Hic Sunt Lupi: a new project to monitor the return of wolves in Salento

Hic sunt leones“, although historically unclear, is an expression used in cartography to describe unexplored, unknown territory. Similarly, the Hic Sunt Lupi project aims to understand the causes of a hitherto unknown situation: the wolf’s return to Salento (Italy).

Partners of this project are Regione PugliaCNR-IRET, and the Sapienza University of Rome, which will implement it with the support of LifeWatch Italy, the National Biodiversity Future Center and the University of Salento.

In recent years, people have spotted several wolves in the Salento area. However, gathering data and understanding the situation better is crucial before taking any measures to manage this phenomenon. Where do they come from? Have they crossed with dogs?

Thanks to this project, researchers will start investigating and answering these and other questions. Data collected throughout the project will be hosted and made accessible to the scientific community through LifeWatch Italy web services, such as its Data Portal and MetaData Catalogue. Moreover, the Italian Node of the Research Infrastructure will also support citizens’ engagement thanks to its Citizen Science platform, where data coming from people’s observations will be collected, validated and hosted.

Why this project matters

“The wolf has a crucial role in local ecosystems” – explains Francesco Cozzoli, CNR-IRET researcher. Its presence can help renature heavily anthropised habitats in Salento. Also, it controls the populations of wild or feral animals like wild boar. Although it can be a catalyst for ecotourism, the presence of large carnivores can create management issues. 

Francesco De Leo, researcher at the CNR-IRET, says it’s crucial to comprehensively understand the local situation: “The wolf is a mammal that adapts to changes in its environment, including its diet and habits”. This knowledge will be the foundation for an informed and effective management plan.

Therefore, the Hic Sunt Lupi project will systematically monitor the Salento area to determine the wolves’ demography, distribution and diet, mainly through photo-trapping and scat collection. This phase is aimed at mapping wolves’ population in the area. Furthermore, studying their genetics will help to understand their origin, most likely the nearby Apennines. Also, the analysis will provide information on their family structure and the degree of hybridisation with domestic dogs, thanks to molecular analysis technologies and spatial modelling.

“In an era in which human beings have colonised a large part of the habitats of wildlife, the issue of coexistence with large predators, such as bears and wolves, arises with increasing urgency. The latter has started re-populating Salento and its presence is arousing curiosity and concern. In order to find a solution, we need to put aside prejudices and ideologies and rely on research, on science. This is why I strongly wanted this project.” – says the regional Councillor for Environment, Anna Grazia Maraschio – “The first step we can take is to know, in as much detail as possible, its presence in the Salento area, so that we have the necessary tools for any assessment”.

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.

LifeWatch Bulgaria Celebrates World Water Day

World Water Day

This year, several LifeWatch Bulgaria partners were heavily involved in World Water Day in Plovdiv, observed on 22 March. The LifeWatch Bulgaria Consortium joined in the colourful event, organised by the Municipality of Plovdiv, The Agricultural University-Plovdiv, the Regional Inspectorate of Environment and Water – Plovdiv, “Water Supply and Sewerage” Ltd. – Plovdiv and the East Aegean River Basin Directorate. This year’s theme was “Accelerating Change”, focusing on resolving the global drinking and wastewater crisis. The campaign encourages us to change the way we use and manage water resources. And because water affects us all, we need to take action to make this happen in a reasonable and sustainable way. All of us – everyone.

In fact, there was a big focus on raising awareness through citizen science, showcased by the large number of participants; nearly 400 children from kindergartens, schools and eco-clubs in the city took part in the celebration, with 36 educational institutions, institutions, institutions and organisations participating. Students from Plovdiv schools made models, presentations and drawings related to this year’s motto “Be the change you want to see in the world”. At the end of the celebration, students with the most interesting projects were given prizes. 

