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Concept: Taxonomy


The gecko genus Geckolepis, endemic to Madagascar and the Comoro archipelago, is taxonomically challenging. One reason is its members ability to autotomize a large portion of their scales when grasped or touched, most likely to escape predation. Based on an integrative taxonomic approach including external morphology, morphometrics, genetics, pholidosis, and osteology, we here describe the first new species from this genus in 75 years: Geckolepis megalepissp. nov. from the limestone karst of Ankarana in northern Madagascar. The new species has the largest known body scales of any gecko (both relatively and absolutely), which come off with exceptional ease. We provide a detailed description of the skeleton of the genus Geckolepis based on micro-Computed Tomography (micro-CT) analysis of the new species, the holotype of G. maculata, the recently resurrected G. humbloti, and a specimen belonging to an operational taxonomic unit (OTU) recently suggested to represent G. maculata. Geckolepis is characterized by highly mineralized, imbricated scales, paired frontals, and unfused subolfactory processes of the frontals, among other features. We identify diagnostic characters in the osteology of these geckos that help define our new species and show that the OTU assigned to G. maculata is probably not conspecific with it, leaving the taxonomic identity of this species unclear. We discuss possible reasons for the extremely enlarged scales of G. megalepis in the context of an anti-predator defence mechanism, and the future of Geckolepis taxonomy.

Concepts: Biology, Taxonomy, Reptile, Gecko, Madagascar, Taxonomic rank, Zoological nomenclature, Gekkonidae


Palaeomerycids were strange three-horned Eurasian Miocene ruminants known through fossils from Spain to China. We here study their systematics, offering the first cladistic phylogeny of the best-known species of the group, and also reassess their phylogenetic position among ruminants, which is currently disputed. The beautifully preserved remains of a new palaeomerycid from middle Miocene deposits of Spain, Xenokeryx amidalae gen. et sp. nov., helps us to better understand palaeomerycid anatomy, especially that of the nuchal region in the skull, significantly improving our current knowledge on these enigmatic ruminants. Our results show two main lineages of palaeomerycids, one containing the genus Ampelomeryx diagnosed by a characteristic type of cranium / cranial appendages and some dental derived traits, and another one that clusters those forms more closely related to Triceromeryx than to Ampelomeryx, characterized by a more derived dentition and a set of apomorphic cranial features. Xenokeryx branches as a basal offshoot of this clade. Also, we find that Eurasian palaeomerycids are not closely related to North American dromomerycids, thus rejecting the currently more accepted view of palaeomerycids as the Eurasian part of the dromomerycid lineage. Instead of this, palaeomerycids are nested with the African Miocene pecoran Propalaeoryx and with giraffoids. On the other hand, dromomerycids are closely related to cervids. We define a clade Giraffomorpha that includes palaeomerycids and giraffids, and propose an emended diagnosis of the Palaeomerycidae based on cranial and postcranial characters, including several features of the cranium not described so far. We also define the Palaeomerycidae as the least inclusive clade of pecorans containing Triceromeryx and Ampelomeryx. Finally, we reassess the taxonomy of several palaeomerycid taxa.

Concepts: Taxonomy, Phylogenetic nomenclature, Skull, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Clade, Phylogenetic comparative methods, Palaeomerycidae


Two recent studies have reanalyzed previously published data and found that when data sets were analyzed independently, there was limited support for the widely accepted hypothesis that changes in the microbiome are associated with obesity. This hypothesis was reconsidered by increasing the number of data sets and pooling the results across the individual data sets. The preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses guidelines were used to identify 10 studies for an updated and more synthetic analysis. Alpha diversity metrics and the relative risk of obesity based on those metrics were used to identify a limited number of significant associations with obesity; however, when the results of the studies were pooled by using a random-effect model, significant associations were observed among Shannon diversity, the number of observed operational taxonomic units, Shannon evenness, and obesity status. They were not observed for the ratio of Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes or their individual relative abundances. Although these tests yielded small P values, the difference between the Shannon diversity indices of nonobese and obese individuals was 2.07%. A power analysis demonstrated that only one of the studies had sufficient power to detect a 5% difference in diversity. When random forest machine learning models were trained on one data set and then tested by using the other nine data sets, the median accuracy varied between 33.01 and 64.77% (median, 56.68%). Although there was support for a relationship between the microbial communities found in human feces and obesity status, this association was relatively weak and its detection is confounded by large interpersonal variation and insufficient sample sizes.

