That our world is still fulfilled with secrets about life is once showed again. In the busiest park in the Netherlands, a group of citizens and biologists went on a voyage of discovery. The result is a new species: wasp Aphaereta vondelparkensis.
Right underour noses
The team that went into the Vondelpark in search for new species was led by Menno Schilthuizen, one of the founders of the company "Taxon Expeditions" and researcher at Naturalis. The company organizes expeditions to discover new species. During the expeditions, everyone can work as a researcher with the help of experts.
The discovery of the new wasp shows that we still don't know everything about what crawls, flies and jumps under our noses. How special is the discovery of such a new species? Worldwide, on average 1 to 2 new species are described every day. This is not really surprising: around 80% of the existing species on earth are still undiscovered.
Yet, new species are not often discovered in the Netherlands. And that is not because we have turned every leaf in the Netherlands in search of new species. It is often mainly about species of which we do not have that much knowledge of in the Netherlands. We are very familiar with the birds, dragonflies and butterflies; many citizens also recognize different of these species. Areas where we do not have many experts are the areas in which there is still much to discover. "In the Netherlands, there are probably countless parasitic wasp species without a scientific name," says Schilthuizen.
Species recognition in acceleration
Areas in which there is still much to discover include the nematodes (roundworms), humpback flies, lake miners and so on the different parasitic wasp families. Why do scientists not delve into these unknown areas? "It's a matter of tradition and laziness: if a lot of people have already worked on a particular group, it's easy to build on that. Certainly if they are large or colorful organisms," Schilthuizen explains. So scientists also have a weakness for beautiful appearances.
The mapping of all species is important for understanding and protecting them. What you don't know cannot be protected. That is why Naturalis has set the goal of identifying all species in the Netherlands. With the use of innovative biomonitoring, this could become a reality. With DNA research and image recognition, among other things, the discovery and mapping of species can gain momentum. That does not mean that we no longer have to scrutinize the field, but that we have the undiscovered species above water or soil more quickly.
The real discoverer of the new parasitic wasp is Naturalis researcher and parasitic wasp expert Kees van Achterberg. "I soon realized that it was something special. The parasitic wasp resembles different species, but had slightly different colors and body proportions," says van Achterberg. Discovering a new wasp is not for everyone. "The wasp is very small, you need a microscope to view it properly. In addition, you have to go through a lot of literature to be sure that it is a new species," van Achterberg explains. The holotype of the parasitic wasp - the unique specimen to which the name is written - is safely stored at Naturalis. van Achterberg dares to show him for a moment, before he goes to the dry-freezer for storage. A box full of wasps of only a few millimeters in size appears. When asked whether van Achterberg is proud of his new discovery, he answers modestly: "You do something like this together. You are all on the road, so the name has been democratically chosen."