publication

Research Highlights – August 2017

We feature some new research from our resident carcinologists, published recently in August.

A star is born (Pariphiculus stellatus Ng & Jeng, 2017)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This new species of crab possesses peculiar star-shaped tubercles on its body—which is why it was given the epithet, stellatus, which means ‘star-like’ or ‘starry’ in Latin. The new crab species was described in a paper written by Prof. Peter K. L. Ng (Head, LKCNHM) and Dr. Ming-Shiou Jeng (Biodiversity Research Center, Academia Sinica, Taiwan), and published in the journal, ZooKeys.

The crab was collected from a seamount near Peng-Chia-Yu Island, in northern Taiwan, in a regulated fishing zone for red corals [Note: The skeletons of red corals (Anthozoa: Coralliidae) are highly prized and are used to make jewelry.]

The new species has also been found previously in Japan and the Philippines, but the specimens from those places were either not identified to species or were misidentified as a similar-looking species, P. agariciferus. It was only recently, after close comparison with a larger set of specimens from different areas in the western Pacific region, that the differences came to light. Besides the peculiarly shaped tubercles, P. stellatus can be distinguished from P. agariciferus by its larger size and by differences in the form of the carapace, pincers and male genitalia.

Interestingly, all the specimens of P. stellatus were collected by fishermen using hand-operated tangle nets. The authors speculate that this may be the reason why it was not discovered previously by conventional marine biodiversity surveys, which tend to use ship-towed trawls and dredges to sample the sea floor.

Read the paper here:

Ng PKL, Jeng M-S (2017) Notes on two crabs (Crustacea, Brachyura, Dynomenidae and Iphiculidae) collected from red coral beds in northern Taiwan, including a new species of Pariphiculus Alcock, 1896. ZooKeys, 694: 135–156.

Michael’s crab (Sundathelphusa miguelito Mendoza & Sy, 2017)

Sundathelphusa_miguelito_JCEM

This new species of freshwater crab, from the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, came to the attention of our curator of crustaceans, Dr. Jose C. E. Mendoza, through a collaboration with Manila-based herpetologist and conservationist, Mr. Emerson Y. Sy (Philippine Center for Terrestrial and Aquatic Research).

Mr. Sy had previously sent some crab specimens to Dr. Mendoza for identification, including some that were purchased from an ambulant fish vendor in the town of Lake Sebu, in South Cotabato Province. Apparently, the crabs were being sold as food by the bagful to locals and to the neighbouring towns. After some comparison with the known species from Mindanao, the crabs were found to be a new species of Sundathelphusa, a freshwater crab genus occurring in the Philippines, East Malaysia and Indonesia.

The new species has been described in a paper published in the journal, Crustaceana, as part of the Michael Türkay Memorial Issue. This special issue is the latest tribute to the late Professor Türkay, the eminent Curator of Crustacea at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Dr. Mendoza and Mr. Sy gave the new species the epithet, miguelito, from a Spanish/Filipino endearment which means “little Michael”.

Sought for comment about this latest addition to the freshwater crab fauna of the Philippines, Dr. Mendoza remarked that he and his colleagues “have barely scratched the surface”, and that there are probably more species “hiding in plain sight” and waiting to be named and described.

Read the abstract here:

Mendoza JCE, Sy EY (2017) Sundathelphusa miguelito, a new species of freshwater crab from the southern Philippines (Brachyura, Gecarcinucidae). Crustaceana, 90(7–10): 1039–1053.

An Eye-Popping Discovery in Southeast Asian Assassin Bug Biodiversity

Minime_fuliginosa_combined

Physoderes fuliginosa (left), dorsal view; with Physoderes minime (right). Photo by Hwang Wei Song.

Two pop culture characters, Popeye the Sailor and Mini-Me from the Austin Powers comedy movie series, are now linked in eternity in circumstances most unusual – having assassin bugs named after them.

Paraphysoderes popeye and Physoderes minime are two new assassin bug species that were named by LKCNHM Museum Officer Dr. Hwang Wei Song, together with Prof. Christiane Weirauch from the University of California, Riverside, in a recently published European Journal of Taxonomy research article.

The quirky names were given to describe the odd morphology of the bugs — Paraphysoderes popeye has enlarged fore-arms, similar to its namesake, while Physoderes minime looks like a miniature version of a larger known species — Physoderes fuliginosa.

“These names popped up naturally as perfect descriptors of how they look,” said Dr. Hwang, the lead author of the paper.

These two pop-culturally referenced names are among the 15 new assassin bug species named in the monographic piece of work published last week. Not only did the paper reveal the species richness found in the eastern hemisphere, spanning from Madagascar to the Fiji Islands, it also introduced a revised classification of these assassin bugs that more accurately reflects the rich diversity.

