Friday, July 31, 2015

[Paleontology • 2015] Evidence of Egg Diversity in Squamate Evolution from Cretaceous Anguimorph Embryos

Fig 1. Material and geological settings.
  A, map of Thailand showing outcrops of the Sao Khua Formation (in green) and B, close-up on north-eastern-Thailand with location of Phu Phok; C, and photograph of 4 of the eggs from Phu Phok (SK1-1, SK1-2, SK1-3 and SK1-4).
Scale bar, 1 cm. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128610

Fig 2. Three-dimensional rendering of two fossil eggs and their enclosed embryonic bones from Phu Phok.
A, SK1-2. B, SK1-1. Colours: red, skull and mandible; yellow, vertebrae; grey, ribs; green, pectoral and pelvic girdle; blue, limbs.
Scale bar, 5 mm.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128610

4 of the eggs from Phu Phok (SK1-1, SK1-2, SK1-3 and SK1-4)


Lizards are remarkable amongst amniotes, for they display a unique mosaic of reproduction modes ranging from egg-laying to live-bearing. Within this patchwork, geckoes are believed to represent the only group to ever have produced fully calcified rigid-shelled eggs, contrasting with the ubiquitous parchment shelled-eggs observed in other lineages. However, this hypothesis relies only on observations of modern taxa and fossilised gecko-like eggshells which have never been found in association with any embryonic or parental remains. We report here the first attested fossil eggs of lizards from the Early Cretaceous of Thailand, combining hard eggshells with exquisitely preserved embryos of anguimoph (e.g. Komodo dragons, mosasaurs). These fossils shed light on an apparently rare reproduction strategy of squamates, demonstrate that the evolution of rigid-shelled eggs are not an exclusive specialization of geckoes, and suggest a high plasticity in the reproductive organs mineralizing eggshells.

Fig 4. Skull and mandible of the anguimorph embryos from Phu Phok.

Fig 6. Comparison of the ossification extension of several postcranial components from the embryos SK1-1 and SK1-2.
The vertebral elements compared (both pre- and post-sacral), as well as the rib, are the largest ones from the eggs SK1-1 and SK1-2. In the pectoral girdle, SK1-1 shows an advance degree of ossification notably in the extension of the procoracoid, the ventral margin of the glenoid fossa and the blade of the scapula. Ossification toward epiphyses of the humerus is more advanced in SK1-1.
Scale bar, 1 mm.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128610

Material and Geological Setting: 
The fossilized eggs presented here were surface collected by an international team led by one of us (V.S), from red siltstones of the Sao Khua Formation at the locality of Phu Phok (SK1), Sakhon Nakhorn Province, north-eastern Thailand (Fig 1). In total seven eggs have been discovered from this locality during the course of different official field campaigns of the Royal Thai Department of Mineral Resources (DMR): five eggs were discovered in 2002 and 2003 (specimen SK1-1 to SK1-5); specimen SK1-6 and SK1-7 were discovered in 2007 and 2008 respectively. As it was poorly preserved, specimen SK1-5 was thin sectioned for characterization of the eggshell. No nesting structure was observable although the eggs were scattered in the sediment over a relatively small area (about 2 sq.m). No permits were necessary. The DMR is a governmental organisation which has permission to do fieldwork upon acceptance of the land owner. The locality of Phu Phok belongs to the Thai government and therefore no permit was necessary for prospection and collection at the site. While the current legislation stipulates the necessity of permits to transport fossils out of Thailand, it was not the case at the time the fossils were collected (in 2005). Since then, the fossils have been returned to the collection of the Sirindhorn Museum in Phu Kum Khao (Sahatsakhan District, Kalasin Province, Thailand). Therefore no permits were necessary for prospection or for transportation which complied with all relevant regulations.

The Sao Khua formation is mainly characterised by floodplain deposits including sandstone, siltstone and mudstone, together with common calcretes which reflects a low-energy fluvial environment. The Sao Khua Formation is part of the Khorat Group, the latter consisting of a series of five non-marine formations deposited in a thermal sag basin during the Late Jurassic-Early Cretaceous. The accompanying fauna includes fishes, turtles, crocodilians and dinosaurs. Palynological evidence suggested a Berriasian-Barremian age for the Sao Khua Formation. A late Barremian age is indicated by freshwater bivalves. While the fauna from the older Phu Kradung Formation and the younger Khok Kruat Formation show some resemblance with their contemporaneous counterparts from Asia, the peculiar fauna of the Sao Khua Formation suggests that the Khorat region was somehow isolated from the main Eurasian continent.

