Author: Bernard Goffinet

BRC in UCONN today

UConn Biodiversity Research Collections Join an Effort to Combat Wildlife Trafficking

Or How jaguar skulls collected in the 1960s can help thwart wildlife poachers today

Globally, species extinction rates are accelerating and reaching unprecedented levels. Unfortunately for many species, this means they also become more valuable for animal traffickers.

UConn Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Professor Eric Schultz explains that wildlife trafficking – which the Wildlife Conservation Society estimates is worth as much as $10 billion per year – is often connected with other international crimes such as the drug and weapons trades, because when networks exist, it is relatively easy to add another valuable commodity.

To read more go to the article

New publications on lichenized fungi

A new publication on lichens lists many specimens deposited in the CONN herbarium, including various types.

Magain N., J. Miadlikowska, B. Goffinet, T. Goward, I. Juriado, A. Simon, C.J. Pardo De la Hoz, J. Mercado-Diaz, T. Barlow, B. Moncada, R. Lücking, A. Spielmann, L. Canez, L.S. Wang, P. Nelson, T. Wheeler, F. Lutzoni & E. Sérusiaux. 2023. High species richness in the lichen genus Peltigera (Ascomycota, Lecanoromycetes): 34 species in the dolichorhizoid and scabrosoid clades of sect. Polydactylon, including 23 new to science. Persoonia 51: 1–88. pdf GoogleScholar

Abstract readsApplying molecular methods to fungi establishing lichenized associations with green algae or cyanobacteria has repeatedly revealed the existence of numerous phylogenetic taxa overlooked by classical taxonomic approaches. Here, we report taxonomical conclusions based on multiple species delimitation and validation analyses performed on an eight-locus dataset that includes world-wide representatives of the dolichorhizoid and scabrosoid clades in section Polydactylon of the genus Peltigera. Following the recommendations resulting from a consensus species delimitation approach and additional species validation analysis (BPP) performed in this study, we present a total of 25 species in the dolichorhizoid clade and nine in the scabrosoid clade, including respectively 18 and six species that are new to science and formally described. Additionally, one combination and three varieties (including two new to science) are proposed in the dolichorhizoid clade. The following 24 new species are described: P. appalachiensis, P. asiatica, P. borealis, P. borinquensis, P. chabanenkoae, P. clathrata, P. elixii, P. esslingeri, P. flabellae, P. gallowayi, P. hawaiiensis, P. holtanhartwigii, P. itatiaiae, P. hokkaidoensis, P. kukwae, P. massonii, P. mikado, P. nigriventris, P. orientalis, P. rangiferina, P. sipmanii, P. stanleyensis, P. vitikainenii and P. willdenowii; the following new varieties are introduced: P. kukwae var. phyllidiata and P. truculenta var. austroscabrosa; and the following new combination is introduced: P. hymenina var. dissecta. Each species from the dolichorhizoid and scabrosoid clades is morphologically and chemically described, illustrated, and characterised with ITS sequences. Identification keys are provided for the main biogeographic regions where species from the two clades occur. Morphological and chemical characters that are commonly used for species identification in the genus Peltigera cannot be applied to unambiguously recognise most molecularly circumscribed species, due to high variation of thalli formed by individuals within a fungal species, including the presence of distinct morphs in some cases, or low interspecific variation in others. The four commonly recognised morphospecies: P. dolichorhiza, P. neopolydactyla, P. pulverulenta and P. scabrosa in the dolichorhizoid and scabrosoid clades represent species complexes spread across multiple and often phylogenetically distantly related lineages. Geographic origin of specimens is often helpful for species recognition; however, ITS sequences are frequently required for a reliable identification.

New publication on fish

Tellier, J.M., M. Humphreys, S. Minoudi, A. Triantafyllidis & E.T. Schultz. 2023. What are you doing here? Unexpected occurrences of Knobfin Sculpins (Cottus immaculatus) in Connecticut. Ichthyology and Herpetology 111: 1-7. pdf

Abstract reads: Reductions in cold-water habitat owing to anthropogenic stressors are focusing attention on indicator fish species. We investigated an apparent range expansion in Connecticut of a native cold-water fish, Slimy Sculpin (Cottus cognatus). Unexpectedly, genetic and morphological analyses identified the new population as a non-native cottid from the Ozark region, the Knobfin Sculpin (C. immaculatus). This is the first record of C. immaculatus outside of its native range. The new occurrences were not recognized for over a decade despite comprehensive watershed inventories by state natural resource managers. The mechanism by which the non-native Knobfin Sculpin first arrived in Connecticut is currently unknown. Our findings suggest that unintentional species introductions may occur more frequently than is currently recognized and highlight the need for more comprehensive assessments of non-native species distributions.

