WoRMS released the 2023 top ten new marine species

On March 19, The World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), an initiative hosted by VLIZ, LifeWatch Belgium‘s focal point, released the top ten marine species described by researchers in 2023, coinciding with World Taxonomist Appreciation Day. The list highlights about 2,000 new marine species discovered each year. In 2023, WoRMS added almost 2,000 marine species, including some 330 fossils.

In December 2023, World Register of Marine Species sent an invitation for nominations to editors of WoRMS and major taxonomy journals. The invitation was also posted on the WoRMS website and social media, allowing anyone to nominate their favourite marine species described in 2023. These nominations could also include marine fossils.

The 2024 Top Ten list
A committee of volunteers, including taxonomists and data managers, reviewed nominations and selected final candidates. The list of selected species is not hierarchical:

  • Falkor’s Carnivorous Sponge, Abyssocladia falkor
  • The Bifrost Nemertean, Tetranemertes bifrost
  • Solwarawarriors vestimentiferan, Alaysia solwarawarriors
  • Hannan’s Pygmy Squid, Kodama jujutsu
  • The Samoan Nautilus, Nautilus samoaensis
  • Prince Albert’s Sea Daisy, Xyloplax princealberti
  • Bouchet’s Dorymenia, Dorymenia boucheti
  • Fine Line Nudibranch, Halgerda scripta
  • Fordyce’s Giant Penguin, Kumimanu fordycei
  • St. George’s Cross Medusa, Santjordia pagesi

The final selections showcase a variety of taxonomic groups found in the marine environment, such as crustaceans, corals, sponges, jellyfish, and worms. They also shed light on the challenges faced by the marine environment today. The chosen candidates feature astonishing and scientifically significant marine creatures that appeal to the public. Each of these marine species has a unique story, and this year’s chosen species include some of the weirdest and most astonishing creatures found in the ocean, such as a beautifully coloured nemertean, a carnivorous sponge, and a giant extinct penguin. Taxonomists collect, identify, and name new species every day. Over 300 taxonomists also maintain the World Register of Marine Species.

About the top-ten list of Marine Species
The WoRMS Top Ten Marine Species 2023 would not have been possible without the collaboration between the WoRMS Data Management Team (DMT), the WoRMS Top Ten Decision Committee, the WoRMS Steering Committee (SC), and the voluntary contributions of many of the WoRMS editors.
The Top Ten Lists initiative started in 2007. Please visit this page to learn about the 2023 Top Ten List and previous years’ lists.

What WoRMS does
WoRMS – the World Register of Marine Species – compiles a comprehensive list of all marine organisms and their synonyms. It provides valid and other names to help interpret taxonomic literature. Over 245,000 marine species have been described and managed by more than 300 scientists worldwide. WoRMS is a service provided by LifeWatch Belgium.

The cover image was taken by Merrick Ekins and shows the holotype and paratype of Abyssocladia falkor, a new carnivorous sponge from the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia, collected by the ROV FALKOR. The original online source can be found at https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.5293.3.2

The LifeWatch ERIC Thematic Services workshops have started with a kick-off on Taxonomy

On January 30, at the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts in Brussels, the first LifeWatch ERIC Thematic Services Workshops kicked off, focused on Taxonomy Services. Alberto Basset, LifeWatch ERIC Service Centre Director, opened the meeting by presenting the LifeWatch Thematic Core Services (TCS). These services consist of tools, virtual labs, and other research products designed to facilitate the work of various stakeholders. They aim to support specialised scientific communities, experts involved in environmental policies (such as the UN Decade of Oceans and the European Green Deal), and practitioners dealing with biodiversity observatories.

Alberto Basset underlined that the scientific community is critical for a Research Infrastructure. To best serve this community he introduced the LifeWatch ERIC Thematic Core Services Working Groups. The goal is to transition from a community-tailored structure to a community-guided one.

Leen Vandepitte of LifeWatch Belgium welcomed the participants with a session to define the scope of the Taxonomy Services. Around 20 LifeWatch Distributed Centres participants and externals were at the workshop. The workshop occurredd concurrently with the LifeWatch Belgium Biodiversity Day, titled this year “Taxonomy: The science behind species discovery.”

