publication

[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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

New findings on the fore-leg evolution of assassin bugs

Gardena_thumbnailAssassin bugs (Reduviidae) have evolved a rich arsenal of weaponry for prey capture in their 178 million years of diversification. With about 7,000 known species worldwide, the corresponding variety of strategies to take down their next meal consist of lethal combinations of deceit and different ways to incapacitate their prey.

A team of researchers, including our museum entomologists, Hwang Wei Song and Rudolf Meier, published their latest findings on how the assassin bugs’ fore-leg evolved to the diversity we see today.

Scadra costalis_thumbnailThe fore-legs of the assassin bugs are often involved in prey capture, and have undergone remarkable modifications, presumably as an adaptation to a range of hunting techniques. Some assassin bugs possess a pair of enlarged fore-legs, frequently armed with spines or stiff bristles that aid in grasping prey. However, there are also fore-legs that look unmodified, in some cases coupled with the ability to produce or obtain sticky secretions as an alternative method to trap prey. Attempts to explain for the observed variety in leg modifications across the entire group were not formally tested until now.

In the study, specialized leg structures that are hypothesized to be involved in prey capture were tested to see if the loss of one can be explained by the replacement with another. To trace the evolution of the fore-leg structures, the phylogeny (evolutionary relationships) of assassin bugs was first reconstructed using a novel method combining transcriptomic RNA-derived data (all expressed genes of an individual) and a conventional DNA dataset (Sanger sequencing-derived). This results in the establishment of deep phylogenetic relationships that proved elusive previously.

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Fossula spongiosa (fs) in different assassin bug species.

With this latest phylogeny, a specialized leg structure called the “fossula spongiosa”, a spongy pad thought to improve the grip on prey, is shown to be most primitive and already present in the last common ancestor of all assassin bugs. This structure was then lost multiple times throughout the history of assassin bug diversification. Surprisingly, this is not necessarily replaced by other leg modifications. Our results indicate other behavioural and structural adaptations may have a stronger influence shaping the fore-legs. This finding now shifts the attention towards testing the role of other predatory adaptations such as the toxicity of the saliva injected to immobilize prey on the raptorial leg evolution of assassin bugs.

This study was funded by Singapore’s Ministry of Education AcRF Tier 1 grant, US National Science Foundation’s “Partnership in Enhancement of Expertise in Taxonomy” and Assembling Tree-of-Life grants.

 

Original paper:
Zhang, J. et al. Evolution of the assassin’s arms: insights from a phylogeny of combined transcriptomic and ribosomal DNA data (Heteroptera: Reduvioidea). Sci. Rep. 6, 22177; doi: 10.1038/srep22177 (2016)

Temasekia: 50 Plants and Animals Native to Singapore available in stores

Back by popular demand—Temasekia: 50 Plants and Animals Native to Singapore is on its second print run!

Temasekia cover

The book is now available at the LKCNHM Museum Shop, NUS Multi-Purpose Co-operative Society Ltd (Science, LT27), Kinokuniya SingaporeSelect Books and Nature’s Niche.

More about the book:

Temasekia: 50 Plants and Animals Native to Singapore celebrates the biodiversity of Singapore and discoveries throughout the nation’s history. The species featured in this book were described from specimens collected from Singapore, with some bearing a scientific name related to the history, geography, folklore or cultural heritage of Singapore. A select few are found only in Singapore and nowhere else in the world. All these organisms are the life and soul of the land first known as Temasek, which was the earliest name of the island and settlement located on the present day Singapore. These are the “original Singaporeans”.

Split Identity: The Flower Crab is Actually Four

The commonly eaten flower crab or swimming crab actually comprises 4 species.

Portunus Lai et al

These crabs that were all formerly known as Portunus pelagicus are now A) Portunus pelagicus, B) P. segnis, C) P. reticulatus, and D) P. armatus. Photo by Joelle Lai.

This research finding recently featured on The Straits Times was published in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology in 2010 by museum staff Dr Joelle Lai, Prof Peter Ng and Dr Peter Davie of the Queensland Museum.

It shows the importance of biodiversity research and its applications in the management of commercial fisheries, particularly of the concern about over-harvesting.

Read the Straits Times report here: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/a-single-name-for-4-species-of-swimming-crabs

Read the original research paper here:  A Revision of the Portunus pelagicus (Linnaeus, 1758) species complex (Crustacea: Brachyura: Portunidae), with the recognition of four species.

A Roadkill Record of a Hairy-Nosed Otter from Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia

Dr Tan Heok Hui from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum documented a roadkill of a hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana)

Unlike some of the more commonly encountered species of otters, the hairy-nosed otter is an elusive and rarely encountered animal throughout its native range in Southeast Asia.

The dead otter was a female 1.2m in length and its location was less than four meters away from the nearest water source, a black water creek running parallel to the road. the dampness of its coat of fur probably suggests that the otter met its end right after it left the creek and onto the road.

This record was recently published in the IUCN/SCC Otter Specialist Group Bulletin and you can read more about the article here!