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Roehampton researcher confirms recent discovery of new springtail species in the UK

Dr Peter Shaw, Reader in Zoology, has identified the first UK record of the luridly coloured springtail 'Bilobella braunerae' from specimens newly collected by Natural England staff. This was only described in 1981 from France, appeared in the Netherlands in 2007, and has now been found on a farm in Shropshire. DNA barcoding will be used to establish whether the UK and Netherlands animals are the same population.

Posted: 11 February 2015

image for news story Roehampton researcher confirms recent discovery of new springtail species in the UK
Bilobella braunerae

The UK has about 330 species of Springtails (Collembola).  These are usually thought of as wingless insects, although it is now thought that they were not on the direct evolutionary line that led to modern insects and are closer to crustacea.  Springtails are often overlooked but are common in every layer of leaf litter, in every soil, up most trees and (in low numbers) in every cave system.  

Like many life forms, non-native species have been moving around Europe plus colonising the UK for years but the rate of colonisation seems to have increased in the last decade (perhaps from a combination of rising temperatures and unrestricted horticultural imports).  One highly visible species is the bright pink-orange Bilobella braunerae, which was only separated from its (much commoner) yellow-orange sibling species Bilobella aurantiaca in 1981.  This springtail is found in large groups under decaying bark so is easily visible, and would not have been overlooked by enthusiastic UK collectors the 150 years of springtail surveying, so must be a recent arrival.   

Being neither able to fly nor to jump (not all springtails have a 'spring in their tail'), its recent discovery in Shropshire must result from accidental importation.  The University now plans to get DNA barcodes for animals from the UK and the Netherlands to check whether they are the same population.  There are at least 4 other non-native Collembola in the UK, 2 of which are new to science and await description.

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