the most common beetles raised as pets.

pachnoda_marginata_peregrina

An adult with the wings exposed, about to fly. Photo by Wikimedia user Drägüs.*

The sun beetle has nine subspecies, each with a particular color pattern. The most well known subspecies is Pachnoda marginata peregrina and is the one shown in the photos above.

Since the sun beetle is easy to keep in the lab, it has been eventually used in scientific studies, especially some related to the neurology of the olphactory receptors.

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References:

Larsson, M. C., Stensmyr, M.. C., Bice, S. B., & Hansson, B. S. (2003). Attractiveness of Fruit and Flower Odorants Detected by Olfactory Receptor Neurons in the Fruit Chafer Pachnoda marginata Journal of Chemical Ecology, 29 (5), 1253-1268 DOI: 10.1023/A:1023893926038

Stensmyr, Marcus C., Larsson, Mattias C., Bice, Shannon, & Hansson, Bill S. (2001). Detection of fruit- and flower-emitted volatiles by olfactory receptor neurons in the polyphagous fruit chafer Pachnoda marginata (Coleoptera: Cetoniinae) Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 187 (7), 509-519

Wikipedia. Pachnoda marginata. Availabe at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachnoda_marginata >. Access on September 8, 2016.

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Friday Fellow: Flounder Glugea

by Piter Kehoma Boll

While looking for flatfish you may eventually find one with some grotesque growth on the body, like the one in the picture below:

glugea_stephani_xenoma

A xenoma caused by Glugea stephani on a flatfish Limanda limanda. Photo by Hans Hillewaert.*

This sort of tumor is called xenoma and, in flatfish, is caused by a microscopical and parasitic fungus named Glugea stephani, or the flounder glugea.

The flounder glugea is part of a group of fungi called Microsporidia that until recently were classified as protists. They are unicellular and parasite other organisms, especially crustaceans and fish.

Once inside a flatfish, the flounder glugea enters an intestinal cell and starts to develop. They induce the host cell to increase in size and may give rise to the xenomas, which are the most extreme stage in the development of the disease. The proliferating and active stage of the glugea are free in the cytoplasm of the host cell, but they may change into a spore-like form called sporoblast that remains inside a vacuole.

glugea_stephani

Image of electron microscopy of an intestinal cell of winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) infected by flounder glugea (Glugea stephani). The S indicates sporoblasts inside the vacuole (SV) and the P the proliferating organisms inside the host cytoplasm (H). Image extracted from Takvorian & Cali (1983).

Fortunately most infections are mild and do not compromise the fish health, at least not very much…

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References:

Takvorian, P. M.; Cali, A. (1983). Appendages associated with Glugea stephani, a microscporidian found in flounder. Journal of Protozoology, 30(2): 251-256.

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

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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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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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Friday Fellow: Helicopter Damselfly

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Damselflies are usually delicate versions of dragonflies, but some species challenge their place among the odonates. The most extreme example comes from the moist forests of Central and South America and is known as Megaloprepus caerulatus or the “helicopter damselfly”.

With a wingspan up to 19 cm, the helicopter damselfly is the largest of odonates and a voracious predator in both the aquatic naiad and the aerial adult forms.

megaloprepus_caerulatus

An adult female. Photo by Steven G. Johnson*

Female helicopter damselflies lay their eggs in water-filled tree hollows. Males are territorialists and defend the larger holes as territory, mating with females interested in laying eggs there.

The aquatic juvenile stage, known as naiad or nymph, is a top predator in this reduced ecosystem, feeding on mosquito larvae, tadoples and even other odonates. As adults, they feed mainly on web-building spiders that they capture in areas that receive direct sunlight, such as forest glades.

As the population size of the helicopter damselfly depends on the number and size of available tree hollows and considering that they avoid crossing large gaps between forest patches, any environmental disturbance may have profound impacts on this species. Recent molecular studies also suggest that what is known as Megaloprepus caerulatus is actually a complex of species, as there is no genetic flow between the populations. This makes it (or them) a much more vulnerable species.

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References:

Feindt, W., Fincke, O., & Hadrys, H. (2013). Still a one species genus? Strong genetic diversification in the world’s largest living odonate, the Neotropical damselfly Megaloprepus caerulatus Conservation Genetics, 15 (2), 469-481 DOI: 10.1007/s10592-013-0554-z

Wikipedia. Megaloprepus caerulatus. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megaloprepus_caerulatus >. Access on September 7, 2016.

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