The discovery of anguimorph embryos inside rigid-shelled eggs was rather unexpected as this mode of reproduction was thought to be an exclusive specialisation of gekkonid among squamates (Fig 9). The similarities observed between the rigid-shelled eggs of modern gekkonids and the Phu Phok anguimorphs are likely the result of an evolutionary convergence as leathery-shelled eggs are predominant in all other squamate clades (Fig 9). Unlike rigid-shelled eggs, eggs of most oviparous squamates present a leathery aspect which consists of a variable and thin coating of calcite overlying a fibrous shell membrane. The rigid type of eggshell presents a similar pattern but differs in having a thicker calcitic layer, allowing notably oviposition in drier environments. The squamate oviduct is known to produce eggs with variable amount of calcite, even at the intraspecific level. This modularity in calcite secretion is considered as one of the key aspects that lead to egg retention through thinning of the calcitic layer, in most major squamate clades. The Phu Phok anguimorphs, on the other hand, demonstrate that the plasticity of the oviduct bears the possibility to increase the calcitic component which occurred at least twice over the evolution of squamates. Consequently, while rigid-shelled eggs produced by squamates present a unique microstructure among amniotes, it is currently impossible to retrieve more detailed taxonomical information from fossilised isolated eggshell of squamates.

Taxonomical interpretation of isolated eggs based on eggshell microstructure has lead to misidentification on several occasions. More recently, a new approach based on egg geometry also concluded that taxonomical identification of fossil eggs based on the shape could be problematic. While the presence of embryonic remains seems the less questionable way to address a taxonomical identification, poorly ossified embryonic material can lead to a limited taxonomical identification or misinterpretation. Eventually, only exceptional preservation of well-ossified embryonic material provides adequate taxonomical information to address questions on the evolution of squamate reproduction modes.

Fig 7. Eggshell morphology and microstructure of the eggs from Phu Phok.
A, 3D rendering of a portion of the surface of the eggshell of SK1-2 showing the distribution of nodes. B, tomogram of SK1-1 showing two eggshell fragments that slid in the egg, outer surfaces oriented to the top of the figure. The inner half of both shell fragments is displayed in darker shades of grey indicating the shell is less dense than the whiter outer half. Unlike micrographed thin sections (Fig 7), the funnel-shaped depression (d) do not seem to be obstructed. The pore canals (p) are highlighted by the edge interference resulting from the phase contrast effect (black and white fringes). C-D, SEM photographs of an eggshell fragment showing the fan-shaped pattern of crystal at the level of a surface node (n). Not the fibrous layer (f) underlining the eggshell. D, close up from C.
Scale bars (A, B), 500 μm.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128610

Fig 9. Known eggshell types across a simplified time-calibrated lepidosaur phylogeny based after morphological studies.
APhu Phok embryos are tentatively placed in an unresolved trichotomy with shinisaurids and varanoids. B-E, schemas of known lepidosaur eggshell types: semi-rigid, loosely connected calcite columns embedded in the shell membrane (B, modified from Packard et al.). Examples: Tuatara (Rhynchocephalia: Sphenodon punctatus) and Bearded lizard (Agamidae: Pogona barbata); leathery, shell membrane often covered with thin calcitic elements. Examples: the wall lizard (Scincomorpha: Lacerta lepida), zebra-tailed lizard (Iguania: Callisaurus draconoides); (C); rigid, well-connected adjacent calcitic columns covering a thin shell membrane. Example: Gekko gecko; (D); Phu Phok, similar to the rigid type, developed in an undulatory pattern, covering a thin structure interpreted as the shell membrane (E).
Abbreviations: a, amorphous layer; c, calcite component; p, pore canal; sm, shell membrane.

Vincent Fernandez , Eric Buffetaut, Varavudh Suteethorn, Jean-Claude Rage, Paul Tafforeau and Martin Kundrát. 2015. Evidence of Egg Diversity in Squamate Evolution from Cretaceous Anguimorph Embryos. PLoS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128610

[Herpetology • 2015] Repeated Evolution of Sympatric, Palaeoendemic Species in Closely Related, Co-Distributed Lineages of Hemiphyllodactylus Bleeker, 1860 (Squamata: Gekkonidae) Across A Sky-Island Archipelago in Peninsular Malaysia

Figure 1. B, Bayesian time tree for the Hemiphyllodactylus harterti group. C, Distribution of the H. harterti group in Peninsular Malaysia.
Figure 2. Dorsal and ventral view of the holotype of Hemiphyllodactylus bintik sp. nov. (LSUHC 11216).
Grismer, Wood, Anuar, et al. 2015 |

A time-calibrated phylogenetic tree indicates that the evolution of sympatric, montane, endemic species from closely related, co-distributed lineages of the Hemiphyllodactylus harterti group were not the result of rapid, forest-driven, climatic oscillations of the Last Glacial Maximum, but rather the result of infrequent episodes of environmental fluctuation during the Late Miocene. This hypothesis is supported by genetic divergences (based on the mitochondrial gene ND2) between the three major lineages of the H. harterti group (17.5–25.1%), their constituent species (9.4–14.3%), and the evolution of discrete, diagnostic, morphological, and colour pattern characteristics between each species. Sister species pairs from two of the three lineages occur in sympatry on mountain tops from opposite sides of the Thai–Malay Peninsula, but the lineages to which each pair belongs are not sister lineages. A newly discovered species from Gunung Tebu, Terengganu State, Hemiphyllodactylus bintik sp. nov., is described. 