During the workshop, Stefanie Dekeyzer from LifeWatch Belgium presented the existing taxonomic services available within and outside of LifeWatch. Participants had the opportunity to discuss the current state of the Taxonomy Services and how well they align with the needs and requirements of the scientific community. The workshop concluded with a discussion on organising future interactions within the TCS community.

This workshop was proposed and organised by LifeWatch Belgium in collaboration with all LifeWatch Common Facilities and National Distributed Centers.

LifeWatch ERIC launches the 2024 Thematic Service Workshop Series

lifewatch eric thematic workshop

Last update: 1 February 2024

The LifeWatch ERIC Thematic Services, co-developed by the LifeWatch ERIC Common Facilities and National Distributed Centres, are a key component of the 2022-2026 Infrastructure Strategic Working Plan (SWP). They represent the key priority areas of eService construction in LifeWatch ERIC proposed by the National Distributed Centres.

Activities, developments and physical outcomes of the LifeWatch ERIC Thematic Services, as eServices, Virtual Labs (vLabs) and more complex and complete Virtual Research Environments (VREs), are planned to be coordinated by Thematic Service Working Groups participated by scientists from both the National Distributed Centres and the Common Facilities, with an overall coordination of the LifeWatch ERIC Service Centre.

The following main objectives are envisaged for the Working Groups:

  • Enhance collaboration both between and within the Common Facilities and Distributed Centres;
  • Review and update the mapping of the research needs of the National scientific communities regarding the Thematic Services and highlight the construction priorities;
  • Promote and coordinate the participation of Distributed Centre research Institutions to Horizon Europe and other European/international projects, on behalf of and in collaboration with LifeWatch ERIC, in order to co-design and co-construct the priority services with other key actors in the biodiversity and ecosystem research landscape, including the relevant communities.

For the launch of Working Group constitution and the promotion of the activities and developments currently running on each LifeWatch ERIC Thematic Service, a series of LifeWatch ERIC Thematic Service Workshops have been co-organised by the LifeWatch ERIC National Distributed Centres and Common Facilities. Each Workshop is then locally organised by a LifeWatch ERIC National Distributed Centre, engaging the relevant national community, with the support of the Service Centre.

Workshops programme by Thematic Service

Click the Thematic Service for more information. The agenda will be updated with new workshops soon.

DecaNet: A Portal For Decapod Biodiversity Informatics

A picture of a decant

DecaNet is a database for decapod species and associated biodiversity information. Published on 23 June 2023, it falls under the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS). Besides marine species, it aims to provide an authoritative list including freshwater, terrestrial biomes and a growing number of fossil taxa.

Decapoda are one of the best-researched groups of Crustacea. Researchers studied 17,229 species (December 2022), far beyond taxonomy in various scientific fields. Hopefully, DecaNet will act as a one-stop shop for taxonomic and biodiversity information on the group.

The taxonomic/systematic backbone of DecaNet is now largely complete. The fifteen volunteer editors for recent taxa and two for fossil taxa will continually update it.  Over time, the database will incorporate more trait information, distributions, and perhaps even more.

DecaNet grew out of a meeting held in May 2022, at VLIZ (Oostende). Ten of the decapod editors met to discuss data content and structure and LifeWatch ERIC funded it. The first public presentation of the portal was at the 10th International Crustacean Congress in Wellington, New Zealand, in May 2023, a full year after the initial discussions.

The Data Management Team (DMT) is supported by LifeWatch Belgium, part of the E-Science European LifeWatch Infrastructure for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research.

LifeWatch Belgium User Story: There’s no plaice like an offshore wind farm

offshore wind farm

Offshore wind farms are built at a high rate in European waters as part of the green transition, taking up marine space that is often not available anymore to other users such as the fisheries sector. However, knowledge on the ecological effects of wind farms on commercial flatfish was lacking. Understanding the ecological impacts of an offshore wind farm on a fish species requires knowledge on its movements within and its association to the wind farm area. Therefore, a tagging study making use of an acoustic receiver network was carried out in the Belwind wind farm (Belgium), by PhD student at the Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO) and Ghent University, Jolien Buyse. This study aimed at detecting the presence of plaice Pleuronectes platessa, an important commercial flatfish species, and to study its small-scale movements around the turbine foundations.

