Monthly Archives: November 2013

Gray’s Spicilegia

Peter S. Pallas, who is mainly known for his explorations in Russia, published between 1767 and 1780 his ‘Spicilegia zoologica‘. In this work in Latin, consisting of a series of brief ‘fasciculus‘, he gathered information and gave illustrations of mammals, birds, fish and some frogs. This set up must have inspired John E. Gray in the late 1820s to write his own ‘Spicilegia zoologica; or Original Figures and Short Systematic Descriptions of New and Unfigured Animals’. The first part appeared in 1828, the second in 1830 and there seems also to be a later part 3; I have been unable to trace it.

Unlike the book of Pallas, the work of Gray is not available in BHL and for many years remained rare and difficult to consult. The first two parts are available here (http://bit.ly/1flyTce), but the quality of the illustrations is mediocre. Its significance for Neotropical malacology lies in the first part, where on p. 5 two species are mentioned, one of which described as new to science.

The first one, mentioned without further details about its locality, is Plectostylus peruvianus (Bruguière, 1789). Although described from “Pérou”, it actually is a Chilean species.
The second species is Bostryx hennahi (Gray, 1828), described from “Plains near Arica”; this is in (nowadays) northernmost Chile (see my post at https://breure.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/history-matters/). From the text on this page it becomes clear that the type was not part of the NHM collection, as for other species (e.g., Achatina nitens) “Mus. Brit.” indicated that the type is in the London museum. Gray’s species also occurs in (nowadays) southernmost Peru, shown by the type locality “Tacna” of the junior synonym Helix cactorum d’Orbigny, 1835, for which type material is present in NHM.

I’m grateful to Jonathan Ablett for scans from Gray’s paper and bibliographical data.

References:
Gray, J.E. (1828). Spicilegia zoologica; or Original Figures and Short Systematic Descriptions of New and Unfigured Animals, part 1: 1-8, pl. 1-6. London (Treüttel, Würtz & Co. & Wood).
Gray, J.E. (1830). Spicilegia zoologica; or Original Figures and Short Systematic Descriptions of New and Unfigured Animals, part 2: 9-12, pl. 7-11. London (Treüttel, Würtz & Co. & Wood).

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Lubomirski collection

Ladislas Lubomirski (1824-1882), a Polish nobleman, had an interest in natural history and contributed to Neotropical malacology. He wrote only one paper on Peruvian land shells (Lubomirski, 1880), which was based on collections made by K.R. Jelksi (1837-1896) and J. Stolzmann (1854-1928, also written as Sztolcman); they travelled through that country in 1870-1874 and 1875-1878 respectively. The shells collected during their trips are kept in Lubormirski’s collection, which is in the Warsaw museum.

In Lubomirski’s paper, several new species are described, two of which belong to the Orthalicoidea: Bulimus (Orphnus) jelskii and Bulimus (Porphyrobaphe) wrzesniowskii. Dominika Mierzwa-Szymkowiak (Museum i Instytut Zoologii) kindly located the type specimens for me and made some photographs. For completeness sake I have also made copies of the original figures.

The first species is now classified as Thaumastus (Scholvienia) jelskii; it was described from Dept. Junín, near Tarma, Amable Maria (-11.168462 S, -75.355516 W). Weyrauch (1964) redescribed this taxon on the basis of new material from the same region. According to his data this species occurs at 1400-1800 m; it may be closely related to species living at higher altitudes, e.g. T. (S.) tarmensis (Philippi, 1867).

The labels show that Lubomirski was in correspondence with Crosse, who considered this shell as a novel species. The green label has Lubomirski’s handwriting.

The second species, described by Lubomirski from “Tambillo”, is now classified as Sultana (Metorthalicus) wrzesniowkii. The type locality, however, is somewhat puzzling as there are several localities of that name in different parts of Peru. Without further knowledge of localities where Stolzmann, who was an ornithologist, collected birds, it will remain difficult to pinpoint this place. In the original figure the top of the shell seems to be missing in the ventral view. However, the label leaves no doubt that this is the (single) specimen which Lubomirski had at hand.

References:
Lubomirski, L. (1880) Notice sur quelques coquilles du Pérou. – Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1879: 719-728.
Weyrauch, W.K. (1964). Nuevos gastropodos terrestres y nuevos sinonimos de Sudamerica, II. – Acta zoologica Lilloana 20: 33-60.

Science in transition?