Keywords: climate; Hemiphyllodactylus bintik sp. nov.; Malaysia; montane; new species; palaeoendemic; sympatric species

Figure 1. A, Bayesian time tree for Hemiphyllodactylus with 95% highest posterior density (95% HPD) intervals for major nodes represented by purple bars. Black circles at nodes are posterior probabilities ≥ 0.95; grey circles at nodes are posterior probabilities < 0.95. B, Bayesian time tree for the Hemiphyllodactylus harterti group. C, Distribution of the H. harterti group in Peninsular Malaysia.
Grismer, Wood, Anuar, et al. 2015 |

Grismer, L. L., Wood, P. L., Jr., Anuar, S., Quah, E. S. H., Muin, M. A.,  Chan, K. O., Sumarli, A. X., and Loredo, A. I. 2015. Repeated Evolution of Sympatric, Palaeoendemic Species in Closely Related, Co-Distributed Lineages of Hemiphyllodactylus Bleeker, 1860 (Squamata: Gekkonidae) Across A Sky-Island Archipelago in Peninsular Malaysia. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 174(4), 859–876. DOI: 10.1111/zoj.12254

Thursday, July 30, 2015

[Mammalogy • 2015] Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species; Canis anthus & C. aureus, respectively

• African and Eurasian golden jackals are genetically distinct lineages
• Divergence between lineages is concordant across multiple molecular markers
• Morphologic convergence is observed between African and Eurasian golden jackals
• African golden jackals merit recognition as a distinct species

The golden jackal of Africa (Canis aureus) has long been considered a conspecific of jackals distributed throughout Eurasia, with the nearest source populations in the Middle East. However, two recent reports found that mitochondrial haplotypes of some African golden jackals aligned more closely to gray wolves (Canis lupus), which is surprising given the absence of gray wolves in Africa and the phenotypic divergence between the two species. Moreover, these results imply the existence of a previously unrecognized phylogenetically distinct species despite a long history of taxonomic work on African canids. To test the distinct-species hypothesis and understand the evolutionary history that would account for this puzzling result, we analyzed extensive genomic data including mitochondrial genome sequences, sequences from 20 autosomal loci (17 introns and 3 exon segments), microsatellite loci, X- and Y-linked zinc-finger protein gene (ZFX and ZFY) sequences, and whole-genome nuclear sequences in African and Eurasian golden jackals and gray wolves. Our results provide consistent and robust evidence that populations of golden jackals from Africa and Eurasia represent distinct monophyletic lineages separated for more than one million years, sufficient to merit formal recognition as different species: Canis anthus (African golden wolf) and C. aureus (Eurasian golden jackal). Using morphologic data, we demonstrate a striking morphologic similarity between East African and Eurasian golden jackals, suggesting parallelism, which may have misled taxonomists and likely reflects uniquely intense interspecific competition in the East African carnivore guild. Our study shows how ecology can confound taxonomy if interspecific competition constrains size diversification.

A Golden Jackal (Canis anthus) from Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Based on genomic results, the researchers suggest this animal be referred to as the African Golden Wolf, which is distinct from the Eurasian Golden Jackal (Canis aureus).
photo: D. Gordon E. Robertson

Klaus-Peter Koepfli, John Pollinger, Raquel Godinho, Jacqueline Robinson, Amanda Lea, Sarah Hendricks, Rena M. Schweizer, Olaf Thalmann, Pedro Silva, Zhenxin Fan, Andrey A. Yurchenko, Pavel Dobrynin, Alexey Makunin, James A. Cahill, Beth Shapiro, Francisco Álvares, José C. Brito, Eli Geffen, Jennifer A. Leonard, Kristofer M. Helgen, Warren E. Johnson, Stephen J. O’Brien, Blaire Van Valkenburgh and Robert K. Wayne. 2015. Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species. Current Biology, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.060

In Brief: Koepfli et al. assess divergence between golden jackals (Canis aureus) from Africa and Eurasia using data from the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes. They show that African and Eurasian golden jackals are genetically distinct and independent lineages, and that African golden jackals likely represent a separate species.

'Golden jackals' of East Africa are actually 'golden wolves' via @physorg_com

'Golden jackals' of East Africa are actually 'golden wolves' 
Despite their remarkably similar appearance, the 'golden jackals' of East Africa and Eurasia are actually two entirely different species. The discovery, based on DNA evidence, increases the overall biodiversity of the Canidae -- the group including dogs, wolves, foxes, and jackals -- from 35 living species to 36.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

[Botany • 2015] A New Species, A New Combination And A New Subsection of Cycas from Odisha, northern Eastern Ghats of India; Cycas nayagarhensis, C. orixensis & Orixenses subsect. nov.