Paraphysoderes popeye UCR_ENT 52315 m BPBH dorsal

Paraphysoderes popeye, dorsal view. Photo by Hwang Wei Song.

Decade-long Quest

The task of clarifying and sorting out the taxonomy of this group of tiny, “rather unassuming-looking” assassin bugs known as physoderines, has been a long and arduous journey, starting 10 years ago in 2007, when Dr. Hwang began his PhD studies.

It required the consolidation of over 900 assassin bug specimens from various natural history museums across the world for side-by-side comparisons, visiting museums to check on type specimens, and a detailed computational analysis of their characteristics to determine their evolutionary relationships.

The fact that all 15 new species were discovered from specimens in natural history museum collections highlights the value and relevance of such historical collections to better understand our natural environment.

“These physoderine assassin bugs are miniscule, no bigger than a fingernail, well camouflaged in their natural habitat among vegetation and rotting logs, and extremely difficult to find in the wild,” said Dr. Hwang.

“It would have required my entire lifetime, and probably more, to be able to amass the same number of individuals to study, across such varied landscapes, from the foothills of the Western Ghats in India, across the whole of Southeast Asia, to the tip of Papua New Guinea and beyond.”

Dr. Hwang credits the strong support extended to him by the natural history museum curators and the helpful information shared among assassin bug researchers worldwide in helping to solve the many “taxonomic mysteries and riddles” peppered within this group.

Previously, Madagascar was regarded as an exceptional place for physoderine assassin bugs as they have radiated on the island similar to how lemur diversity flourished there, while the rest of the eastern hemisphere was regarded as rather uneventful. The new study shows that much of the diversity in Southeast Asia is still awaiting discovery, with Borneo and Papua New Guinea islands being hotspots for more species yet known.

To wrap the story up, Dr. Hwang did finally get to come face to face with a live physoderine assassin bug when he encountered Physoderes minime during field work in the Philippines late last year, on top of a dormant volcano.

“It was just hanging around on the base of a tree beside the forest trail, on a rather dreary late afternoon,” he said.

But to him, the thrill of the find was indescribable.

“I will never forget that moment.”

Original paper: Hwang, W.S., Weirauch, C. 2017. Uncovering hidden biodiversity: phylogeny and taxonomy of Physoderinae (Reduviidae, Heteroptera), with emphasis on Physoderes Westwood in the Oriental and Australasian regions. European Journal of Taxonomy 341: 1–118.

Launch of the Biodiversity Library of Southeast Asia

Hello everyone! We have exciting news to share with all of you — we have collaborated with NUS Libraries to launch the Biodiversity Library of Southeast Asia (BLSEA).

blsea_poster-A3_5

BLSEA is an online resource that allows people all over the world to access digitised versions of biodiversity publications that are focused on Southeast Asia. This includes old publications from the museum, such as the Bulletin of the Raffles Museum, as well as many others.

Raffles Bulletin of Zoology – New Year, New Blood

With each new year comes new changes, and this year brings in some significant changes in the editorial team of the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology (RBZ), a peer-reviewed, open-access journal published by our Museum.

The Bulletin has a new Managing Editor – Dr. Jose C. E. Mendoza (a.k.a. “JC”), who had previously served as Associate Editor for Carcinology since 2013. Dr. Mendoza breaks the news to the community in his first RBZ editorial (read more here).

The previous Managing Editor, Dr. Tan Heok Hui, has taken a new portfolio in the Museum, that of Head of Operations, but is also staying on as an Associate Editor for Ichthyology.

Among his notable achievements during his 6-year term is the publication of five volumes (vols. 59–63) and 11 supplements (nos. 24–34), containing 458 articles and monographs – some of which have gone on to be among the most highly cited in the Bulletin’s history. Dr Tan has also ushered the Bulletin into modernity, publishing its first fully electronic volume (vol. 62) in 2014.

Copy & Production Editor, Mr. Jeremy Yeo, who has efficiently performed administrative, copy-editing and production duties since 2013, has also moved over with Dr. Tan to the Operations department of the museum. We thank them for their service and wish them all the best in this new stage of their careers!

Also joining the editorial team are Dr. Hwang Wei Song, as Assistant Managing Editor and concurrent Associate Editor for Entomology; new Associate Editors, Dr. Evan S. H. Quah (Herpetology) and Dr. Toh Tai Chong (Marine ecology & conservation); and new Copy & Production Editor, Ms. Clarisse Tan. Welcome aboard & good luck!