Concepts: Bacteria, Gut flora, Taxonomy, Ratio, Diversity index, Shannon index, Measurement of biodiversity, Index numbers


Taxonomists have been tasked with cataloguing and quantifying the Earth’s biodiversity. Their progress is measured in code-compliant species descriptions that include text, images, type material and molecular sequences. It is from this material that other researchers are to identify individuals of the same species in future observations. It has been estimated that 13% to 22% (depending on taxonomic group) of described species have only ever been observed once. Species that have only been observed at the time and place of their original description are referred to as oncers. Oncers are important to our current understanding of biodiversity. They may be validly described species that are members of a rare biosphere, or they may indicate endemism, or that these species are limited to very constrained niches. Alternatively, they may reflect that taxonomic practices are too poor to allow the organism to be re-identified or that the descriptions are unknown to other researchers. If the latter are true, our current tally of species will not be an accurate indication of what we know. In order to investigate this phenomenon and its potential causes, we examined the microbial eukaryote genus Gymnodinium. This genus contains 268 extant species, 103 (38%) of which have not been observed since their original description. We report traits of the original descriptions and interpret them in respect to the status of the species. We conclude that the majority of oncers were poorly described and their identity is ambiguous. As a result, we argue that the genus Gymnodinium contains only 234 identifiable species. Species that have been observed multiple times tend to have longer descriptions, written in English. The styles of individual authors have a major effect, with a few authors describing a disproportionate number of oncers. The information about the taxonomy of Gymnodinium that is available via the internet is incomplete, and reliance on it will not give access to all necessary knowledge. Six new names are presented - Gymnodinium campbelli for the homonymous name Gymnodinium translucens Campbell 1973, Gymnodinium antarcticum for the homonymous name Gymnodinium frigidum Balech 1965, Gymnodinium manchuriensis for the homonymous name Gymnodinium autumnale Skvortzov 1968, Gymnodinium christenum for the homonymous name Gymnodinium irregulare Christen 1959, Gymnodinium conkufferi for the homonymous name Gymnodinium irregulare Conrad & Kufferath 1954 and Gymnodinium chinensis for the homonymous name Gymnodinium frigidum Skvortzov 1968.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Organism, Species, Taxonomy, Genus, Microorganism, International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, Nomenclature


Massively parallel high throughput sequencing technologies allow us to interrogate the microbial composition of biological samples at unprecedented resolution. The typical approach is to perform high-throughout sequencing of 16S rRNA genes, which are then taxonomically classified based on similarity to known sequences in existing databases. Current technologies cause a predicament though, because although they enable deep coverage of samples, they are limited in the length of sequence they can produce. As a result, high-throughout studies of microbial communities often do not sequence the entire 16S rRNA gene. The challenge is to obtain reliable representation of bacterial communities through taxonomic classification of short 16S rRNA gene sequences. In this study we explored properties of different study designs and developed specific recommendations for effective use of short-read sequencing technologies for the purpose of interrogating bacterial communities, with a focus on classification using naïve Bayesian classifiers. To assess precision and coverage of each design, we used a collection of ∼8,500 manually curated 16S rRNA gene sequences from cultured bacteria and a set of over one million bacterial 16S rRNA gene sequences retrieved from environmental samples, respectively. We also tested different configurations of taxonomic classification approaches using short read sequencing data, and provide recommendations for optimal choice of the relevant parameters. We conclude that with a judicious selection of the sequenced region and the corresponding choice of a suitable training set for taxonomic classification, it is possible to explore bacterial communities at great depth using current technologies, with only a minimal loss of taxonomic resolution.

Concepts: DNA, Archaea, Bacteria, Ribosomal RNA, Biotechnology, Taxonomy, 16S ribosomal RNA, Sequence


Creation and use of the scientific names of animals are ruled by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Until recently, publication of new names in a work produced with ink on paper was required for their availability. A long awaited amendment to the Code issued in September 2012 by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature now allows publication of new names in online-only works, provided that the latter are registered with ZooBank, the Official Register of Animal Names. With this amendment, the rules of zoological nomenclature have been aligned with the opportunities (and needs) of our digital era. However, possible causes for nomenclatural instability remain. These could be completely removed if the Code-compliant publication of new names will be identified with their online registration, under suitable technological and formal (legal) conditions. Future developments of the ZooBank may provide the tool required to make this definitive leap ahead in zoological nomenclature.

Concepts: Animal, Taxonomy, Noun, Binomial nomenclature, Name, International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, Nomenclature, International Code of Botanical Nomenclature


African green monkeys (Chlorocebus) represent a widely distributed and morphologically diverse primate genus in sub-Saharan Africa. Little attention has been paid to their genetic diversity and phylogeny. Based on morphological data, six species are currently recognized, but their taxonomy remains disputed. Here, we aim to characterize the mitochondrial (mt) DNA diversity, biogeography and phylogeny of African green monkeys. We analyzed the complete mitochondrial cytochrome b gene of 126 samples using feces from wild individuals and material from zoo and museum specimens with clear geographical provenance, including several type specimens. We found evidence for nine major mtDNA clades that reflect geographic distributions rather than taxa, implying that the mtDNA diversity of African green monkeys does not conform to existing taxonomic classifications. Phylogenetic relationships among clades could not be resolved suggesting a rapid early divergence of lineages. Several discordances between mtDNA and phenotype indicate that hybridization may have occurred in contact zones among species, including the threatened Bale monkey (Chlorocebus djamdjamensis). Our results provide both valuable data on African green monkeys' genetic diversity and evolution and a basis for further molecular studies on this genus. Am. J. Primatol. 00:1-11, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Biology, Species, Taxonomy, Primate, Phylogenetics, Chlorocebus


