The Pink Floyd pistol shrimp, Synalpheus pinkfloydi (above, photo by Arthur Anker) is a recently described alpheid shrimp. As with other shrimp in this family, the snapping sound produced by the large claw is loud enough to kill small fish. The shrimp is described in a Zootaxa paper, which contains this wonderful line:
“Distribution. Presently known only from the type locality on the Pacific side of Panama; likely more widespread in the tropical eastern Pacific, but unlikely to occur on the Dark Side of the Moon due to lack of suitable habitat.”
And it keeps getting better. The Oxford University Museum of Natural History has also celebrated the discovery with the beautiful artwork below (Another Shrimp in the Wall, by artist and scientist Kate Pocklington).
In an at times acrimonious process (some have even called it a “wattle war”), the former plant genus Acacia has been split into five genera, with further splits likely. The XVIII International Botanical Congress in 2011 confirmed a previous decision to retain the Acacia name for the largest of the resulting genera, found mainly in Australia:
“Under the internationally accepted rules governing the correct naming of plants, the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, the name would normally have remained with the African-American group, as this includes the species Acacia nilotica, which is the nomenclatural type species… However, a special provision of the Code allows for the name of the type species of a genus to be changed in cases like this, where strict application of the rules would require a large number of species to be renamed… An application under this provision was made in 2003… This was considered by the relevant botanical committees, who decided in its favour. The International Botanical Congress at Vienna in 2005 ratified this decision. The Vienna decision was contested by a group of botanists involved with African and American acacias. The Melbourne Congress, in two important votes on the first day of the Nomenclature Section, supported the procedure used in Vienna by a large majority. Support for this decision was widespread and not confined to Australian delegates. This vote effectively confirmed that the type species of Acacia is now an Australian species.”
The resulting division of the former Acacia is as follows:
The map below shows the distribution of the new genera, divided into the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia & the Pacific (background image from NASA Visible Earth). A degree of reorganisation was going to be needed whatever nomenclature proposal was accepted, but it certainly made sense to retain the Acacia name for 71% of the original species (although Wikipedia, which becomes more and more partisan as time passes, ran a campaign against the official decision for several years). The botanical community seems quite happy using the new names, and it does not seem that the issue will resurface at the XIX International Botanical Congress later this year, although there continues to be debate about how to resolve similar issues in the future.
Here are the five new genera, with examples:
About 13 species, in the Americas. See theplantlist.org.
About 15 species, in the Americas. See theplantlist.org.
About 163 species, throughout the tropics. See theplantlist.org.
About 203 species, throughout the tropics. See theplantlist.org. This genus is likely to be split further.
About 987 species, almost all in Australia and the Pacific.
A group of 493 concerned taxonomists responded by saying that type specimens were essential for objectivity and replicability. Nature would not publish their letter, and so it appeared in Zootaxa in November. And they are right, of course – even with the ability to go back and check preserved specimens (especially their DNA), taxonomy can be a tricky business. Without that ability, it would be a nightmare.
The Himalayan forest thrush (Zoothera salimalii – photo by Craig Brelsford above) is a newly described species of bird. It was formerly grouped with Z. mollissima, which breeds above the tree line. In contrast, Z. salimalii breeds in coniferous forests up to the tree line, from Tibet to Vietnam. In addition, Z. salimalii has a different song from its alpine cousin, as well as differing genetically. This is enough to make it a distinct species.
With improvements in technologies for DNA and other analyses, we are starting to see many such new species “carved out” of existing ones.
The Bible (Genesis 2:19–20) describes the first man as beginning an inventory of the world’s animal species. Bob Dylan famously set the story to music in Man Gave Names to All the Animals (1979):
“Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago
He saw an animal that liked to growl
Big furry paws and he liked to howl
Great big furry back and furry hair
‘Ah, think I’ll call it a bear’ …”
In spite of all the millenia that humanity has lived on our planet, this inventory has only just begun. An estimated 8.7 million eukaryotic species exist, with about 86% still awaiting description. At the current rate of progress, finishing the job will take centuries – and during that time, many species will become extinct without ever having been inventoried. Many species have already been lost forever.
Some of the older species descriptions will also need to be re-examined. There are specimens on museum shelves which represent unrecognised species. The job’s far from over yet, guys. We obviously need substantially more resources for the task.
Cherax pulcher is a recently described crayfish from West Papua. The photograph above is by Christian Lukhaup, from his ZooKeys paper. The crayfish has actually been on sale to aquarium owners for some years, but only recently did Lukhaup realise that it represented a new species. Little is known about it, however. In particular, it is not clear whether it is endangered or not.