Figure 5. Cycas nayagarhensis R. Singh, P. Radha and J.S. Khuraijam sp.nov.
A. Robust habit, B-C. Male cone. D. Magnified portion of male showing sterile apex. E. Microsporophyll with forked sterile apex. F-I. Microsporophylls (F. upper surface. G. lower surface, H. lateral view, and I. lower view showing lateral spines).
Scale bar: 1 cm

Cycas circinalis var. orixensis Haines (Cycadaceae) is raised to species rank and a new species, Cycas nayagarhensis is described and illustrated from the state of Odisha in the northern Eastern Ghats of India. Both of these Odisha Cycas species described here, have characteristic megasporophylls having spinescent lateral teeth and a spear-like long apical spine. Male cones are the most peculiar in having microsporophylls with upturned, one to variously forked apical spines. Cycas nayagarhensis is distinguished from C. orixensis by its massive arborescent stem, large male cones, with microsporophylls having entire or variously forked apical spine and radially compressed ovules. A comparative table of the northern Eastern Ghats Cycas and a key to all the Indian species are provided. The infrageneric classification of the genus Cycas is modified and a new Subsection Orixenses under Section Cycas is created here to accommodate these two morphologically distinct endemic taxa from Odisha. 

Key words: Cycas orixensis, Cycas nayagarhensis, Eastern Ghats, Odisha, India

Rita Singh, P. Radha and J.S. Khuraijam. 2015. A New Species, A New Combination And A New Subsection of Cycas from Odisha, northern Eastern Ghats of India. Asian Journal of Conservation Biology. 4(1); 3-14.

New endangered species of plants of Dinosaur age discovered from Odisha

Subsection Orixenses R. Singh and J.S. Khuraijam, subsect. nov. contains C. orixensis (Haines) R. Singh & J.S. Khuraijam comb. et. stat. nov. and C. nayagarhensis R. Singh, P. Radha & J.S. Khuraijam sp.nov.

[Ichthyology • 2015] Why is Pseudosphromenus cupanus (Teleostei: Osphronemidae) reported from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Pakistan?

 (a) Pseudosphromenus cupanus, NRM 40344, 27.1 mm SL, India, Kolkata, ornamental fish farm;
(b) P. dayi, NRM 12069, 22.7 mm SL, India, Kerala, Kottayam; (c) P. dayi, living specimen in aquarium, ca 40 mm SL;
(d) Badis badis, image used as illustration of Pseudosphromenus cupanus in Rahman & Ruma (2007), slightly adjusted. Photo by Gawsia W. Chowdhury


The native distribution of the small labyrinth fish species Pseudosphromenus cupanus includes southern India and Sri Lanka. According to literature it has a range including also Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Indonesia (Sumatra) but there are no voucher specimens or reliable observations from those areas. The distribution record of Pcupanus was inflated partly by including Pdayi as a synonym. Pseudosphronemus dayi is native to the Western Ghats in India, but the origin of the aquarium importation in 1907 was reported as both Cochin (=Kochi) and Malacca (=Malaysia), the latter locality obviously in error. The basis for the Sumatra record is an obviously mislabeled sample of Pdayi from Pulau Weh close to Sumatra. The basis for reporting the species from Pakistan, Myanmar or Bangladesh could not be located. Misidentified museum specimens from Myanmar and Pakistan identified as P. cupanus were never published on. Pseudosphromenus cupanus has been considered recently to be extinct in Bangladesh, but in fact it never occurred there.

Keywords: Asia, Freshwater, Geographical distribution, Threat status

Kullander, Sven O., MD. M. Rahman, Michael Norén & Abdur R. Mollah. 2015. Why is Pseudosphromenus cupanus (Teleostei: Osphronemidae) reported from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Pakistan? Zootaxa. 3990(4): 575–583. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3990.4.6

Monday, July 27, 2015

[Botany • 2015] Drosera magnifica • The Largest New World Sundew (Droseraceae), discovered on Facebook

Drosera magnifica
P.M. Gonella, F. Rivadavia & A. Fleischmann

Drosera magnifica
Illustrations: Rogério Lupo


Drosera magnifica, a microendemic sundew discovered on a single mountain top in eastern Minas Gerais (southeastern Brazil), is described here as a new species for science. Regarded as the largest New World sundew and one of the three largest Drosera species, it was just recently discovered through photographs posted on the social network Facebook. A detailed description, remarks on ecology, habitat, and conservation, a distribution map, line drawings, and photographs are provided, as well as a comparison between the related taxa (Drosera graminifolia and D. spiralis). The species is considered Critically Endangered, according to the IUCN Red List categories and criteria.