RBZ ed team-LKCNHM-22Mar2017-02.jpg

(From left) Ms. Clarisse Tan, Dr. Hwang Wei Song, Dr. Jose C. E. Mendoza, Dr. Tan Heok Hui, and Mr. Jeremy Yeo. Photo by Cheng Yew Toon.

[Research highlight] Citation of taxonomic publications: the why, when, what and what not

The museum’s deputy head, Prof. Rudolf Meier, published an opinion article about how the current citation practices in biology are unfavourable to taxonomy.

https://i1.wp.com/lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/images/staffphoto/rudolfmeier.jpg

Photo by Tan Heok Hui.

Citations are important in science because it gives credit to the original authors (scientists) who made and reported a particular discovery or idea. However, authors of species are seldom cited in scientific publications. To address this issue, some journals or publishers require full citation of species descriptions.

Meier opined that citing and using original species descriptions may be inappropriate or lead to wrong conclusions. For example, the original description of the commonly eaten flower crab (Portunus pelagicus) by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, actually comprises four species today.

Instead, he argues that “proper citation credits should instead go to the literature that was used for specimen identification and the publications that contain the most accurate information on the currently accepted species limits of the species under study”.

Read more about his thought on this issue in the original paper.

Original paper:
Meier, R. 2016. Citation of taxonomic publications: the why, when, what and what not. Systematic Entomology: 1-4. doi: 10.1111/syen.12215

[Research highlight] New species of pea crab that lives in date mussel from Solomon Island

This new species of pea crab, Serenotheres janus, is named after the Roman two-faced god, Janus, as it has an unusually-shaped carapace that looks like two sides of a tent when seen from above.

serenotheres-janus

Photo by Zachariah Kobrinsky and David Liittschwager.

The museum’s head, Prof. Peter Ng, and Dr Christopher Meyer from the Smithsonian Natural Museum of Natural History, United States of America described the crab from a large date mussel collected from Solomon Island.

crab-in-situ

Photo by Zachariah Kobrinsky and David Liittschwager.

The crab lives inside (and are parasites of) the date mussel, Leiosolenus obesus, which resemble date seeds. These mussels burrow into coral rock for protection. Thus, the crabs live a doubly protected lifestyle inside a mussel that lives inside a rock.

Currently, only one specimen of Serenotheres janus is known, and it certainly shows that it pays to look into every nook and cranny (and every shell) for undiscovered life!

Original paper:
Ng PKL, Meyer C (2016) A new species of pea crab of the genus Serenotheres Ahyong & Ng, 2005 (Crustacea, Brachyura, Pinnotheridae) from the date mussel Leiosolenus Carpenter, 1857 (Mollusca, Bivalvia, Mytilidae, Lithophaginae) from the Solomon Islands. ZooKeys 623: 31-41. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.623.10272

[Research highlight] Molluscs for Sale: Assessment of Freshwater Gastropods and Bivalves in the Ornamental Pet Trade

Did you know that a large number of snails and clams come into Singapore via the ornamental pet trade?

NUS Phd student, Ng Ting Hui, and researchers from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore found a total of 59 species of snails and bivalves had been brought into Singapore via the pet and ornamental animal and plant trade from 2008 to 2014.

093-20161107-st-mollusc-aliens-by-nth-csy-b-f-t

Shells of the 59 species of molluscs found from the ornamental pet trade in Singapore. Photos by Ng Ting Hui and Chan Sow-Yan.

Some of these are known or potentially invasive species which may cause harm to species that are native to Singapore, or to the environment. This study provides an important baseline and reference for future monitoring, and points the direction towards a more sustainable ornamental pet trade.

The findings of the research was featured on the Straits Times by Carolyn Khew on 4 Nov 2016.

Original paper:
Ng, T. H., Tan, S. K., Wong, W. H., Meier, R., Chan, S-Y., Tan, H. H., Yeo, D. C. J. 2016. Molluscs for Sale: Assessment of Freshwater Gastropods and Bivalves in the Ornamental Pet Trade. PLoS ONE 11(8): e0161130. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161130

[Research Highlight] Freshwater fishes, terrestrial herpetofauna and mammals of Pulau Tekong, Singapore

While Pulau Tekong is an island familiar to many in Singapore as home to the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC), what is less known is the island’s importance for wildlife.

Realising this, researchers from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and the National Institute of Education compiled a checklist with notes on the freshwater fishes, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals of Singapore’s largest natural offshore island.

tekong-1

Freshwater fish and herpetofauna of Pulau Tekong. Photos by contributors (see paper).

In all, 18 species of freshwater fishes, 15 amphibians species, 45 species of terrestrial reptiles, and 31 species of terrestrial mammals were recorded. Some species such as the Kuhl’s gliding gecko (Ptychozoon kuhli), and brown tube-nosed bat (Murina suilla) are known from Singapore only from Pulau Tekong.