This year, a tradition was established for the Leader of the Bulgarian LifeWatch Consortium, the Agricultural University-Plovdiv, to celebrate World Water Day. The University had a stand, where lecturers from the Department of Agroecology and Environmental Protection, together with students majoring in Ecology and Environmental Protection, had prepared a quiz with facts about water. During the event, all curious people were presented with experiments through which they were acquainted with some of the properties of water.

The Green Balkans Organisation, a partner of the Bulgarian LifeWatch Consortium, also took part in the initiative, presenting information about the Natura 2000 ecological network and several waterfowl species – the Sandwich Tern, Red-breasted Goose and Pygmy Cormorant. Students had the opportunity to arrange the entertaining puzzle with the pygmy cormorant by answering the questions within it, and all visitors to Green Balkans’ table received informative materials and posters.

The event was also attended by LifeWatch Bulgaria colleagues from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, with information on birds and forests, and the International Movement “Save the Soil” presented interesting facts about biodiversity and how important water is for ecosystems.

Natura 2000 is the largest coordinated network for nature conservation. More than 30% of the territory of Bulgaria falls within the scope of the network – 120
protected areas for the conservation of wild birds and 234 protected areas for the conservation of natural habitats.

The Red-breasted Goose is a globally threatened and protected species, protected by the Natura 2000 ecological network. Bulgaria is an important place for the conservation of the species – almost the entire world population spends the winter in the region of Coastal Dobrudzha.

With only a few nesting grounds in the country, the Pygmy Cormorant is one of the three species of cormorants found in Bulgaria. The species is closely related to ponds and nests colonially, making it vulnerable to disturbance. One of the species most threatened with extinction, which is why it is strictly protected and protected by the Natura 2000 ecological network.

In Bulgaria, the Sandwich Tern nests only on Pomorie and Atanasovsko Lakes. Thanks to years of hard work, today the population of the species in Pomorie Lake is the largest on the Balkan Peninsula. Listed as an endangered species and included in the Birds Directive, the Sandwich Tern and its habitats are protected by the Natura 2000 ecological network.

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.

‘SeaWomen’ expedition studying orcas and whales above the Arctic circle

SeaWomen expedition

This winter, LifeWatch Belgium provided a key contribution to the citizen science initiative ‘SeaWomen’, an expedition studying marine ecosystem change, orca and whale behaviour in northern Norway, 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, during the winter herring run.

The expedition was unique in many ways. The international team of 34 was exclusively women, non-binary and two-spirit peoples, thereby empowering women and minority groups. In addition, the team represented very diverse backgrounds and skillsets that enabled an interdisciplinary programme of activity, connecting marine and wider environmental science with art, photography, storytelling and more, with the core aim of collecting new knowledge about marine ecosystems in the region and collectively raising awareness about the ocean, and the effects of climate change on the natural world.

LifeWatch Belgium and the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), including Dr Elisabeth Debusschere, contributed expertise and equipment to the ‘SeaWomen’ expedition, including the loaning of a Soundtrap HF 600 (Ocean instrument), a hydrophone to monitor underwater sound, marine mammal and other marine life vocalisations. This complemented a behaviour programme focused on killer whales (Orcinus orca) and included in-water winter snorkelling to obtain photos, videos and observations of the orcas and whales, together with marine environmental measurements including ocean physics (temperature and salinity profiles) and eDNA samples.

Dr Kate Larkin (marine expert at the European Marine Observation and Data Network Secretariat) was also onboard: “This expedition was a completely new approach to positive climate action. All of the women onboard were volunteers, with a common motivation to increase knowledge and societal understanding about the Ocean, and how the Ocean and marine ecosystem is changing as a result of human impact, ranging from climate change to human activities at sea such as fishing, tourism, shipping and more. It was a pleasure to collaborate with VLIZ and LifeWatch Belgium together with other partners and the diverse team of talented women, to make this expedition a reality.”

This article was originally posted on LifeWatch Belgium by Dr Kate Larkin (EMODnet) and Dr Elisabeth Debusschere (VLIZ).