New publication citing BRC specimens

Schiefer, T. L. (2022). Reevaluation of the subgeneric classification of the North American species of Prionus Geoffroy (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae: Prioninae: Prionini), with a revision of the subgenus Neopolyarthron Semenov and notes on Prionus (Antennalia) fissicornis Haldeman and Prionus (Prionus) californicus Motschulsk. Transactions of the American Entomological Society 148(3): 335–504.


Abstract reads: The classification of North American species of Prionus (Prionus) Geoffroy, sensu lato, is reevaluated based on male antennal morphology, with three subgenera being recognized: P. (Prionus), consisting of P. aztecus Casey, P. californicus Motschulsky, P. evoluticornis Komiya & Nogueira, P. flohri Bates, P. heroicus Semenov, P. howdeni Chemsak, P. laticollis (Drury), P. lecontei Lameere, P. mexicanus Bates, P. pocularis Dalman, and P. poultoni Lameere; P. (Antennalia) Casey, revived status, consisting of P. fissicornis Haldeman; and P. (Neopolyarthron) Semenov, revived status. The species of P. (Neopolyarthron) are revised and consist of P. imbricornis (Linnaeus), P. debilis Casey, revived status, and P. cuneatus Casey, revived status, with the latter two species being removed from synonymy with P. imbricornis. Prionus robustus Casey, new synonymy, is transferred from synonymy with P. imbricornis to synonymy with P. cuneatus. Prionus fissicornis parviceps Casey, revised synonymy, is removed from synonymy with P. imbricornis and returned to synonymy with P. fissicornis. A lectotype is designated for Cerambyx imbricornis Linnaeus. Keys to North American subgenera of Prionus and to species of P. (Neopolyarthron) are provided. The species of P. (Neopolyarthron) are redescribed, diagnosed, and illustrated, with the female of P. debilis being illustrated for the first time. A county-level distribution map is provided for each species of P. (Neopolyarthron) along with a detailed discussion of distribution, host records, habitat, and conservation status. Prionus imbricornis is associated with forested habitats, P. debilis is associated with tallgrass prairies, and P. cuneatus is associated with prairies and other grasslands. Prionus fissicornis is diagnosed from species of P. (Neopolyarthron), and the type specimens of P. (Antennalia) fissicornis parviceps Casey, P. (Antennalia) fissicornis transversus Casey, and P. (Antennalia) thoracicus Casey are reviewed and illustrated. The date of publication for P. fissicornis is corrected from 1846 to 1847. The following new state records are provided: for P. imbricornis: Delaware and New Jersey; for P. debilis: Minnesota; and for P. cuneatus: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The following previously published country, state, and provincial records are considered to be in error and are removed from the distribution of the relevant species: for P. imbricornis: Canada (Ontario), Croatia, Dominican Republic, Germany, Haiti, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Wisconsin; for P. debilis: Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas; for P. fissicornis: Ontario, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina; and for P. californicus: Arkansas and Georgia.

New NSF grant for bee collection

Pinned bee from collection.
A lateral view of the Leaf-Cutter bee Anthidiellum notatum, imaged by undergraduate student Madeline Shaw as part of the habitus suite of images documenting its body form. The hairy underside of the abdomen is unique for this family of insects because that is where they store their pollen for transport, unlike the legs in honey bees.

The Biodiversity Research Collections, with Katrina Menard in the lead, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to digitize it’s bee collection as part of an effort to track the effects of climate change in this enigmatic group of pollinators. The University of Connecticut collection is particularly important as one of the largest collections of New England bees, and by making these data available to researchers and the public through digitization and imaging, we hope to better understand how climate change affects the distribution and diversity of this group of insects on a regional and global scale. 

The grant is awarded as part of a collaborative research entitled: Digitization TCN: iDigBees network, towards complete digitization of US bee collections to promote ecological and evolutionary research in a keystone clade.

The funding will be for four undergraduate students each semester to digitize our bee collection and image at least 700 specimens (approximately one per species of bee we have) over a four year period, giving them valuable collection and research experience. We anticipate to present a poster of the data at the Entomological Society of America meeting this year, giving the students new experiences in professional societies as well

Proposal abstract reads: Bees are the most important pollinators in both managed and natural landscapes, and concerns are quickly growing about declines in bee diversity and numbers. Only a fraction of the ca. 4,000 known bee species in the United States have adequate data for assessing their presence or absence in an ecosystem. The iDigBees Thematic Collections Network addresses this problem by transcribing specimen label information for thousands of bee specimens in US insect collections into a shared global database. As a result, bees will become the first major insect group to have specimen data sufficiently digitized to promote research projects and support conservation efforts. Specifically, the iDigBees project will (1) map distributions for thousands of bee species and quantify patterns of bee biodiversity; (2) identify data gaps to inform future inventory and monitoring efforts; (3) reveal changes in species distributions over time through historic records; (4) document the impacts of a changing climate on bees; (5) identify critical taxa and geographic areas for conservation; and (6) establish a network of researchers, conservationists, and land managers to rapidly utilize data for research, education, public policy, and land management. The education program will coordinate an array of existing programs and create a new technology-mediated learning tool, SMARTBees, to serve high school and college students. Obtaining specimen-level data on US bee species and communities, and integrating findings into education programs, are essential steps toward addressing the pollinator crisis.

