- A group of researchers and citizen-scientists have identified a new semi-slug species, Microparmarion sallehi, from the lowland rainforests of northern Borneo Island.
- Their study suggests there may be some half a dozen other species from the same genus waiting to be described, highlighting the rich biodiversity of this region.
- For this description, the local and international scientists involved students and laypersons in the team on a combined program of biodiversity training and exploration.
- The study authors note that scientific knowledge of Southeast Asian slugs in general is lacking due to low collection samples, meaning the prospects for describing a new species is high.
JAKARTA — A group of researchers and citizen-scientists have described a new “semi-slug” species from the lowland rainforests of northern Borneo.
The so-called snug, a snail whose external shell is too small to house its entire body, has been named Microparmarion sallehi and can be found in the forests of Ulu Temburong National Park, Brunei, according to a study published April 10 in the Biodiversity Data Journal. The paper details the unique characteristics of the species from its body parts to its DNA compared to other known species of the Microparmarion genus, of which researchers believe some half-dozen species have yet to be described.
“The inspiration for our field expeditions is to show that it is possible to discover and publish new species within the short space of time of a 10-day field expedition in a remote offline location, with simple, portable equipment,” Iva Njunjić, director of the biodiversity research group Taxon Expeditions in Leiden, the Netherlands, who is the corresponding author of the paper, told Mongabay in an email.
She added that her team had previously published a new snail description from the same location, so they knew there was also the possibility of an undescribed semi-slug waiting to be found, which was what kept them going until they had enough specimens to analyze.
The researchers conducted three field surveys in September 2018, September 2019 and October 2022 in this northwestern part of the island of Borneo. On each of those expeditions, they collected and sequenced with their portable DNA lab in the field center one or more specimens of the new species. They found and studied five individual specimens, the paper said.
“Some of our team members are malacologists with many years of experience working on the southeast Asian land snails and slugs,” Njunjić said, referring to scientists who study different types of mollusks, from snails and slugs to squids and octopuses.
The report said the new species of Microparmarion stood out from the other known species, especially for its shell and genital setup. The species is generally active in twilight and at night, and can be seen crawling underneath leaves of saplings and on vines, in both primary and secondary forest. It’s the second known lowland Bornean Microparmarion species, after M. exquadratus, described in 2019; the other known species are found in montane forests.
The researchers named the new semi-slug after Md Salleh Abdullah Bat in honor of his work as supervisor of the Kuala Belalong Field Studies Centre. The taxon expedition, during which the species was described, was the last group he hosted before retiring.
For this paper, the local and international scientists involved students and laypersons in the team on a combined program of biodiversity training and exploration. Njunjić said they wanted to show that anybody could be an explorer and describe species of wildlife that nobody had ever seen or named before with some guidance.
”By doing so, we hope to spread a sense of the importance of basic taxonomic discovery among the general public, who all too often believe that today in the 21st century, ‘there is nothing left to be discovered,’” she said.
“With only a fraction of the world’s biodiversity cataloged, the reverse is true, and it is important to spread this message outside of the usual scientific circles.”
The paper suggests the newly described snug may also occur further west, in the Malaysian Bornean states of Sarawak and/or Sabah. The authors note that scientific knowledge of Southeast Asian slugs in general is lacking due to low collection samples, making for high prospects of describing a new species.
“These species play a relatively minor role as detritus-feeders in the rainforest,” Njunjić said. “But by highlighting how much there is still to be discovered, we wish to show that these forests are extremely rich and still virtually unknown, which makes their disappearance all the more tragic.”
Schilthuizen, M., Berenyi, S., Ezzwan, N. S. M. N., Hamdani, N. I. A. A., Wu, H., De Antoni, L., … Cicuzza, D. (2023). A new semi-slug of the genus Microparmarion from Brunei, discovered, described and DNA-barcoded on citizen-science ‘taxon expeditions.’ Biodiversity Data Journal, 11. doi: 10.3897/BDJ.11.e101579
Schilthuizen, M., Lim, J. P., van Peursen, A. D., Alfano, M., Jenging, A. B., Cicuzza, D., … Njunjić, I. (2020). Craspedotropis gretathunbergae, a new species of Cyclophoridae (Gastropoda: Caenogastropoda), discovered and described on a field course to Kuala Belalong rainforest, Brunei. Biodiversity Data Journal, 8. doi:10.3897/BDJ.8.e47484
Basten Gokkon is a senior staff writer for Indonesia at Mongabay. Find him on Twitter @bgokkon.
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