Acoustic telemetry was chosen as a method to study their residency, site fidelity and small-scale movements around the hard substrates in order to gain insight into their behaviour within an offshore wind farm. The residency of a fish, calculated from the presences of the fish over a certain period, represents its level of association to the study area. A high residency would thereby indicate that the fish rarely leaves the wind farm, which increases the protective capacity of the area. Further, the authors were interested whether the fish returned to the wind farm area after their spawning migrations during the winter months. They studied their presence within the wind farm area over the period of an entire year. Lastly, to determine whether and when plaice preferred the hard substrate or the soft sediment, fish positions around certain turbines were calculated based on the detections. Patterns in distances to the hard substrate in relation to the time of day were analysed to detect habitat preferences that were potentially linked to feeding behaviour.

A temporal network of acoustic receivers was deployed in the Belwind wind farm over a period of one year in collaboration with the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), focal point for LifeWatch Belgium, and Wageningen Marine Research (WMR). In addition, the permanent fish acoustic receiver network of the Belgian LifeWatch Observatory was also used to detect plaice presence in the Belgian part of the North Sea.

Plaice individuals were caught by divers or using hook-and-line fishery. The authors opted for an external attachment of the transmitters to the fish, as the small body cavity of flatfish makes surgical implantation less suitable. If a plaice equipped with a transmitter swam in the vicinity of a receiver, the unique ID-code of the transmitter was stored on the receiver together with a time stamp. As such, the authors could reveal if fish were present within the wind farm area and whether a fish remained there for a prolonged period of time. Further, they also deployed multiple receivers very close to particular turbines to study the small-scale movements of plaice around the hard substrates. If the transmitter signal is picked up by at least three receivers, the position of the fish can be calculated using triangulation. Such position information reveals something about the habitat preferences of the fish related to the presence of the wind turbines.

The data of both temporary and permanent acoustic receiver networks are stored in the European Tracking Network (ETN) data portal. This data portal was developed in the framework of LifeWatch Belgium and allows the access and sharing of aquatic telemetry data. The data analysis was performed using the LifeWatch RStudio server, which offers high computing power and immediate access to the ETN portal.

The knowledge obtained from this study can be further used to inform management decisions on marine spatial planning and future wind farm developments.

This news is an adapted version of the full user story on the LifeWatch Belgium website.

LifeWatch Belgium’s Big Seashell Survey Takes Off in France

Big Seashell Survey 2023

The Big Annual Seashell Survey, with shells collected across more than 400 kilometres of beaches, has become one of the largest citizen science initiatives on Europe’s coasts. This annual LifeWatch Belgium initiative began in 2018, driven by the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in close cooperation with EOS Science, the Province of West Flanders, Natuurpunt, the Strandwerkgroep, Kusterfgoed and the ten coastal municipalities. In 2022, at the fifth edition, the Netherlands participated for the first time. And during last Saturday’s edition on 25 March, the Netherlands accounted for their entire coastline, and staff from CPIE Flandre Maritime in Zuydcoote (northern France) also took part.

In total, the estimated 2,000 participants picked up 82,444 shells (B: 40,770 ex.; NL: 34,689 ex.; F: 6,985 ex) from the beach during the Big Seashell Survey 2023. In the three countries combined, volunteers encountered 66 different species (B: 51; NL: 55; F: 35). The two most prevalent shells remain the Cut trough shell and Common cockle, making the top five in each of the three countries. There are also clear regional differences; Belgium again saw its ‘traditional’ trio score highest, with Cut trough shell (23%), Baltic tellin (23%) and Common cockle (21%). In the Netherlands too, the Cut trough shell was the most numerous shell (32%), followed by Common cockle (18%) and Elliptical trough shell (17%). The Baltic tellin made it into the top five only in Zeeland. The Zuydcoote counting station in France saw a top-three formed by Common cockle (24%), Pullet carpet shell (21%) and Blue mussel (17%). There, Cut trough shell only came in at position five. And Atlantic razor shell finished fourth in each of the countries.
Project initiator Jan Seys analyses the figures: “Over the entire length of the counted stretch, Cut trough shell and Common cockle are omnipresent. Most of these shells are old, as you can derive from the low number of double shells (<4%), and you find them everywhere. On top of that, you can clearly see local differences, with typically many Baltic tellin on the Belgian east and middle coasts and on the Zeeland coast, and for instance a striking number of recent Pullet carpet shell and Grooved razor shell towards the French border. The Netherlands, in turn, has more fossil Elliptical trough shell. To see those patterns, you need a Big Annual Seashell Survey.” 

