New species of parasitoid wasp discovered in Vondelpark. Citizen scientists find Aphaereta vondelparkensis.

A team of citizen scientists and biologists, among which those of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, have discoved a completely new species of parasitic wasp during an expedition in the Vondelpark in the heart of Amsterdam. They decided to call the species Aphaereta vondelparkensis. The discovery is published in the Biodiversity Data Journal. It shows that even the bussiest spots of The Netherlands still harbour undiscovered biodiversity.

The expedition was organised by Taxon Expeditions, an organisaion that goes on scientific expeditions all over the world, taking along both ‘ordinary’ people and professional biodiversity researchers to explore. One of the highlights is to discover and publish about species that are new to science, for which the participants then get to come up with the scientific Latin name. VU-biologist Joris Koene explains enthusiastically: ”This find reveals that you can still find new species in the middle of a busy city and that even in such an an urban environment there is still lots to discover for biologists and ecologists.”

Parasitoid species
Last summer, the team caught insects at the ‘Koeienweide’, a part of the park that is ecologically managed by the city of Amsterdam and usually closed to the public.. They used a variety of techniques for insect-trapping. The parasitic wasp was found in rotting flesh placed in glass jars that were partly dug into the ground. The participants, under guidance of Joris Koene and other experts (Menno Schilthuizen, Iva Njunjić, Kees van Achterberg), subsequently used advanced microscopes in the VU laboratory to confirm that the species is indeed new to science. The larvae of parasitoids live as parasites in the body of other insects; Aphaereta vondelparkensis parasitizes flies that are attracted by rotting flesh.

Except for the new parasitoid wasp, many other organism were found during the expedition: 21 species of spiders, 40 parasitoid wasp species, 110 species of moths, 85 beetle species, 15 snail species and two parasitic fungi. Among these are several rare species and even some that had not been reported to occur in The Netherlands before.

Photos: Iva Njunjić