Keywords: carnivorous plants, Critically Endangered, Drosera graminifolia, microendemic, new species, Eudicots, Brazil

Paulo Minatel Gonella, Fernando Rivadavia and Andreas Fleischmann. 2015. Drosera magnifica (Droseraceae): The Largest New World Sundew, discovered on Facebook. Phytotaxa. 220 (3): 257–267. DOI: 10.11646/phytotaxa.220.3.4

Sunday, July 19, 2015

[Herpetology • 2015] Morphological and Molecular Review of the Gekko Diversity of Laos with Descriptions of Three New Species from Khammouane Province, central Laos; Gekko bonkowskii, G. sengchanthavongi & G. boehmei

FIGURE 5. Map showing the type locality (black circle) of three new species of Gekko in Khammouane Province, central Laos.
Fig. 2: Gekko bonkowskiiFig. 8: G. sengchanthavongi; Fig. 10: G. boehmei 
Luu, Calame, Nguyen, Le & Ziegler, 2015


A review of the taxonomy, phylogeny, zoogeography, and ecology of the genus Gekko in Laos is provided based on morphological and molecular datasets. Three new species, which are both morphologically distinctive and molecularly divergent from described congeners, are described from Khammouane Province, central Laos: two members of the G. japonicus group, Gekko bonkowskii sp. nov. and Gekko sengchanthavongi sp. nov., and another member of the G. petricolus group, Gekko boehmei sp. nov. Gekko bonkowskii sp. nov. is closely related to the recently described G. thakekensis, which also occurs in Khammouane Province. Gekko sengchanthavongi sp. nov. is supported as a sister taxon to G. scientiadventura and Gekko boehmei sp. nov. is recovered as a sister species to G. petricolus. In addition, a key to the currently recognized members of the genus Gekko from Laos is provided.

Keywords: Gekko, morphology, taxonomy, molecular phylogeny, Khammouane Province, Laos, karst forest

Rösler et al. (2011) provided a review of the taxonomy, phylogeny, and zoogeography of all currently recognized Gekko species based on morphological and molecular datasets. These authors assigned the members of the genus Gekko to six species groups, namely the G. gecko, G. japonicus, G. monarchus, G. petricolus, G. porosus, and G. vittatus groups. However, the genus Gekko Laurent, 1768 still remains a comparatively poorly researched lizard group, as new species are continuously described. One hot spot of Gekko diversity within Southeast Asia is Vietnam, with 13 currently recognized species: G. adleri Nguyen, Wang, Yang, Lehmann, Le, Ziegler & Bonkowski, G. badenii Szczerbak & Nekrasova, G. canaensis Ngo & Gamble, G. canhi Rösler, Nguyen, Doan, Ho & Ziegler, G. gecko (Linnaeus), G. grossmanni Günther, G. palmatus Boulenger, G. reevesii (Gray, 1831), G. russelltraini Ngo, Bauer, Wood & Grismer, G. scientiadventura Rösler, Ziegler, Vu, Herrmann & Böhme, G. takouensis Ngo & Gamble, G. truongi Phung & Ziegler, and G. vietnamensis Nguyen (see Rösler et al. 2011; Phung & Ziegler 2011; Nguyen et al. 2013). In comparison, the diversity of Gekko in Laos is still underestimated, with only five recognized species so far, namely Gekko gecko (Linnaeus), G. scientiadventura Rösler, Ziegler, Vu, Hermann & Böhme (Teynié et al. 2004), G. petricolus Taylor (Bain & Hurley 2011), G. thakhekensis Luu, Calame, Nguyen, Le, Bonkowski & Ziegler, and G. aaronbaueri Ngo, Pham, Phimvohan, David & Teynié (see Table 1).

During our recent field work in central Laos between 2013 and 2014, three unnamed Gekko populations were found in the karst forest of Khammouane Province. Two of them, from the karst forests around Bualapha and Thakhek towns, could be assigned to the Gekko japonicus group sensu Rösler et al. (2011) based on the following morphological characters: size moderate (SVL 58.2–99.2 mm); nares touching rostral; 0–21 dorsal tubercle rows at midbody; 0–32 precloacal pores; 1–4 postcloacal tubercles present; weakly developed webbing between fingers and toes; the absence of lateral fold tubercles; enlarged subcaudals; dorsal surface with blotches and bands (see Rösler et al. 2011; Nguyen et al. 2013; Luu et al. 2014). The third population from Bualapha town revealed to be a representative of the Gekko petricolus group sensu Rösler et al. (2011) based on the following morphological characters: size moderate (SVL 82.9–108.5 mm); nares in contact with rostral; three nasals; postmentals relatively large; dorsal tubercle rows 8–18; precloacal pores 8–15; postcloacal tubercles 1–3; webbing between fingers and toes absent; hind limb tubercles present; lateral fold tubercles absent; subcaudals enlarged; dorsal pattern of head and body more or less symmetrically blotched (see Rösler et al. 2011). However, all three taxa are clearly distinguished from the remaining species of the Gekko japonicus and Gekko petricolus species groups by a combination of differing morphological features together with molecular phylogenetic divergence based on the mitochondrial NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 (ND2) gene (approximately 6.8 to 9.0 %). We thus describe these taxa as new species.