iDigBees represents an in-depth insect biodiversity digitization initiative that will mobilize at least 350,000 bee specimen records, and 6,600 high-resolution image suites. Obtaining specimen-level data on US bee species and communities is an essential step toward addressing the pollinator crisis. Via the novel networks proposed here, species distribution patterns and “extended specimen” data will emerge, leading to testable hypotheses as to underlying mechanisms and predictions on how bees will respond to future global changes. Integrated data will also shed light on how particular life-history traits life-history traits respond to environmental change. iDigBees will help to highlight candidate pollinator restoration options for agricultural, urban, and other managed landscapes. This project, in partnership with researchers and government agencies, will provide open-source datasets for policy, research, and education. The iDigBees model will be promoted throughout North America and other continents to foster “deep global digitization”. The iDigBees network integrates educational and public engagement initiatives to work with the Biodiversity Literacy in Undergraduate Education (BLUE) RCN to build and implement novel biodiversity data-centric Open Education Resources that promote student-oriented learning. SMARTBees will serve as a digital platform featuring learning modules designed to serve culturally diverse high school students who are transitioning into community college as well as first year undergraduates. Building on the extended specimen model exemplary digital bee specimens will teach students host plant relationships, key evolutionary concepts and the important role pollinators have in sustaining the biodiversity of our planet.

New publications on mosses

Vouchers of specimens studied for these two projects are housed in the CONN herbarium.

Medina R., M.G. Johnson, N. Patel, G. Tocci, D. R. Toren & B. Goffinet. 2022. Vindication of Physcomitrium pygmaeum: an elusive and endangered moss from North America’s Great Basin. The Bryologist 125: 528-540. pdf

Abstract reads: Physcomitrium pygmaeum is an ephemeral moss described in 1871 from a single collection from Utah, currently considered conspecific with Physcomitrium pyriforme. The interpretation of the taxon has been problematic due to its rarity in the field, the elusiveness of the type material, and an extremely scattered and inconsistent collection record. Here we present a comprehensive description and assessment of the taxon following the identification of the original material and lectotype designation, the examination of all existing herbarium specimens to the best of our knowledge, the collection of fresh material in Nevada, and the molecular barcoding of the latter using four plastid and two nuclear loci. Available information, albeit scant, suggests that this member of the North American bryoflora should be considered critically endangered following IUCN criteria.


He S., J.R. Shevock, N. Patel, O. Lemieux & B. Goffinet. 2022. Rediscovery of Florschuetziella scaberrima (Bryophyta, Orthotrichaceae) a century after its description leads to its transfer to Leratia. Bryophyte Diversity and Evolution
45 (1): 188–198. pdf
Abstract reads: Florschuetziella scaberrima (Broth.) Vitt, previously known only from the type material collected in 1915 from Yunnan, China, was rediscovered nearly a century later in 2005. The species is morphologically indistinguishable from the Mexican endemic F. steerei Vitt, but given the paucity of material the two are provisionally retained as distinct, allopatric species. Both species exhibit traits reminiscent of Leratia neocaledonica Broth. & Paris, a species endemic to New Caledonia. A shared ancestry with the other species currently accommodated in Leratia Broth. & Paris, i.e., L. exigua (Sull.) Goffinet and L. obtusifolia (Hook.) Goffinet, and the phylogenetically nested position of Florschuetziella Vitt within Leratia supports the merger of the two generic names, and hence the transfer of species of Florschuetziella, prompting the proposed new combinations Leratia steerei (Vitt) Goffinet, S.He & Shevock and Leratia scaberrima (Broth.) Goffinet, S.He & Shevock.

New publication based on our living plant collection

The following publication was released on Nov. 10: Bouda, Martin, Brett A. Huggett, Kyra A. Prats, Jay W. Wason, Jonathan P. Wilson, and Craig R. Brodersen. 2022. Hydraulic failure as a primary driver of xylem network evolution in early vascular plants. Science 378, no. 6620: 642-646. link

The study integrated plants maintained in our Plant Biodiversity Conservatory and Research Core.

Significance of studySince plants colonized land, they have developed increasingly complex vessel architectures to carry water from their roots to their highest leaves. Vascular plants now display a diversity of xylem strand shapes in cross section, from elliptical to linear to many lobed. Bouda et al. investigated whether selection from drought, which causes vessel cavitation and embolism, drove the complexity of xylem strand shape as plants inhabited drier climates. By simulating embolism spread between vessels across varying shape and complexity, including those seen in extant lycophytes and ferns and extinct plant fossils, the authors found that evolutionary changes in xylem strand shape have reduced embolism spread and made plants less vulnerable to drought.

