Unknown biodiversity: four new species discovered in the Iberian Peninsula in just three years

The Mediterranean ecosystems have a great potential for new discoveries. This is evidenced by the four new species of animals that have been described during the last three years in different points of the Iberian Peninsula. A butterfly in Sierra Nevada, a lobster in Barcelona, a spider in the Iberian meadows and a fish in the Balearic Islands are the greatest exponents of the unknown diversity of the Mediterranean ecosystems.

The cryptic butterfly of Sierra Nevada

Just a year ago, scientists from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE, CSIC-UPF) described a new species of butterfly that can only be found in the Iberian Peninsula: Spialia rosae. Until that date, it had been confused with another species of butterfly, Spialia sertorius, because they are cryptic or sibling species, what means that they are very similar. So similar that they can’t be differentiated even if you observe them with a high resolution microscope.

A specimen of the cryptic species Spialia sertorius, identical in appearance to S. rosae. Author: CC BY-SA 2.0 Bernard Dupont.

And, then, how did they see that they were different species? The IBE researchers observed that the mitochondrial DNA data of the genus Spialia indicated that there was more than one species in the Iberian Peninsula, so they went to the field to look for it. But all the individuals they found looked the same! The key to solve it came from the hand of ecology. During the fieldwork, the researchers observed in Sierra Nevada how a specimen of the butterfly in question, S. rosae, put an egg on a wild rose –and that’s why the animal have been called ‘rosae‘–. This was unusual so far, since the rest of butterflies of the genus Spialia put eggs and feed on plants called burned. It is believed that this change in the diet has generated the only differences found: in the mitochondrial DNA and cuticular hydrocarbons (that is, the smell they emit), which is surely what they used to distinguish the two species. Specimens of S. rosae have been found in Sierra Nevada, in the Central System, in the Picos de Europa and in some places of the Pyrenees.

Look at the observations that we have in the Natusfera of its cryptic species, Spialia sertorius. Could they be S. rosae?

The lobster of Ancosa

In June 2014, the naturalists Xavier Bayer and Francesc Guasch observed, for the first time and without knowing it, a new species of lobster in the Plain of Ancosa (Plana d’Ancosa in Catalan): Prionotropis ancosae. Initially, they believed that it was a new population of the lobster Prionotropis flexuosa, a very similar species that in Catalonia only lives in Timoneda de Alfés (region of El Segrià, Lleida). The discovery was, in fact, even more surprising. The naturalists reported the supposed new population to the Flora and Fauna Department of the Department of Territory of the Generalitat and Josep Maria Olmo, specialist in Orthoptera, moved to the place and observed that it was not the same species.

Female specimen of the lobster of Ancosa (Prionotropis ancosae). These are slightly larger than males. Author: Josep Maria Olmo.

Both lobsters are very similar –they have little capacity to fly and measure between 3 and 4 cm–, but the new species is darker, has shorter wings and a thinner thorax than the lobster of Alfés, which is also present in different places of Spain and Portugal. The Plain of Ancosa or Plana d’Ancosa in Catalan (Anoia region, Barcelona), where the new species has been found, is a calcareous plateau that has almost steppe vegetation, dominated by shrubs and bushes such as thyme and some isolated holm oaks. It is a protected area under the figure of PEIN (Plan of Areas of Natural Interest) because of its really valuable biodiversity.

The spider of pasture holm oaks

At the end of 2014, Raúl Bonal, researcher of the University of Extremadura associated to the CREAF, observed a species of spider unknown until that moment: the spider of the holm oaks (Cheiracanthium ilicis). The finding was made from samples in the framework of a more general study. It was intended to investigate the importance of isolated holm oaks in crops for the conservation of biodiversity. And, after the discovery, of course they proved it!

Juvenile of the spider of the holm oaks (Cheiracanthium ilicis). This species develops all its life cycle on the same tree. Author: Eduardo Morano.

It is a small spider –about 1 cm– and has nocturnal habits. During the day, it hides in small holes such as the cupule of the acorns, which they cover with silk to make a refuge. In the evening, it hunts and actively pursues its prey. It is a carnivorous species that feeds on all kinds of small organisms like caterpillars and leaf miners. All the phases of its life cycle are developed on the same tree, and the adults –which live short time–, can be found between the months of May and July. They stand out because of their chelicerae –the buccal pieces that the spiders have in order to inject the poison–, which are proportionally large in comparison with other species of their genus.

For the moment, it has been located in the Spanish provinces of Toledo, Ciudad Real and Cáceres, and always on isolated holm oaks in pastures. That is why it has been called ‘ilicis‘, an epithet that refers to the holm oak (Quercus ilex). It is believed that it could be found in other places of the Iberian Peninsula and in other countries of the Mediterranean Basin.

The goby fish from the Balearic Islands

Earlier this year, scientists from Croatia, Germany and the Balearic Islands described a new species of fish in these last islands: Buenia Massiuti. It is a small fish of the family of gobies that does not usually exceed the 3 cm in length. Until this discovery, only two species of the genus Buenia were known.

Male specimen of the goby Buenia massutii. Until the discovery, only two species of this genus were known. Author: Marcelo Kovačić.

The specimens of this new fish were found during research campaigns on the communities of the seabeds headed by the Oceanographic Center of the Balearic Islands of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO). The habitat of this species is located in the waters surrounding the archipelago, at a depth of between 50 and 70 m, and with the seabed composed of coarse sand and communities of red algae, where it feeds on small prey. The name of the species, ‘massutii’, is given in honor of Enric Massutí, a researcher at the Oceanographic Center of the Balearic Islands, which was the promoter of the study of the Balearic seabed.

About Pau Guzmán

Técnico de Comunicación del CREAF. | Fascinado por el funcionamiento de la Naturaleza y del Universo y por cómo los seres humanos somos capaces de comprenderlo (en algunas cosas), me entusiasma transmitir estos conocimientos a las personas, especialmente a través de audiovisuales. | Soy Máster en Comunicación Científica, Médica i Ambiental (UPF-BSM, 2017), Graduado en Biología Ambiental con mención en Biología Vegetal (UAB, 2016) y Técnico Superior en Gestión y Organitzación de Recursos Naturales y Paisatgísticos (Instituto Rubió i Tudurí, 2011).
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