Monthly Archives: April 2011

Field guide to Amazonian Zingiberales

Off topic, but perhaps worth mentioning as a good example of a plant guide, especially useful for those visiting Amazonia.


Costa et al. (2011) produced an overview of all families and species of the Zingiberales group, occurring in the northwestern part of Amazonia. A well illustrated guide, with identification keys and background information on the biology and phylogenetic relationships of the genera treated. The publication is bi-lingual, both in Portuguese and English, and is available as PDF here:

Costa, F.R.C., Espinelli, F.P., Figueiredo, F.O.G., 2011. Guia de zingiberales dos sitios PPBio na Amaz??nia Ocidental brasileira. ??ttema Design Editorial, Manaus: 1-284.

Citizen science reveals evolution on a continental scale

Yesterday the results were published of the Evolution MegaLab Project. I reported before on this large scale project (, involving the participation of citizens throughout Europe. The study was focussed on Cepaea nemoralis, a common land snail found in gardens and other public areas.


The abstract of the paper is:
Organisms provide some of the most sensitive indicators of climate change and evolutionary responses are becoming apparent in species with short generation times. Large datasets on genetic polymorphism that can provide an historical benchmark against which to test for recent evolutionary responses are very rare, but an exception is found in the brown-lipped banded snail (Cepaea nemoralis). This species is sensitive to its thermal environment and exhibits several polymorphisms of shell colour and banding pattern affecting shell albedo in the majority of populations within its native range in Europe. We tested for evolutionary changes in shell albedo that might have been driven by the warming of the climate in Europe over the last half century by compiling an historical dataset for 6,515 native populations of C. nemoralis and comparing this with new data on nearly 3,000 populations. The new data were sampled mainly in 2009 through the Evolution MegaLab, a citizen science project that engaged thousands of volunteers in 15 countries throughout Europe in the biggest such exercise ever undertaken. A known geographic cline in the frequency of the colour phenotype with the highest albedo (yellow) was shown to have persisted and a difference in colour frequency between woodland and more open habitats was confirmed, but there was no general increase in the frequency of yellow shells. This may have been because snails adapted to a warming climate through behavioural thermoregulation. By contrast, we detected an unexpected decrease in the frequency of Unbanded shells and an increase in the Mid-banded morph. Neither of these evolutionary changes appears to be a direct response to climate change, indicating that the influence of other selective agents, possibly related to changing predation pressure and habitat change with effects on micro-climate.

The project was an experiment in involving thousands of amateur malacologists and ordinary citizens. It shows that they can contribute to science, in this case by providing data on snails that live in their own ‘back garden’. However, it must be noted that the results could not have been obtained without the historical datasets available in museum collections.

Silvertown, J., Cook, L., Cameron, R., Dood, M., McConway, K., et al., 2011. Citizen science reveals unexpected continental-scale evolutionary change in a model organism. PLoS ONE 6(4): e18. The paper may be found here:

Live Science

Is it an experiment? Yes, it is!


Today was the official opening of the Live Science Project in Naturalis museum. One of the exhibition halls has been transformed to a place where the next two years a team from our Collection Department will work on the integration of the Mollusca collections of the (former) Zoological Museum Amsterdam and the (former) Naturalis, now NCB Naturalis. A job of handling 800.000 lots, transferring them from two different, incompatible cabinet systems into one new system; in doing so, each lot will be registered and digitally photographed.


Visitors of the museum will be able to see the team working, looking over their shoulders via a real-time video system. Also, they will be able to decipher labels and give their interpretation as input via iPads.


It will transmit the impression of scientists at work, although it actually only is the preemptive stage of the ‘real’ scientific work. But that’s part of the experiment of course…

Venezuelan Guayana Plekocheilus: SEM (1)

For a review of the malacofauna from the tepuis in Southern Venezuela and the adjacent area in Brazil, I recently made a series of Scanning Electron Microscope photographs. As not all pictures will make it to the publication – being slight variations on the same theme – I choose to make the photographs available here.

Today, pictures of Plekocheilus (Eurytus) huberi Breure, 2009 of respectively the mandibula, the central area of the radula, the marginal area and an overview to show the shape of the transverse rows.





Photo of the day (119): Tudora

These are some photographs that I received through Gerard van Buurt (Willemstad), and which show some living Tudora rupis Baker, 1924 on cacti near San Pedro, Cura??ao. This species is mainly found as dead shells, thus it is nice to see these snails in hibernation. The sand attached on the shells indicate that the animals have been active on the sandy ground below.

The pictures were taken by Carel P. de Haseth and his contribution is gladly acknowledged.



Cerion website

Sometimes serendipity leads to pleasant surprises. By mere chance I got a hint about the Cerion website that is hosted at the Smithsonian Institute (


It was set up years ago at the time when Stephen Gould was an active researcher on Cerion. Now it is maintained by Jerry Harasewych (SI/USNM), mainly known by his interests for marine molluscs. But I learned that he is also actively involved in Cerion research, and that is a pleasant surprise too.

Cerion are remarkably well suited to studies on many aspects of evolution, population genetics, parapatric and allopatric differentiation.

The purpose of this website is to facilitate such studies by providing taxonomic, biogeographic and bibliographic information about the family Cerionidae. Included is a searchable database of all taxa proposed within the family Cerionidae. Entries for species level taxa provide an abbreviated synonymy that is linked to the bibliography, the text [and if needed an English translation] of the original description, five views of the primary type specimen, as well as information on the type locality and distribution. Also included are links that will enable the user to search the holdings of major museums, and GenBank.

Geographical search features allow the user to examine and identify the named taxa from each island from whichCerion has been reported either by selecting from a list of islands of through the use of a map. A comprehensive bibliography of the Cerionidae is also included.

I give some examples of the different sorts of information that may be found on the site, viz. name view, map view, bibliographic view, and original description.
This website is a gem! Although I must be remembered that it is the result of decades of research and powered by a well-endowed institute, I consider it as an inspiring example for other Neotropical groups. A recommended source of information!


It seems like a battle lost

Last week I had a little break in a country home, when I received a message from Vincent Mouret, a French birdwatcher who visited the Rio Palenque Biological Reserve in Ecuador. This reserve was created in 1970 as a biological station in the western lowlands in Prov. Los Rios, south of Quevedo.


As Derek Kverno writes on his Birding Ecuador blog ( “Rio Palenque is perhaps the worst-case scenario for the future of conservation in northwestern Ecuador. (…) The one-hundred acre [0.4 km2] reserve has gradually become an irrelevant island of forest in a thriving agricultural sea of African palm, banana, and pineapple”. For an impression of how the place looks like, see and

Vincent Mouret sent me two pictures of snails for identification, one of which was this one:


No guessing, this is the infamous Lissachatina fulica…! While it was already known to occur on the western slopes of the Andes in Ecuador (see my posts of 22-04 and 29-04-2010;, it was sad news to learn that it was found inside the rain forest. So far, to my knowledge, the species has only been reported from disturbed habitats.

According to the Reserve’s manager, the problem appeared a few months ago. Now these snails have been found on the different trails that traverse the reserve. The intention is to try to treat the invasion by means of an organic compound made of aji and other local plants. Hopefully, this treatment will not affect the native malacofauna but it has not been tested with this purpose. 

According to David Robinson (USDA malacologist) “Ecuador is already a lost cause – (unofficially) all coastal provinces are infested. The move into natural habitats is indeed disturbing”. David will be conducting a workshop for South American agencies in Argentina  in June.