There were also striking differences among individual species. For instance, the Netherlands counted only 1,188 Blue mussels in total, while France collected 1,200 specimens at barely one station (and Belgium: 3,398 ex. At all ten stations). Soft-shelled clam, on the other hand, was only found in the Netherlands (total: 436 ex.).

In the three countries combined, the participants found 6 exotic species, accounting for 9% of the shell species. Expressed in number of specimens, the occurrence of exotics appears to increase proportionally towards the Channel. The abundance there of the Atlantic razor clam, supplemented by Dwarf surf clam and Japanese carpet shell makes the difference (F: 14.8%; B: 13.2%; NL: 7.7%). Other important exotic species are the American piddock, Pacific oyster and Slipper mullet.

Finally, this year, attention was also focused on the occurrence of round holes in shells, which testify to silent deaths perpetrated by predatory snails, such as necklace shells and Dogwhelk. These bore through the calcareous shells with their grating tongue, only to suck up the soft flesh inside with their proboscis. In any case, the snails themselves were relatively rare (Dogwhelk: 14 ex.; Spotted necklace shell: 106 ex.; Common necklace shell: 147 ex.). Interestingly, based on almost three hundred checked samples from the Belgian coast, less than 1% of all shells showed bore holes. Half of these occurred on the Cut trough shell; other important prey were Banded wedge-shell, Elliptical trough shell, Thick trough shell and Baltic tellin. Incidentally, many of the affected specimens were (sub)fossil ones.

The Big Seashell Survey 2023 was for everyone. In Ostend, two reception classes for foreign-speaking newcomers (OKAN) actively participated in the shell count, with 14–18-year-old participants from Pakistan, Romania, Ukraine, Somalia and Saudi Arabia, among others. And in Ghent, Ekoli vzw, working diligently for inclusive science, went to work with students of VBS Sancta Maria Gentbrugge.

This article was orignally posted on the website of LifeWatch Belgium.

The LifeWatch Community Platform is here!

LifeWatch Community

Roll up, roll up! LifeWatch followers and collaborators are cordially invited to the grand unveiling of the LifeWatch Community platform, now openly available to everyone! Who should become a member? Well, if you’re interested in biodiversity and ecosystem research, then you should!

The content of the Community platform will be widely shaped by its members, allowing them to create and contribute to forums, add opportunities, jobs and events of interest to the community, and hold meetings and collaborative brainstorming together with other members. These features are particularly well-suited to the needs of partners involved in European projects focused on biodiversity, who can benefit from the working groups as the perfect collaborative space.

Once a member of the Community, you can select your skills from a preset list, in order to facilitate linkages among the community. In need of a collaborator with a specific specialisation? Whether the keywords are data sciencesenvironmental sciences or biotechnology, simply carry out a search for the skills you are looking for to identify potential matches.

The platform is also a great space to learn about upcoming events. Of immediate relevance to the community is the upcoming LifeWatch ERIC Biodiversity and Ecosystem eScience Conference in Seville, for which interested persons can already submit their abstract on the Community platform.

While many aspects of the platform can be browsed without registering, we recommend opening an account in order to benefit from the full range of resources available. Sign up now to enhance the community experience for everyone, put your range of abilities and knowledge at everyone’s disposal, in a mutual and sincere effort to foster open science.

If you require any assistance with any of the registration process or functionalities of the Community, please do not hesitate to get in touch with communications[@]lifewatch.eu.