Last week a two day symposium was held in Amsterdam about the ‘Science in transition’ movement. This meeting was fuelled by some Dutch and British scientists, who wrote a position paper on problems in current practices of science. Several international media picked up the message (e.g. ‘How sciences goes wrong’ in The Economist; see also a special issue of Nature on research evaluation [http://bit.ly/1e7nZDO]) and seemingly the symposium has led to stirring up interest for the need to address the issues.

In the position paper (http://bit.ly/18zfSeD) three areas are dealt with, ‘image and trust’, ‘quality and corruption’, and ‘communication and democracy’. Manifest issues are e.g. several perverse incentives built in the system of governance of the scientific and scholarly system, the system of peer review, open access publication systems that may introduce ‘sloppy science’ and corruptness, and the domination of impact factors beyond reasonable measure. In some fields this is more prominent than others; the initiators draw heavily on the medical science system, but to some extent all disciplines are affected and it is rapidly spreading world-wide.

Biology (including taxonomy and related fields) is not exempt from the adverse symptoms of this increasingly complex science system. Too much emphasis on the quantity of publications, impact factors, and – in short – superfluous bureaucracy and excessive competition. Which in turn leads to political power play at different levels and chasing own interests at the cost of others. Anyone who thinks this only occurs in Europa and the USA, make a reality check.

During the symposium several suggestions for system change were made (see http://bit.ly/1e7ngTb). A brief summary of the symposium may be found here (http://bit.ly/HUeug8). Change will take a long run and may be hampered by cultural habits and human nature. But now it’s time to return to the nitty-gritty groundwork of science and continue on my manuscripts.

A new minute Jamaican snail

Jeff Nekola and Gary Rosenberg have just a joint paper out about a new vertiginid snail from Jamaica. One of the authors well-known for his studies of Vertiginidae, the other for his database on the Jamaican malacofauna; this paper seems to be a perfect blend of expertise.

Vertigo marciae, a new species of gastropod mollusk (Pupilloidea: Vertiginidae), is described from Jamaica. This species is known in the Recent fauna only from John Crow Peak in the Blue
Mountains, but also occurs as a Pleistocene fossil at Red Hills Road Cave. Vertigo marciae has been confused with V. gouldii, but differs by its smaller shell size, lack of distinct shell striation, lack of an angular lamella, and presence of a flared aperture base. DNA sequence analyses document that V. marciae possesses unique mtDNA and nDNA sequences and is most closely allied with Vertigo alabamensis, V. hebardi, and V. oscariana. This group of species comprises a highly supported clade whose members are limited either to the Caribbean or the southeastern USA.

The authors suggest on the basis of their data a relict status for this endemic species, which nevertheless could also be looked for at other islands in the Caribbean in suitable habitat and altitudes. They postulate, on the basis of their molecular research, that long distance dispersal might be involved in this case.

Reference:
Nekola, J.C. & Rosenberg, G. (2013). Vertigo marciae (Gastropoda: Vertiginidae), a new land snail from Jamaica. – The Nautilus 127: 107–114.

Antonio Raimondi and his iteneraries

The name Antonio Raimondi (1826-1890) is well-known to anyone interested in natural history of Peru. He was born in Milan, Italy but emigrated in 1850 to Peru, where he became a professor of natural history. During extensive travels throughout the country he collected animals, plants and studied the mineralogy and geology. Both Pfeiffer and Philippi have described several new species on the basis of Raimondi’s material. Thus it could be interesting to know more of his travels, to get some idea of the places he visited.

Raimondi published three volumes on his travels, resp. in 1874, 1876 and 1880, with the title ‘El Perú. Historia de la geografía del Perú’. In 1929 a selection of these diaries were published at the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Banco Italiano de Lima. This selection is available online in the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes (http://bit.ly/17uAA2y). Although only part of the complete itineraries, it contains valuable (and very detailed!) information about his travels and the places he visited. So at least for part of the material that Pfeiffer and Philippi described we may make a more educated guess about their locality.

Photo of the day (146): Drymaeus

Drymaeus protractus (Pfeiffer, 1855) was described from “Meobamba, Eastern Peru”. So far no other locality is known for this taxon.

Valentín Mogollón just sent me photographs of living specimens he collected near Tarapoto; this is ca. 100 km SE Moyobamba in the same mountain system. We believe these specimens to be Drymaeus protractus (Pfeiffer, 1855). The subadult specimens here figured show the colour pattern best, the adult specimen has it somewhat faded. The species has beautifully orange-tinted upper tentacles.