Historically serving as repositories for morphologically-based taxonomic research, natural history collections are now increasingly being targeted in studies utilizing DNA data. The development of advanced molecular techniques has facilitated extraction of useable DNA from old specimens, including type material. Sequencing diagnostic molecular markers from type material enables accurate species designation, especially where modern taxonomic hypotheses confirm morphologically cryptic species complexes. One such example is Chrysoperla carnea (Stephens), which belongs to a complex of about 20 cryptic species, most of which can only be reliably distinguished by their pre-mating courtship songs or by DNA analysis. The subtle morphological variation in the group has led to disagreement over the previous designation of the lectotype for C. carnea, an issue that has been further compounded because Chrysoperla carnea is a highly valued biological control agent in arable crops. Archival DNA extraction and sequencing from the 180 year old lectotype specimen, combined with Bayesian and Likelihood based phylogenetic analyses of modern specimens from the entire complex, were used to establish unambiguously the true identity of Chrysoperla carnea.

Concepts: DNA, Molecular biology, Biology, Organism, Species, Taxonomy, Cryptic species complex, Zoological nomenclature


Outdoor recreation is typically assumed to be compatible with biodiversity conservation and is permitted in most protected areas worldwide. However, increasing numbers of studies are discovering negative effects of recreation on animals. We conducted a systematic review of the scientific literature and analyzed 274 articles on the effects of non-consumptive recreation on animals, across all geographic areas, taxonomic groups, and recreation activities. We quantified trends in publication rates and outlets, identified knowledge gaps, and assessed evidence for effects of recreation. Although publication rates are low and knowledge gaps remain, the evidence was clear with over 93% of reviewed articles documenting at least one effect of recreation on animals, the majority of which (59%) were classified as negative effects. Most articles focused on mammals (42% of articles) or birds (37%), locations in North America (37.7%) or Europe (26.6%), and individual-level responses (49%). Meanwhile, studies of amphibians, reptiles, and fish, locations in South America, Asia, and Africa, and responses at the population and community levels are lacking. Although responses are likely to be species-specific in many cases, some taxonomic groups (e.g., raptors, shorebirds, ungulates, and corals) had greater evidence for an effect of recreation. Counter to public perception, non-motorized activities had more evidence for a negative effect of recreation than motorized activities, with effects observed 1.2 times more frequently. Snow-based activities had more evidence for an effect than other types of recreation, with effects observed 1.3 times more frequently. Protecting biodiversity from potentially harmful effects of recreation is a primary concern for conservation planners and land managers who face increases in park visitation rates; accordingly, there is demand for science-based information to help solve these dilemmas.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Animal, Taxonomy, Reptile, Meta-analysis, North America, Americas, Systematics


Morphological data are a conduit for the recognition and description of species, and their acquisition has recently been broadened by geometric morphometric (GM) approaches that co-join the collection of digital data with exploratory ‘big data’ analytics. We employed this approach to dissect the Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) species-complex in North America, currently partitioned by mitochondrial (mt)DNA analyses into eastern and western lineages (two and seven subspecies, respectively). The GM data (i.e., 33 dorsal and 50 lateral head landmarks) were gleaned from 2,824 individuals located in 10 museum collections. We also downloaded and concatenated sequences for six mtDNA genes from the NCBI GenBank database. GM analyses revealed significant head shape differences attributable to size and subspecies-designation (but not their interactions). Pairwise shape distances among subspecies were significantly greater than those derived from ancestral character states via squared-change parsimony, with the greatest differences separating those most closely related. This, in turn, suggests the potential for historic character displacement as a diversifying force in the complex. All subspecies, save one, were significantly differentiated in a Bayesian discriminant function analysis (DFA), regardless of whether our priors were uniform or informative (i.e., mtDNA data). Finally, shape differences among sister-clades were significantly greater than expected by chance alone under a Brownian model of evolution, promoting the hypothesis that selection rather than drift was the driving force in the evolution of the complex. Lastly, we combine head shape and mtDNA data so as to derived an integrative taxonomy that produced robust boundaries for six OTUs (operational taxonomic units) of the C. viridis complex. We suggest these boundaries are concomitant with species-status and subsequently provide a relevant nomenclature for its recognition and representation.

Concepts: DNA, Scientific method, Evolution, Species, Taxonomy, Binomial nomenclature, Taxonomic rank, Crotalus