In August 2006, the Academy's Dr. Mark Sabaj Pérez and Bud Mendsaikhan of the Geo-Ecology Institute of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences led a 10-person team to collect fish and aquatic invertebrates in mostly unexplored parts of eastern and northeastern Mongolia. A total of 16 sites were sampled. The majority of these were streams from the Onon River Basin, a major tributary of the Amur River of eastern Siberia. Two sites in the eastern edge of Mongolia and one site in the capitol were also sampled. (See a web account of this expedition at silurus.ansp.org/ACSI/field/ Mongolia2006.
The main targets were either new or rarely collected species of catfishes and cypriniforms (minnows). The catfish would be used for the All Catfish Species Inventory (silurus.ansp.org) while the minnows would contributed to the Cypriniformes Tree of Life (bio.slu.edu/mayden/cypriniformes/home.html). In addition to the fish, water-quality data and aquatic macroinvertebrates collections were made for the Mongolian Aquatic Insect Survey and the Hövsgöl ILTER. Tissue samples from freshwater mussel were collected for The Mussel Project.
Dr. Christian D. Jersabek, who recently spent three years at the Academy as a Gallagher Fellow and currently serves as an adjunct curator, is conducting a multi-year survey of rotifers and other minute invertebrates from freshwater and saline aquatic habitats in Mongolia. These collections will contribute to a comprehensive species-level database that will include distribution records, locality and habitat classifications, and specimen images. In addition, Dr. Jersabek is helping to develop a research infrastructure in Mongolia by setting up a local reference collection and training Mongolian students.
The National Institutes of Health has recently awarded $4 million to a group of Philippine and American scientists, including The Academy of Natural Sciences, to aid in the discovery of new molecules and biofuels technology from marine mollusks for development in the Philippines. Research will be concentrated in the Philippine archipelago, whose waters are inhabited by an estimated 10,000 marine mollusk species—about a fifth of all the known species—and are regarded by marine biologists as the world's epicenter of marine biodiversity. Mollusks are among the most diverse of marine animals and include shelled creatures like snails, clams and slugs. The team will combine the discovery of new products with a deeper understanding of marine biodiversity and conservation of that diversity.
U.S. scientists are working closely with colleagues from the University of the Philippines to uncover interactions between mollusks and their bacterial partners. The project is expected to yield leads to potential central nervous system, cancer and antimicrobial drugs as well as enzymes for cellulosic biofuels production. Part of the project involves the methodical collection, identification and cataloging of mollusk species from the Philippines, and making this information freely available on the Internet. This effort will be led by Dr. Gary Rosenberg who already has developed a biotic database documenting more than 25,000 species of Indo-Pacific marine mollusks. The scientists will also be training Philippine students in taxonomy and best practices for museum curation and building online identification guides for Philippine mollusks. The sampling will focus on four habitats: coral reefs, mangroves, marine grass beds, and intertidal flats.
The project aims to discover biologically-active molecules from bacteria associated with marine mollusks. One target are bacteria isolated from gastropods, particularly the highly venomous cone snails. Shipworms, the marine equivalent of termites and the scourge of wooden structures in estuarine and marine habitats worldwide, are also of special interest. A relative of the clam, these animals host bacteria inside their gills that produce enzymes to help them digest wood and may prove useful for converting cellulosic biomass into biofuels. See www.pms-icbg.org for more information.
Dr. Tatyana Livshultz, director of the Academy's Botany Department, has conducted research on the species diversity and ecology of the genus Dischidia (family Apocynaceae, the milkweed family) in Laos, Malaysia, and the Philippines for several years. Her current research focuses on documenting the diversity of Dischidia species and describing new endemic species from limestone hills in Thailand.