Tag Archives: varia

When the cure kills

Today something about policy. Often boring and uninteresting (seemingly), but sometimes politicians take decisions which are affecting the work of taxonomists. Therefore the recent paper by Prathapan et al. which appeared in the journal Science is worth mentioning.

Schermafbeelding 2018-08-09 om 12.37.59

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) commits its 196 nation parties to conserve biological diversity, use its components sustainably, and share fairly and equitably the benefits from the utilization of genetic resources. This last objective was further codified in the Nagoya Protocol (NP).

The authors state that the NP mechanism seem to work out counter-productive, leading to all sorts of national legislature in biodiverse countries which hamper the study of its biodiversity by biologists. Conservation approaches are very strict and deny that effective conservation also demands the scientific understanding of species. In practice, legislative processes have been tightened in many countries to such extent that biological research has been hampered by permits. Permitting processes are sometimes becoming vulnerable to fraud and corruption, the responsible persons using their for their own benefit and blocking permits to foreign colleagues who are not their favourites. While some South American countries are playing these games and EU-based museum curators adhere strictly to the official rules, it leads to a total stand-still of taxonomic research which needs e.g. live collected animals for molecular study.

The authors, supported by 172 co-signatories from 35 countries, make a strong plea to the CBD to “do more to raise the legal curtain that has fallen between biodiversity scientists and the biodiversity that they strive to discover, document, and conserve”.

Prathapan, K.D. et al., 2018. When the cure kills–CBD limits biodiversity research. – Science, 360 (6396): 1405-1406.


Morelet book launched

Last Saturday the book written by Jonathan Ablett, Cédric Audibert and myself about Arthur Morelet was presented during a meeting of the Netherlands Malacological Society in Leiden. Wim Backhuys opened with a short presentation on the Crosse archive, followed by my presentation.


The book is dedicated to the late Dolf van Bruggen and Wim Backhuys. Both he and Dolf’s widow, Mrs. Wenda van Bruggen-Gorter, received the ‘first specimens’.

I also presented a copy to Thierry Backeljau, one of the sponsors who made this book possible to distribute as a free PDF and as a low cost hard copy.

More information on the book on the NMV site; or you can directly download the book here (remind the password!).

Book review: Cossignani 2018 South American landshells

Cossignani, T., 2018. South American Landshells: 1-240. L’informatore Piceno, Ancona. ISBN 978 888 6070 35 5. Price € 120,00 net.

South America is a large continent, with thousands of land snails. Several books covering specific countries and aimed at a more general readership and checklists for some other countries do already exist (Ramirez et al., 2003; Simone, 2006; Massemin et al., 2009; Linares & Vera, 2012). Therefore the publication of Cossignani’s book seems a useful addition to the literature as no one has ventured before to cover the land snails of this continent as a whole.

The author’s foreword of this atlas, together with 2300 colour photos makes clear that these pictures are, for the greater part, from the collection in the Museo Malacologico Piceno, with additional photos from friends, collectors, traders and museums. The author states to have no claims to present scientific reviews or validation of any kind, and the work is essentially aimed at land shell collectors, although several freshwater snails and mussels are also included. The book is alphabetically ordered by country (all except Guyane, Suriname and French Guiana), and for each country species are arranged alphabetically according to genus. For each species the following data are presented: the author and year, place of origin of the specimen photographed, measurement in mm, and museum depository in case of type material. A brief bibliography and an index to species names complete the book.

Despite the author’s assertion that he “deliberately neglected those malacological areas for which there are recent and valid publications, Brazil in particular”, pages 58-114 are dedicated to this country. This is a serious duplication of Simone’s book, which offers the same information but in a better taxonomical way. In Cossignani’s book the reader is at loss to which family a species belongs, and related genera are not grouped together as the alphabetical order does not allow this. The photos are of good quality and generally show at least two different views. Often the same species is represented by several sets of photos. Although this may be useful for species with a variable morphology (e.g., colour pattern), the degree of redundancy is disturbing when several sets of similar shells are presented. 

The value of a book like this depends undoubtedly on a correct nomenclature. And although this does not necessarily mean that the latest scientific insights have to be reflected, a consistent and rather up to date taxonomy would be necessary. For some groups this seems to be correct but for others there is much doubt. I do not pretend to have knowledge of all families of South American land snails. But for those belonging to the Orthalicoidea I spotted several grave errors. E.g., on page 120 Bothriembryon reflexus is mentioned for the Chilean fauna; however, this species does not belong to this Australian genus but to Plectostylus which is treated on page 123-126. Some species are mentioned with different genera (azulensis on page 13 with Bostryx, on page 20 with Discoleus; only the latter is correct). Several species are associated with the wrong fauna (to mention only the most striking ones: Bostryx nigropileatus does not occur in Argentina but in Peru; Porphyrobaphe iostoma not in Chile but in Ecuador). Some species have outdated nomenclature (e.g., page 53 Helix culminea and Helix hygrohylaea) or are assigned to a wrong genus (e.g., Bulimulus catlowae [sic, catlowiae] from Ecuador is in fact Naesiotus quitensis). Placostylus malleatus is mentioned for the Colombian fauna, but is in fact a species from the Fijian islands. Also several typos were found in species names. Some years ago Cossignani published a similar book on African snails, for which I heard very mixed stories especially about the quality of the nomenclature. I am afraid that the author has made similar mistakes this time.

After several countries a checklist is given of all or part of the families. These lists appear partly copied from the internet, some are given without source; almost all are undated. The credibility of these lists is thus disputable. And it may be clear: the author has only treated part of the land snail fauna (e.g., 8% of the Colombian and 25% of the Peruvian terrestrial species). The title of the book remains far too ambitious! 