Gekko bonkowskii sp. nov. 

Etymology. The new Gekko species is named after Professor Dr. Michael Bonkowski from the Zoological Institute, University of Cologne, Germany to acknowledge his engagement for herpetological and ecological research in the Indochina region. We suggest as common names: Bonkowski’s Gecko (English), Kap Ke Bonkowski (Laotian), and Bonkowskis Gecko (German).

Natural history. Specimens of Gekko bonkowskii were found at night between 20:00 and 21:00 on the tree trunk of shrubs, about 1.0–1.5 m above the ground, near the entrance of a karst cave at an elevation of 146 m a.s.l. Surrounding habitat was secondary forest of small hardwood and shrubs near a village (ca. 20 m) and about 40 m from the main road. The crepuscular or nocturnal new species co-occurs with at least two other gecko species in the same karstic microhabitat: Gekko gecko and the recently described bent-toed gecko Cyrtodactylus jaegeri (Luu et al. 2014). We also found the large huntsman spider species Heteropoda maxima (Jaeger) in the immediate vicinity of the observed gecko species (Fig. 6).

Gekko sengchanthavongi sp. nov. 

Etymology. We name the new species in honour of Mr. Sinnasone Sengchanthavong, Natural Resources and Environment Department of Khammouane Province, Laos, in recognition of his great support of our field research in Hin Nam No NPA. As common names, we suggest Sengchanthavong’s Gecko (English), Kap Ke Sengchanthavong (Laotian), and Sengchanthavongis Gecko (German).
Natural history. Specimens of G. sengchanthavongi were collected on karst walls at night from 20:00 to 21:30 during small rain, ca. 1.5–4 m above the ground, at an elevation of ca. 210 m a.s.l. The surrounding area was disturbed secondary forest (Fig. 8).

Gekko boehmei sp. nov. 

Etymology. The specific epithet honors Professor Dr. Wolfgang Böhme from the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig (ZFMK), Bonn, Germany to acknowledge his great contributions to herpetological research. In particular we dedicate the new species to Wolfgang on the occasion of his 70th birthday. We suggest as common names: Boehme’s Gecko (English), Kap Ke Boehme (Laotian), and Böhmes Gecko (German).

Natural history. The specimens of Gekko boehmei were collected on karst walls between 20:00 and 21:00 after heavy rain, from 1.5 to 3 m above the forest floor, at an elevation of 196 m. The location was close to rice fields and about 100 m distant from the main road (Fig. 10).

Key to members of the genus Gekko reported from Laos 

1     SVL > 160 mm; nares in contact with rostral only; iris yellow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .G. gecko gecko 
1’    SVL < 160 mm; nares in contact with rostral and first supralabial; iris not yellow   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
2     SVL < 80 mm, dorsal tubercles absent . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
2’    SVL >80 mm, dorsal tubercles present. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . .   7
3     Interorbitals 41–51; scale rows around midbody 139–143   . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . G. scientiadventura
3’    Less than 41 interorbitals; less than 139 scale rows around midbody  . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . .   4
4     Scale rows around midbody 120–135 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . G. sengchanthavongi sp. nov.
4’    Less than 120 scale rows around midbody . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . .   5
5     Interorbitals 34–37; scale rows around midbody 98–104 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .G. aaronbaueri
5’    Less than 34 interorbitals; more than 104 scale rows around midbody  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
6     SVL 79 mm; interorbitals 26–27; scale rows around midbody 110–116, praecloacal pores 1–5; irregular blotches  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  G. thakhekensis
6’    SVL 69 mm; interorbitals 22–26; scale rows around midbody 117; praecloacal pores 6, regular blotches  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . .G. bonkowskii sp. nov.
7     SVL 101 mm; interorbitals 36–38; scale rows around midbody 152–156 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . G. petricolus
7’    SVL 95 mm; interorbitals 27–32; scale rows around midbody 104–114 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . G. boehmei sp. nov.

Luu, Vinh Q., Thomas Calame, Truong Q. Nguyen, Minh D. Le and Thomas Ziegler. 2015. Morphological and Molecular Review of the Gekko Diversity of Laos with Descriptions of Three New Species. Zootaxa. 3986(3): 279–306. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3986.3.2

[Botany • 2015] Nine New Zingiber Species (Zingiberaceae) from Vietnam

Zingiber lecongkietii Škorničk. & H.Đ.Trần
A. Habit. B. Pseudostem and detail of ligules (front and back view). C. Inflorescence (side view). D. Inflorescence (top view). E. Flower (front view).
Photo: Jana Leong-Škorničková.