Abstract reads: The earliest vascular plants had stems with a central cylindrical strand of water-conducting xylem, which rapidly diversified into more complex shapes. This diversification is understood to coincide with increases in plant body size and branching; however, no selection pressure favoring xylem strand-shape complexity is known. We show that incremental changes in xylem network organization that diverge from the cylindrical ancestral form lead to progressively greater drought resistance by reducing the risk of hydraulic failure. As xylem strand complexity increases, independent pathways for embolism spread become fewer and increasingly concentrated in more centrally located conduits, thus limiting the systemic spread of embolism during drought. Selection by drought may thus explain observed trajectories of xylem strand evolution in the fossil record and the diversity of extant forms.

Publication: Operation bone rescue!

Kuprewicz, Erin K., Frank MS Muzio, and Greyson Nackid. 2022. Operation Bone Rescue—A case study of remediating flood damage to mammal specimens.  Collection Forum 35: 21–31. pdf

Abstract reads: Water damage to natural history collections can result from both natural and human caused environmental disasters. Floods can result in irreparable damage to scientific specimens, depending on the scale of the disaster, types of specimens affected, and availability of remediation resources. In April 2021, the mammal skeletal collection in the Biodiversity Research Collections (BRC) of the University of Connecticut (UConn) experienced a ceiling flood that affected 612 specimens. In this paper we detail all steps of our specimen rescue process and all materials and equipment we used to complete this remediation in an endeavor we termed “Operation Bone Rescue.” Because we were able to immediately respond to this emergency and implement a complete remediation plan, facilitated by funding from our university, we not only rescued all water-affected specimens, but also improved specimen storage and metadata. We highlight the holistic nature of this successful operation and the key roles played by personnel in the BRC, UConn Facilities Operations, Fire Department, and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office. A deep appreciation of the value of natural history collections is shared widely on our campus and resulted in the favorable outcomes of this complex, coordinated specimen rescue effort.

6 graders from MMS visit BRC

6th graders from the Mansfield Middle school tour the Biodiversity Research Collections

What better way to learn about adaptations across the tree of life, than by visiting the diverse collections of living plants from around the world, and our global collections of preserved vertebrate, invertebrates and plants held in EEB’s Biodiversity Research Collections (BRC). Following a visit and guided tour, Jennifer O’Brien and Jeff Burham, two science teachers at the Mansfield Middle School realized the unique opportunity the BRC offered in terms of experiential learning for their 6 graders. Spread over three mornings, 120 students visited the collections, learning from our experts how plants are adapted to various climates (Meghan Moriarty, Amanda Garchow & Matt Opel), how plants defend against herbivores (Sarah Taylor), how bird beaks are adapted for feeding on different types of food (Erin Kuprewicz), or how insects avoid predation and utilize camouflage (Katrina Menard). Their minds filled with countless stories, many students asked to come back, and some even seemed decided to become a scientist! Mission accomplished. This awesome experience for these kids was made possible by the continuous support of the BRC by EEB and CLAS, and by supporters like you, and especially by all six amazing tour guides.

6 graders in Biodiversity Collections

New publication based on BRC collection

Our amazing collection of living plants provided specimens of the parasitic mistletoe Viscum minimum (Santalaceae) for this study: Teixeira-Costa, L. 2022. Leveraging micro-CT scanning to analyze parasitic plant-host interactions. JoVE Journal of Visualized Experiments 179: e63423.

Abstract reads: Micro-CT scanning has become an established tool in investigating plant structure and function. Its non-destructive nature, combined with the possibility of threedimensional visualization and virtual sectioning, has allowed novel and increasingly detailed analysis of complex plant organs. Interactions among plants, including between parasitic plants and their hosts, can also be explored. However, sample preparation before scanning becomes crucial due to the interaction between these plants, which often differ in tissue organization and composition. Furthermore, the broad diversity of parasitic flowering plants, ranging from highly reduced vegetative bodies to trees, herbs, and shrubs, must be considered during the sampling, treatment, and preparation of parasite-host material. Here two different approaches are described for introducing contrast solutions into the parasite and/or host plants, focusing on analyzing the haustorium. This organ promotes connection and communication between the two plants. Following a simple approach, details of haustorium tissue organization can be explored three-dimensionally, as shown here for euphytoid, vine, and mistletoe parasitic species. Selecting specific contrasting agents and application approaches also allow detailed observation of endoparasite spread within the host body and detection of direct vessel-to-vessel connection between parasite and host, as shown here for an obligate root parasite. Thus, the protocol discussed here can be applied to the broad diversity of parasitic flowering plants to advance the understanding of their development, structure, and functioning.