Despite the mentioning of museum abbreviations with photos taken from their websites (and sometimes not mentioning these abbreviation), I spotted several photos which seem to have been taken from the literature without giving credit to the original authors. The statement in the colophon that all photographs, except mentioned otherwise, have been taken by the author thus cannot be true.

This book could have filled a real gap if it would have been set up in a systematic way. And if more effort had been given to illustrate available type material (with proper credits). Now it is a garbage can full of misidentifications, wrong assignments, redundant pictures and lists of doubtful usage. But my main concern is that this book leads the target group of “land-shells collectors” too often in the wrong way. The overall impression of this book is unfortunately too bad and I cannot recommend Cossignani’s work, despite the fact that it has some useful elements.


Linares, E.L. & Vera, M.L., 2012. Catálogo de los moluscos continentales de Colombia. Bogotá (Instituto de Ciencias Naturales): 1-360.
Massemin, D., Lamy, D., Pointier, J.-P. & Gargominy, O., 2009. Coquillages et escargots de Guyane / Seashells and snails from French Guiana. Mèze (Biotope) / Paris (Muséum nationale d’Histoire naturelle): 1-456.
Ramirez, R., Paredes, P. & Arenas, J., 2003. Moluscos del Perú. – Revista de Biología Tropical, 51 (Supplemento 3): 225-284.
Simone, L.R.L., 2006. Land and freshwater molluscs of Brazil. São Paulo (EGB, Fapesp): 1-390.

Soon to be published: Morelet monograph

A monograph on Arthur Morelet

Those who are working with non-marine molluscs may have encountered the name of Morelet. He introduced more than 700 species names in – currently – 84 different families of land and freshwater molluscs. Who was Arthur Morelet and what has become of his huge collection?

Pierre Marie Arthur Morelet (1809-1892) was an amateur scientist who devoted himself to both shell collecting and botany. He organised several expeditions, of which those to Cuba and Central America (1846-1848) and the Azores (1857) are especially noteworthy. His contributions to malacology were thus significant and we have reconstructed his legacy with a survey of archival sources and his type material in the historical collections of several museums. 

The resulting monograph is made up of two parts. In the first part we present a bibliography, some remarks on the whereabouts of his collection, and more than 200 recovered letters (transcribed and translated) to contemporary malacologists, such as Crosse, Fischer, Baudon and Dautzenberg. His contact network has been reconstructed using data from his correspondence and his publications. This part offers an unique view into the world of malacology in the second half of the 19th century.

In the second part a bibliography of Morelet is presented, as well as all his newly introduced taxa, with detailed documentation and figures of the species. More than 80 per cent of his type material has been re-found and original figures, if they exist, have been reproduced for the remaining species. Of the taxa represented by actual shell material, more than 150 are now figured for the first time. The book has indices for both taxonomy and persons mentioned and is a must-have for anyone interested in the history of malacology and those dealing with non-marine molluscs.

The book, which has 544 pages and more than 1300 figures, is available after its launch on 23 June 2018. Thanks to financial support from Association Cernuelle (France), Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Belgium), Natural History Museum (United Kingdom), and the Netherlands Malacological Society (Netherlands), the electronic version of the book is freely available at www.spirula.nl/andere-uitgaven/moreletEN. A printing on demand hard cover version of the book can be ordered at www.boekenbestellen.nl (search for title or ISBN) for
€ 67.50 (net price, excluding postage).

Breure, A.S.H., Audibert, C. & Ablett, J.D., 2018. Pierre Marie Arthur Morelet (1809-1892) and his contributions to Malacology. Netherlands Malacological Society, Leiden, 544 pp. 

ISBN 978-90-815230-2-8 (PDF) / 978-90-815230-0-4 (p.o.d.)

BHL is now better

The indispensable BHL is now even better: recently a ‘inside search’ button has been added, which allows the user to make a free search within the item under inspection. Read the full story here.

If you have used archive.org full text search you’ll know that the system shows the pages where your search term appears once you open the item.

The BHL interface doesn’t do that, and you have to repeat the search within the item, but when done it shows the contexts and gives page links.

Nevertheless, this will make searching for and within historical taxonomical literature much better and also save lots of time. Very nice!

Type material in UK museums

Just announced: a new website which gives access to information (and images) of molluscan type material in the United Kingdom.

The announcement read: “The Mollusca staff of the Natural History Museum, London and the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff have been working to digitally unite the type specimens found in Mollusca collections across Great Britain into one comprehensive database.

Thanks to the John Ellerman Foundation’s Regional Museums and Galleries Fund the first phase of our project has now been released, bringing together the type collections of seven partner Museums (Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow Hunterian, Glasgow Kelvingrove, Exeter and Newcastle).

The curatorial staff from the leading institutions have been able to help research, catalogue and photograph c. 600 primary types to unite them as never before. Our online database also gives examples of handwriting to help identify type material as well as information and resources to assist in tracing historical mollusc collections including an updated Appendix IV from S.P. Dance’s ‘A History of Shell Collecting’ (1986) reproduced with kind permission of the author.

In the near future we will be adding further secondary type specimens from our phase 1 project partners as well as primary type material from the National Museum of Wales. In the longer term we will be adding more UK based type collections as further funding becomes available.”

The database presents excellent photographs and various ways to search for specimens. It is an important source for anyone looking for type material from historical collections, especially if the collector resided in the UK or the collection is known to be in museums there. However, as the illustration above shows, also unexpected finds are possible.