Nine new Zingiber species from Vietnam are reported here. Of these, Z. lecongkietii belongs to the sect. Cryptanthium, five species, Z. atroporphyreus, Z. cardiocheilum, Z. castaneum, Z. mellis and Z. plicatum, are terminally flowering species belonging to the sect. Dymczewiczia, and three species, Z. discolor, Z. microcheilum and Z. yersinii, belong to sect. Zingiber. Detailed descriptions, colour plates and preliminary IUCN assessments are given for all species. As the five terminally flowering novelties more than double the previously known number of species in the Z. sect. Dymczewiczia in Vietnam, a key to this section is provided.

Keywords: Zingiber atroporphyreus, Z. cardiocheilum, Z. castaneum, Z. discolor, Z. lecongkietii, Z. mellis, Z. microcheilum, Z. plicatum, Z. yersinii

Jana Leong-Skornickova, Quốc Bình Nguyễn, Hữu Đăng Trần, Otakar Šída, Romana Rybková and Bá Vương Trương. 2015. Nine New Zingiber Species (Zingiberaceae) from Vietnam. Phytotaxa. 219(3): 201–220. DOI: 10.11646/phytotaxa.219.3.1

Friday, July 17, 2015

[Herpetology • 2015] Platysaurus attenboroughi • A New Species of Spectacularly Coloured Flat Lizard Platysaurus (Squamata: Cordylidae: Platysaurinae) from southern Africa

Platysaurus attenboroughi
  Whiting, Branch, Pepper & Keogh, 2015
Attenborough’s Flat Lizard | Attenborough se Platakkedis || DOI: 11646/zootaxa.3986.2.2 ||

We describe a new species of flat lizard (Platysaurus attenboroughi sp. nov.) from the Richtersveld of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa and the Fish River Canyon region of southern Namibia. This species was formerly confused with P. capensis from the Kamiesberg region of Namaqualand, South Africa. Genetic analysis based on one mtDNA and two nDNA loci found Platysaurus attenboroughi sp. nov. to be genetically divergent from P. capensis and these species can also be differentiated by a number of scalation characters, coloration and their allopatric distributions. To stabilize the taxonomy the type locality of Platysaurus capensis A. Smith 1844 is restricted to the Kamiesberg region, Namaqualand, Northern Cape Province, South Africa.

Keywords: Reptilia, southern Africa, lizard, new species, reptile, Platysaurus attenboroughi sp. nov., Platysaurus capensis

Platysaurus attenboroughi sp. nov.
English: Attenborough’s Flat Lizard
Afrikaans: Attenborough se Platakkedis

Synonymy. Platysaurus capensis (part). FitzSimons, 1935: 535; 1943: 473; Loveridge, 1944: 97; Rose, 1950: 155; 1962: 156; Broadley, 1978: 157; Branch, 1998: 165; Van Wyk & Mouton, 1996: 117; Whiting, 2014: 214.

Distribution. Along the lower Orange River from Goodhouse to the Richtersveld, extending north into Namibia and recorded from the Hunsberg, Huamsib and Ploegberg mountains and the Fish River Canyon (Figure 1).

Habitat and climate. Platysaurus attenboroughi sp. nov. occurs in the arid-subtropical region of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa and southern Namibia and specifically within the Gariep Desert Bioregion (Mucina & Rutherford, 2006). This is an arid area characterized by low and erratic summer rainfall. Summers are typically hot and dry. Like all flat lizards, they are dependent on rock (mostly granite in this area) and take refuge in narrow rock fissures where they can escape suboptimal temperatures and predators. These areas are largely devoid of significant vegetation bar the occasional fig tree (Ficus) or succulent. For more detailed descriptions of climate, vegetation and topography see Mucina & Rutherford (2006).

Natural history and behaviour. In South Africa, it is mainly restricted to the Richtersveld region (Bauer & Branch, 2001; Whiting, 2014). There it is widespread and common in boulder-strewn areas and on broad rock faces, often far from river courses (e.g. Tierhoek). It does not form the high density populations recorded for P. broadleyi (MJW unpubl. data). All Platysaurus have a fixed clutch of two eggs (Broadley, 1978). The reproductive cycles of P. capensis, P. broadleyi and P. attenboroughi sp. nov. were collectively studied when these were considered a single species (Van Wyk & Mouton, 1996). The minimum size at sexual maturity is 64 mm (sex not specified); eggs are likely laid in summer (November–December) (Van Wyk & Mouton, 1996). While we know
very little about the diet of P. attenboroughi sp. nov., the closely related P. broadleyi is an omnivore and lives in similar habitat. The marked sexual dichromatism suggests a classic sexual selection system in which males compete heavily for females, as is the case in P. broadleyi (Whiting et al., 2003; Whiting et al., 2006). Males do have UV-reflective throats, which suggests a role of this colour signal in either settling contests (as in P. broadleyi) or in mate choice, although this remains to be tested. In the two males we measured, their throats had violet and blue and less pure UV than we would typically see in adult male P. broadleyi (Figure 5) (Whiting et al., 2006). Measurement of spectral reflectance in additional individuals is necessary for a proper comparison.