Additionally, several nationally rare and threatened species such as the Jasper’s cat snake (Boiga jaspidea), leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) and Sunda slow loris (Nycticebus coucang) are also present, or are thriving on the island.

tekong-2

Snakes and mammals of Pulau Tekong. Photos by contributors (see paper).

Pulau Tekong’s use as a restricted military area appears to have also served to conserve wildlife on the island well. It is hoped that substantial areas of natural vegetation is maintained, and that its rich biodiversity is taken into consideration for any development planning. This will help insure the survival of the island’s interesting and nationally threatened fauna.

 

Original paper:
Lim, K. K. P., M. A. H. Chua & N. T-L. Lim, 2016. Freshwater fishes, terrestrial herpetofauna and mammals of Pulau Tekong, Singapore. Nature in Singapore9: 165–198.

[Research highlight] Making its way down the Peninsula: Discovery of the non-native snail Cryptozona siamensis in Singapore

A new discovery by museum scientists and their collaborators of an introduced snail in Singapore was recently published in Occasional Molluscan Papers. We asked them to tell us more about the significance of their findings:


History is repeating itself. Another alien snail—Cryptozona siamensis—has made its way to Singapore. Several months ago, this species, which is native to Thailand, was recently found in Singapore. The snail is believed to have been accidentally introduced through horticultural trade activities. Presently the snails appears to be confined to a single locality in Mandai, which was formerly a plant nursery.

c-siamensis_tsk

Cryptozona siamensis at Mandai. Photo by Tan Siong Kiat.

This follows the 2011 discovery of Limicolaria flammea (a native of East Africa), in Singapore. Despite efforts to prevent the spread of that earlier invader, the snail is now found across Singapore.

spot the diff snails_TSK.jpg

Spot the difference: three species of land snails found at Mandai, Sarika sp. (left), Cryptozona siamensis (middle), Quantula striata (right). Photo by Tan Siong Kiat.

The discovery of both species highlights the importance of being able to tell different species apart (also known as taxonomy). Both non-native snails superficially resemble species already known from Singapore. They may have gone unnoticed for much longer if researchers had not been actively studying Singapore’s fauna.

Although the introduction of a snail may seem harmless, it is known among researchers that introduced species can pose a threat to native biodiversity greater than most people realise. Worldwide, many native species are endangered because of the negative impacts brought about by introduced species. Besides being a possible plant pest, studies in Thailand have shown that Cryptozona siamensis can carry parasites that may infect humans; usually occur through ingestion of raw or undercooked snails or contaminated vegetables.

invasive-snail-seasia-360

Limicolaria flammea.
Photo by Tan Siong Kiat.

So far in Singapore, Limicolaria flammea has not done the same damage some of its close relatives have wreaked in other parts of the world, and the situation for Cryptozona siamensis is as yet unknown. While the news of yet another introduced species is typically bad news, there are documented cases of successful eradication of introduced species in other countries, especially if discovered quickly and action is promptly taken. In additional to physical removal and the tightening of measures to prevent accidental importation of non-native species, the public can play a big role by getting to know the local fauna and to keep an eye out for invaders. It is hoped that the relevant authorities will step up efforts to eradicate this snail based on the precautionary principle.

Let us do what we can to prevent history from repeating itself.

Original paper:
Tan, S.K., Chan S.Y., Nguang L.H.S. & Low M.E.Y. (2016). Making its way down the Peninsula: Discovery of the non-native Cryptozona siamensis (L. Pfeiffer, 1856) in Singapore, with a note on its status in Peninsular Malaysia (Helicarionoidea: Ariophantidae). Occasional Molluscan Papers 5: 1–9.

Contribution by Tan Siong Kiat and Martyn E.Y. Low

Launch of Dr Seow-Choen’s latest book: A Taxonomic Guide to the Stick Insects of Borneo

Dr Seow Stick Insect

We have a new book launch happening in the month of June!

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) is proud to present a new book on stick insects of Borneo by Dr Francis Seow-Choen.

Dr Seow-Choen is a well-known local colorectal surgeon and is also a Honorary Research affiliate with us at the museum. He will be launching his latest book “A Taxonomic Guide to the Stick Insects of Borneo” at the Singapore Botanic Gardens Function Hall at the Botany Centre on 1st June 2016 at 12 noon.

The book includes 337 species of stick and leaf insects from Borneo, as well as details the author’s discovery of 15 new genera and 52 new species from the largest tropical island in the world.

The book launch is jointly hosted by the museum and the National Parks Board and books will be available for sale at the launch!

The book is now available at our very own LKCNHM bookshop and Co-Op bookstores at NUS!