Peer review: some thoughts

The choice whether a scientific article is published or not is made through the process of peer reviewing with most journals that have (or want) an international reputation in their discipline (Arms 2002). Manuscripts submitted to an editor are judged basically as suited to the journal and, if so, forwarded to at least two experts related to the topic. This is the pre-publication peer review aimed at enhancing the quality of scientific output. The classic form of this process is when an editor sends the article to two people who are expected to assess the article on the basis of several criteria. For instance, the way in which the article is written, the validity of arguments and interpretation of data. The editors decide then if the article is suitable for publication in the particular journal based on these two reviews. However, in the past decades a critique of this system has occurred. Hereby, peer reviewing is considered an expensive and profligate procedure, slow, biased and poor in the detection of fraud. Out of this critique grew the open access movement. This is a related but quite different topic to dwell upon.

Smith (2006) summarized as weaknesses of peer review a) slow and expensive: it takes time to find suitable reviewers willing to do the work, do the reviewing and process the results; b) inconsistent: essentially the peer review process is subjective; c) bias: studies with negative results or with authors from less prestigious institutions are more easily rejected (it should be noted that Smith made this conclusion in a medical context); d) abuse: plagiarization is an obvious example. In order to expel the defects of peer review, several resolutions have been put forward: standardizing procedures; opening up the process; blinding reviewers to the identity of authors; reviewing protocols; training reviewers; being more rigorous in selecting and deselecting reviewers; using electronic review; rewarding reviewers; providing detailed feedback to reviewers; using more checklists; or creating professional review agencies (Smith 2006, Hauser & Fehr 2007). Bornmann et al. (2010) suggested the most important weakness of the peer review process being the different ratings given to the same submitted manuscript by different reviewers, which highlights the incoherence of verdicts of reviewers. In a meta-study of a number of inter-rater reliability (IRR) studies, Bornmann et al. looked at factors influencing IRR. They included a variety of disciplines and a number of covariates, e.g. the number of manuscripts, the method used to calculate the IRR, the review system (single-blind or double-blind), and the rating system used by the reviewers (metric or categorical). One of their conclusions was that mentioning or non-mentioning of the rating results provides information about the quality of a study.

As a reviewer I regularly get requests from several journals, usually on taxonomic papers related to the Neotropics. Such review requests always are considered as something that may be interesting and an opportunity to learn (content-wise or people-wise). Although I haven’t kept track of all final results, some observations can be made.
First, a review is done voluntarily and always costs time. Sometimes, when the paper is good, it can be done rather quickly but takes at least one hour to critically read, look up some data and write up the review. Sometimes, when the paper is not so good, it needs considerable more time; not only to digest the manuscript but also to carefully phrase the comments. Although personally I don’t mind to be disclosed as reviewer, editors usually pass on the reviews anonymously using a blinding procedure. Some authors acknowledge anonymous reviews (polite colleagues); others don’t mention reviews at all and suggest the quality of the paper was their own merit, even after severe criticism and a major revision (haughty people). One gradually learns who is a ‘jewel’ and who is a ‘rotten apple’. Although publication of the review results (e.g., one reviewer suggested a minor revision, one reviewer a major revision) would certainly add to transparency, it still leaves the ‘black box’ of the editorial decision process. After all, the editor(s) have their own responsibilities and may ignore a review when they dislike e.g. the negative response of a reviewer.
Second, there is a creeping trend to inflate the number of authors, also in taxonomy and related papers. Given the policies in many countries and at many institutions world-wide this may be understandable to a certain extent. But you have to admit that this creates perverse incentives. I even fear that these bad habits lead to bad statistics and encourage bad science. Some journals, usually open access ones (e.g., PLoS ONE), have a standard section on ‘author contributions’ in their papers. This may be a way to more transparency and, even though cheating will always be possible, it may discourage the addition of superfluous co-authors. Although it is more of a custom in experimental studies, I can imagine that in taxonomy instead of ‘design of the experiment’ could be used ‘outline of the paper’. My suggestion is that more journals would include this in their standard procedure, as it is informative for both the reviewers and the readers.

Acknowledgements. I would like to thank Timo Breure for the impetus to this post. Author contributions: outline BB, data BB TB, writing BB TB.

References:

Arms, W.Y. (2002). What are the alternatives to peer review? Quality control in scholarly publising on the web. The Journal of Electronic Publishing 8. Avaliable at http://bit.ly/Hqq2rG.
Bornmann, L., Mutz, R. & Daniel, H.D. (2010). A reliability-generalization study of journal peer reviews: a multi-level meta-analysis of inter-rater reliability and its determinants. PLoS ONE 5(2): e14331.
Hauser, M. & Fehr, E. (2007). An incentive solution to the peer review problem. PLoS Biology 5(4): e107.
Smith, R. (2006). Peer review, a flawed process at the heart of science and journals. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 99: 178-182.