Etymology. We name this new species in honour of Sir David F. Attenborough (Fig. 3), in recognition of his immense contribution to the public understanding and appreciation of animals, plants, ecosystems and nature in general. David Attenborough made flat lizards, specifically the closely related Platysaurus broadleyi, famous in the BBC documentary series Life in Cold Blood.

Whiting, Martin J., William R. Branch, Mitzy Pepper & J. S. Keogh. 2015. A New Species of Spectacularly Coloured Flat Lizard Platysaurus (Squamata: Cordylidae: Platysaurinae) from southern Africa. Zootaxa. 3986(2): 173–192. DOI: 11646/zootaxa.3986.2.2

New African flat lizard named for David Attenborough



Thursday, July 16, 2015

[Paleontology • 2015] Zhenyuanlong suni • A Large, Short-armed, Winged Dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Early Cretaceous of China and Its Implications for Feather Evolution

Zhenyuanlong suni  Lü & Brusatte, 2015

The famous ‘feathered dinosaurs’ from the Early Cretaceous of Liaoning Province, northeastern China, include several dromaeosaurids, which are among the closest relatives of birds. Most of these are small-bodied taxa with long arms and broad wings comprised of vaned feathers, but a single specimen (the holotype of Tianyuraptor) belongs to a much larger individual with reduced forelimbs, which unfortunately lacks any preserved integument. We describe a new specimen of large-bodied, short-armed Liaoning dromaeosaurid, which we designate as a new genus and species, Zhenyuanlong suni. The integument is well preserved and provides the first evidence of feather morphologies and distribution in a short-armed (and probably non-volant) dromaeosaurid, indicating that these rare and aberrant taxa had large wings consisting of pennaceous feathers on the arms and long pennaceous feathers on the tail very similar to their smaller and longer-armed relatives, but potentially lacked vaned feathers on the legs. Zhenyuanlong adds yet more diversity to the Liaoning dromaeosaurid fauna, helps further reveal a distinct short-armed bauplan among dromaeosaurids, and illuminates previously-unrecognized homoplasy that complicates dromaeosaurid phylogeny and suggests that the Liaoning taxa may not have formed their own clade.

An artist’s impression of the new short-armed and winged feathered dinosaur Zhenyuanlong suni found in China and from the early Cretaceous period (125m years ago).
illustration: Chuang Zhao || doi: 10.1038/srep11775

Figure 1: The holotype of the large-bodied, short-armed Liaoning dromaeosaurid Zhenyuanlong suni gen et. sp. nov. (JPM-0008).

Systematic palaeontology
Dinosauria Owen 1842. 
Saurischia Seeley 1887. 

Theropoda Marsh 1881. 
Coelurosauria Huene 1914. 

Maniraptora Gauthier 1986. 
Dromaeosauridae Matthew and Brown 1922. 

Zhenyuanlong suni gen. et sp. nov.

Etymology: Long”, from the Chinese Pinyin, means dragon. The generic and specific names are in honor of Mr. Zhenyuan Sun, who secured the specimen for study.

Holotype: A nearly complete skeleton with skull and lower jaws preserved (JPM-0008), curated at the Jinzhou Paleontlogical museum. It is likely a sub-adult, as neural arches and centra are not fused in some anterior dorsal vertebrae and the sacral vertebrae, and the anterior sacral vertebrae are not completely fused to each other. The individual is fairly mature, however, as the more posterior sacrals are fused to each other and the neural arches and centra of the cervical vertebra, caudal vertebrae, and some dorsal vertebrae are fused.

Type Locality and Horizon: Sihedang of Jianchang County, Liaoning Province; Yixian Formation

Figure 4: The integument of the large-bodied, short-armed Liaoning dromaeosaurid Zhenyuanlong suni gen et. sp. nov. (JPM-0008).
(A) overview of the skeleton with regions of integument indicated with grey highlight; (B) proximal tail; (C) left forearm; (D) right forearm; (E) closeup of coverts on right forearm.

Figure 5: Phylogenetic relationships of Zhenyuanlong suni among dromaeosaurid theropods.

Junchang Lü and Stephen L. Brusatte. 2015. A Large, Short-armed, Winged Dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Early Cretaceous of China and Its Implications for Feather Evolution. Scientific Reports. 5, 11775 doi: 10.1038/srep11775

Paleo Profile: Zhenyuanlong suni via @ngphenomena
Zhenyuanlong suni: biggest ever winged dinosaur is found in China