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➤ Hidden biodiversity: the more you look the more you find

Published on June 27, 2016, by in All, News and musings.

As so many different areas have been surveyed for the BESS project, the diversity of species which turn up is equally diverse. The range of sites and species examined has produced one of the biggest datasets of its kind in the world. Although over 80 sites across Bedford, Luton and Milton Keynes were studied, the resulting knowledge sparks consequences further afield in unimagined ways. Many areas have never been surveyed for invertebrates before and during our project all kinds of life are being looked at, so, inevitably some less well-known things are cropping up. Over 550,000 little known invertebrates have been identified to varying levels of detail, but the woodlice (Isopoda: Oniscoidea) have been named to species.


Trichoniscoides sarsi (female)

You may think that there are just a couple of types of woodlouse, and that they are everywhere – including your bathroom sink and walking across your lounge carpet. In actual fact there are around 60 different species of woodlouse, or ‘terrestrial isopod’ in Britain. And they are not all just slate grey. They vary in size from the large, green coastal ‘Sea Slaters’ to various mottled yellow and orange species or the bright pink Rosy Woodlouse. Then there are the very rare, tiny (2mm!) white species of the genus Trichoniscoides that even the experts struggle to find.

While sorting through the samples taken for the BESS project at the University of Sheffield,
several specimens of the minute Trichoniscoides sarsi were identified. This is a lovely, but very small, cream coloured species, infused with an almost fluorescent orange, with deep pink eyes.

Although rarely encountered, it may be found in ones or twos, under deeply embedded stones. However, our vacuum sampler extracted over twenty from a flower bed in a garden in Bedford. This species was designated as ‘Nationally scarce’ in the recent conservation review (Lee, 2015), so our discovery helps to further develop an understanding of its distribution and habitat preferences.

This is the first time it has been recorded in Bedfordshire (Gregory 2009) and a good example of a useful spin off from the primary objectives of the BESS project. A species such as this is very under-recorded, so this is a valuable find. They are scarce, not only because they are so difficult to find, but because their identification depends on close examination and even dissection of a male specimen. Not everyone is looking this closely or equipped to dissect small structures from an animal 2mm long! Because we are interested in recording the widest possible biodiversity, we are able to provide very interesting and unique data to a wide range of interested parties. Although we ourselves are focussed on the wider relationships between biodiversity and its ecological benefits to society, the individual records of species can offer their own insights for other studies. Apart from this unusual species, we have generated around 1000 new records of woodlouse species for the region, which will contribute to conservation measures and distribution studies nationally.


Metatrichoniscoides leydigii. 3rd British record

Taking inspiration from this very interesting find in Bedford, and following the experience gained from identifying the tiny specimens, further opportunity was taken to look for some of these woodlice, nearer to our Sheffield base. As it is known to be a winter-active species, some churchyard sites in the Derbyshire Peak District were investigated during February 2016 (Richards 2016). Alongside other under-recorded species, several Trichoniscoides specimens were found, including males. We were therefore able to recognise these as more Trichoniscoides sarsi. This is a new county record for Derbyshire and an extension of the known national distribution. Experience from working with the BESS samples also meant that a springtail Monobella grassei, was also recognised, which is again a new species to Derbyshire.

Spurred on by this, another search, at Wentworth Castle, near Barnsley, also produced the same springtail – this time new to South Yorkshire, and yet another tiny white, but blind woodlouse called Metatrichoniscoides leydigii. This is an amazing find, as it is so rare that it is only known from two other locations in Britain (Oxford & Kent).


Springtail, Monobella grassei a new species for Derbyshire

Therefore, as a consequence of examining samples from the BESS Bedford sites, several new county records have been generated further afield and one of particularly national significance. That’s just from looking at the woodlice; 5,000 specimens of a further 545,000 to consider! What new discoveries await?


Gregory, S.J. 2009. Woodlice and Waterlice (Isopoda: Oniscidea & Asellota) in Britain and Ireland, published for Biological Records Centre by Field Studies Council Publications.

Lee, P. 2015. A review of the millipedes (Diplopoda), centipedes (Chilopoda) and woodlice (Isopoda) of Great Britain Natural England Commissioned Report NECR186 Species Status No.23. Natural England

Richards, J.P. (2016) New records for Trichoniscoides species (Isopoda: Oniscoidea) from Bedfordshire, Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire. British Myriapod & Isopod Group Newsletter 32

March 2016

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