Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Are Cities Europe's New Biodiversity Hotspots?

Science
View of canal in Amsterdam, Holland. Amstel river, canal, and bicycles. ElOjoTorpe / Moment / Getty Images

Vondelpark, Amsterdam's public urban park in the southwest of the city, is anything but a remote place. Even on a weekday, it's full of people taking a stroll, playing soccer or chatting with friends on the neatly mowed grass.


There are also countless people bicycling on the wide, paved roads — after all, this is the Netherlands.

Vondelpark definitely might not seem like the ideal place to look for new species of insects, but biologist Iva Njunjic begs to differ.

"Unknown biodiversity is lurking everywhere, even in this place dominated by humans."

Njunjic works for Taxon Expeditions, a Netherlands-based organization that offers ecotourism trips, usually to places like Borneo, Panama and Montenegro.

Last year, they embarked on a week long citizen-science project to comb a small island nature reserve in Vondelpark called the "Koeienweide" — "cow meadow" — for new species.

A single path leads to the reserve, which is padlocked and clearly off-limits to the general public.

Managed by an Amsterdam citizens' initiative, the Koeienweide — an island surrounded by canals — clearly hasn't seen a lawnmower for quite a while.

Collecting What's There

Every day for a week, eight amateur researchers set up traps on the island to catch different kinds of resident critters, such as spiders, beetles, worms and moths.

"I'm not sure how many species we caught but I was surprised that it was so many," Norbert Peeters, a participant and philosopher from the city of Leiden, told DW.

Iva Njunjic says the group collected 143 different types of moths alone. Taxonomy experts at the Free University of Amsterdam helped the amateur researchers identify the species under the microscope.

"By the end of the week we were given some hints that we might be onto something," Peeters said.

It turns out the group discovered two species of insects that hadn't previously been described by scientists.

Njunjic unscrews a small plastic container to reveal one of the new finds. It is a small black dot, no larger than 3 millimeters or one-eighth of an inch, glued to a piece of paper and neatly labelled.

She explains that it's a beetle belonging to the family of Leiodidae, commonly called "round fungus beetles."

It most likely lives underground. "We think this species probably feeds on some decaying organic matter or fungi because we found it in a trap with meat and cheese."

Its Penis Gave It Away

How did they know this beetle was a new discovery?

"It differs from very closely related species from southern Europe by the shape of its penis," Njunjic explains and laughs. "When studying insects we compare male genitalia. So we had to dissect its penis and observe it under a microscope."

The group decided to name the new species after the band "The Beatles," because as Njunjic puts it, "it's kind of unfair that there is no beetle species named after them yet." Its full name will be Ptomaphagus beatles.

The group of researchers also found a new species of parasitic wasp, which are small insects that lay their eggs on or in the bodies of other invertebrates, sooner or later causing the death of their hosts.

The new parasitic wasp will be named Aphaereta Vondelpark to honor the place where it first was found.

More to Uncover

According to Martin Kubiak, insect researcher at the Center of Natural History at Hamburg University, who was not involved in the study, the outcome of the Vondelpark expedition is "not surprising."

While the fauna in Central Europe is well explored in terms of species of vertebrates, butterflies and dragonflies, there is still much to discover in other parts of the animal world.

"We still know amazingly little about insect groups comprising beetles, wasps, bees, flies and mosquitoes, especially if they are only 1 to 2 millimeters big," Kubiak says.

In 2011, biologists from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, estimated that there are an overall 8.7 million species on Earth.

So far, scientists have only described 1.5 million species.

Using a technique called DNA barcoding, researchers identify species by analyzing a short section of their DNA.

When biologists at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich analyzed the genetic material of a large number of insects they had trapped across Germany, they were able to estimate that 930 different gall midges — a family of flies — live around us, yet only 800 species have been described so far.

Biodiversity and the City

Like Norbert Peeters, many people might assume that cities are not where animals are most likely to be found.

But Menno Schilthuizen, evolutionary biologist at Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden and co-founder of Taxon Expeditions, says the opposite is the case.

"In a country like the Netherlands, cities are actually biologically rich in comparison to the countryside," he told DW. "This is because there is intensive agriculture everywhere."

The organizers hope their findings will shed light on the importance of insects.

"Even though they're so tiny they perform many important functions like aerating the soil, decomposing organic matter and pollinating the plants," Iva Njunjic says. "Everyone wants to save pandas and lions, but insects are actually more important."

Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Luxy Images / Getty Images

By Jo Harper

Investment in U.S. offshore wind projects are set to hit $78 billion (€69 billion) this decade, in contrast with an estimated $82 billion for U.S. offshore oil and gasoline projects, Wood Mackenzie data shows. This would be a remarkable feat only four years after the first offshore wind plant — the 30 megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island — started operating in U.S. waters.

Read More Show Less
Giacomo Berardi / Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed both the strengths and limitations of globalization. The crisis has made people aware of how industrialized food production can be, and just how far food can travel to get to the local supermarket. There are many benefits to this system, including low prices for consumers and larger, even global, markets for producers. But there are also costs — to the environment, workers, small farmers and to a region or individual nation's food security.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Joe Leech

The human body comprises around 60% water.

It's commonly recommended that you drink eight 8-ounce (237-mL) glasses of water per day (the 8×8 rule).

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Thursday accused NOAA of ignoring its own scientists' findings about the endangerment of the North Atlantic right whale. Lauren Packard / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.

Read More Show Less