Thursday, April 17, 2014

Butterflies of India crosses 800 species pages and 265 lifecycles

On that note, I am happy to announce that we have just crossed the 800 species pages mark on the Butterflies of India website. This has been long overdue but we were busy with other things in the past few months so it took some time. But now it's done. In the slow but steady march of the last 30-40 species pages leading up to the 800th species page (and beyond), we have had many exciting discoveries and records reported on the website and quickly made available to the larger butterfly-watching community soon after the discoveries. Some of the more exciting species pages have been in the following genera:!/tx/441-Lethe-dp3!/tx/470-Celaenorrhinus-dp3!/tx/276-Choaspes-dp3!/tx/313-Scobura-dp3

And some specific species:

Creteus cyrina Hewitson, 1876 – Nonsuch Palmer

Acupicta delicatum de Nicéville, 1887 – Dark Tinsel!/sp/2828/Acupicta-delicatum 

See the full and current listing of species on the website at:

There are also lots of early stages, especially some new ones by Tarun Karmakar, Saji and Paresh, and by Ashok's friends:

And of course, many new images of larval host plants:

-- Krushnamegh Kunte

Monday, April 14, 2014

ButterflyIndia project on iNaturalist crosses 1000 mark

iNaturalist is a specialized biodiversity portal. Some people call it Faacebook for Biodiversity lovers. The portal lets us post records in the form of photos, other members can help us identify them and the data is made available to wider audience through portals like Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and Encyclopedia of Life (EOL). 

We have been posting records of butterflies on the ButterflyIndia project on iNaturalist for some time and now we have reached a significant mark. We now have 1000 records covering more than 250 taxa. We are in a process of making all the records Research Grade meaning verified by at least one other member than the one who has posted it. These records complete with what, when, where and by whom. So these records can be quickly mapped or analysed in different ways. The opportunities are unlimited.

Map showing locations of first 1000 records on ButterflyIndia project

These kind of projects help us build data on larger scale and help us understand our biodiversity better. Since the data is made available on several international portals, in some sense our records become immortal and would be preserved for a very long time. 

Now we need help. You can help us in following ways:

  • By posting more records for different species and different regions. You can see in the map where we have data and where are the gaps.
  • Requesting and helping more members to convert their photographs into re-usable records to help research and conservation
  • Helping confirm identifications to get more records to research grade. We need lot of help here, we have many records yet to be confirmed.
  • By simply encouraging members who are posting records by comments on the records
Starting the contributions is very simple, login into iNaturalist website using any id like Google, Facebook, Yahoo etc. and get going. So now start digging in your photo archive and start posting records, help identify and confirm identifications for others.  

We seek your feedback on this project. We would like to hear form you about:

  1. How can we attract more contributions on such portals?
  2. How can we address the need for identification confirmations?
  3. Do you find such activities useful at all?
  4. What long term contributions you see these portals making?

Here are some more examples of quick analysis and visualizations of this data we did in under half an hour.

Each dot represents a day and each year is represented in concentric circles. Blue color represents less records on the day and red represents more.

Families represented in our data. Larger the box, more records we have.

Each line represents a calender day of year and length represents number of records on that day.  

 Same as above aggregated monthly

  Same as above aggregated weekly

Each square represents approximately one degree by one degree area (~110x110km) and color represents number of records form that region.

Data extraction using package rinat and visualizations created using package bdvis in R. More examples and sample code can be found at

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

India could soon help bring back an extinct, spectacular species of lions

LONDON: India could soon help bring back an extinct lion species. DNA tests by an international team of scientists has confirmed the lions in India have close genetic links with the now extinct Barbary lions.

This means that "reseeding" Indian lions could bring back the extinct species and reintroduce lions into North Africa.
India could soon help bring back an extinct, spectacular species of lions
Barbary lions of North Africa extending from Egypt to Morocco were also called the Atlas lions and had the most spectacular physical features of all lion species. (Getty Images photo)

Less than 400 Asiatic lions survive at present on the Kathiawar Peninsula of India and the species is listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Barbary lions of North Africa — including mountainous regions — extending from Egypt to Morocco were also called the Atlas lions and had the most spectacular physical features of all lion species. The lion's extensive mane made it look majestic. It was a lot larger with differently-coloured eyes to other lions.

Dr Ross Barnett of Copenhagen University, who had started the research during his days at Durham University in UK, sequenced the DNA from the skulls of two Barbary lions once held in Britain's Tower of London. It has helped reveal the origin of modern lions.

The skulls of these lions dated as living in the 14th and 15th centuries were discovered preserved in the Tower of London's moat.

Dr Barnett said he was surprised by the incredibly close relationship between the extinct Barbary lion from North Africa and the Asian lion from India. This he says could now get conservationists start talking about resurrecting the subspecies and reintroducing lions into North Africa"

Despite the large geographical distances between them, the Indian lions seem to be closely related to Iranian lions and the Barbary lions of North Africa.

The study says: "In the tiger, another charismatic felid species, studies of ancient mitochondrial DNA have suggested a close relationship between the extinct central Asian Caspian tiger and the extant Amur tiger. This has allowed conservationists to discuss the translocation of Amur tiger stock to occupy the former range of the Caspian tiger with support from the World Tiger Summit. Similarly, if no examples of purebred Barbary lions can be found within the zoo population, there might be scope for restoration of the North African lion population using the closely related Indian lion."

A genetic analysis of living lions and museum specimens confirms modern lions' most recent common ancestor lived around 124,000 years ago.

Dr Barnett said, "Understanding the demographic history of a population is critical to conservation. This is particularly true for the lion which as a consequence of millennia of human persecution, has large gaps in its natural distribution and several recently extinct populations. We sequenced mitochondrial DNA from museum-preserved individuals including the extinct Barbary lion and Iranian lion as well as lions from West and Central Africa. We have identified deep, well-supported splits within the mitochondrial phylogeny of African lions."

The lion had one of the largest geographical distributions of any terrestrial mammal during the Late Pleistocene, ranging from southern Africa through northern Eurasia to Central America. Widespread hunting and anthropogenic changes to lion habitat are continuing to reduce lion populations across their entire range.

The research says: "From the DNA analysis, we identified four new mitochondrial haplotypes: one from North Africa, one from a suspected Barbary lion present in medieval London, one from Iran, and one from Senegal. Four of the six Barbary lions exhibited sequence identical to that of the extant Indian lion."

"International bodies currently recognize only two lion conservation units: African and Asian lions. The data clearly show that Asian lions are nested within the diversity present in Central, West and North Africa. Of particular concern are the central African and western African populations, which may be close to extinction, with estimates of 800 lions in West Africa and 900 lions in Central Africa. The close phylogenetic relationships among Barbary, Iranian, and Indian lion populations are noteworthy given their considerable geographical separation. The restoration of the extinct North African Barbary lion has attracted the attention of conservationists both inside and outside North Africa," it added.

Original News