Ten remarkable new marine species from 2022

WoRMS Top ten 2022

As for previous years, the World Register of Marine Species, WoRMS (hosted by VLIZ, focal point of LifeWatch Belgium), has again released its annual list of the top-ten marine species described by researchers during the past year to coincide with World Taxonomist Appreciation Day on 19 March! 

If you were unaware of this celebration of all the work that taxonomists do, you can find more here and here.

Every day in labs, museums, and out on fieldwork, taxonomists are busy collecting, cataloguing, identifying, comparing, describing, and naming species new to science. Some 300 taxonomists globally also contribute their valuable time to keeping the World Register of Marine Species up to date. Today is a chance for those at WoRMS to thank their taxonomic editors for this important task. Let’s celebrate the work of taxonomists now with the WoRMS list of the top-ten marine species described in 2022 as nominated and voted for by taxonomists, journal editors and WoRMS users!

This top-ten list is just a small highlight of about 2,000 fascinating new marine species discovered every year (there were almost 1,700 marine species described in 2022 and added to WoRMS, including some 300 fossil species). Here is the top-ten:

How were the species chosen?

A call for nominations was announced in December 2022, sent to all editors of WoRMS and editors of major taxonomy journals, and posted openly on the WoRMS website and social media so anyone had the opportunity to nominate their favorite marine species. Nominated species must have been described between 1 January and December 31st, 2022, and have come from the marine environment (including fossil taxa). A small committee of volunteers (including both taxonomists and data managers) was brought together to decide upon the final candidates. The list is in no hierarchical order.

The final decisions reflect the immense diversity of animal groups in the marine environment (including crustaceans, corals, sponges, jellies and worms) and highlight some of the challenges facing the marine environment today. The final candidates also feature some particularly astonishing marine creatures, notable for their interest to both science and the public.

Each of these marine animals has a story. This year the chosen species cover the weird, the bewildering and the astonishing! We feature, amongst others, the cute-looking Fluffy Sponge Crab, the Japanese Retweet Mite (remember the Japanese Twitter Mite from the Top Ten 2021?), the mysterious King Ghidorah’s Branching Worm, the illustrious Satan’s Mud Dragon, and the 35 million year old Ballerina Sponge.

Image credit: Colin McLay and Western Australian Museum

This article was originally posted on the website of LifeWatch Belgium.

Voices of Women at LifeWatch ERIC for International Women’s Day

Voices of Women

In preparation for this year’s International Women’s Day, LifeWatch ERIC International Gender Officer, Africa Zanella, had a clear request: amplify women’s voices. As explored in the “Gender, Equity and Research” campaign for last year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, statistically, we know that while more women than ever are getting involved in STEM, there are significant obstacles still to overcome for women in research. 

In light of International Women’s Day 2023, we have therefore created a podcast miniseries specifically dedicated to learning more about authentic experiences of women working in LifeWatch ERIC fields of interest. We asked scientists from our eight member states to talk candidly about their work and experience. The guests were invited to speak in pairs, which produced spontaneous and insightful conversations on these topics, facilitated by LifeWatch ERIC podcast host, Julian Kenny. Being of all ages and hailing from a diversity of backgrounds, the end result produced is an enriching range of experiences and contemporary points of view of women working in research today. Listening to their voices, our eyes are opened to their contribution to society, to science, and the potential offered by the European Union’s Gender Equality Strategy, which LifeWatch ERIC actively supports and incorporates into its everyday work life.

The guests featured in “Voices of Women” are:

The episodes will be released over the course of the week beginning 6 March and will be consolidated with an overview and considerations from LifeWatch ERIC International Gender Officer, Africa Zanella, interviewed by Chief Communication Officer, Sara Montinaro, to be released on 8 March (International Women’s Day). This podcast will examine the progress of the infrastructure as a whole in terms of achieving gender sustainability and equity, a year on from the appointment of LifeWatch ERIC’s International Gender Officer, and explore future plans to continue the commendable and tangible work that she has already set in motion.

The podcasts are available here below. They can also be found on Spotify, Google, Apple, and Amazon.