SSS: Swiss Systematics Society
Last year’s activities of the SSS were strongly influenced by the pandemic but were nevertheless very successful. We conducted an outreach project in association with the national day of natural history collections that involved 26 museums, botanical gardens and other natural history collections all over the country. It included the production of 72 short videos (“fantastic stories from our natural history collections”) and a competition for the public, to identify the one in three stories which was made up. The webpage of the project (www.fantasticstories.ch) was viewed more than 5000 times and remains online for a while to still allow watching the videos. Because many museums had to close due to the pandemic on the collections day on November 22nd, the online part of the activity with the short videos was even more important for many participating institutions. The activity was funded by the AGORA stream of the Swiss National Science Foundation and by ScNat.
Our annual meeting on Nov 6th had to be held entirely online. Nevertheless, it was very well received, which was likely due to two outstanding presentations by our invited speakers, Allison Daley from the University of Lausanne and Lukas Rüber from the Natural History Museum in Bern. The meeting was preceded by an online workshop on Nov 5th on morphometric analyses led by Hannes Baur from the Natural History Museum in Bern, who inducted 26 participants into the secrets of linear and geometric morphometrics.
The systematics community also established a new record: 215 new species were published by researchers working at Swiss institutions in 2020, which is 9 more than in 2016, the previous record year. A new plant species of the Primulaceae family from the Alps, Androsace albimontana, was chosen as the new species of the year at the annual meeting of the society and acted as a worthy representative of all new species in our list https://swiss-systematics.ch/en/new_species_swiss_made_2021/new_species).
Last year, we sent out two newsletters to our members (numbers 40 an d 41), sent out in February and June.
The SSS supported the Biology20 meeting in Fribourg on February 6–7. The systematics speaker at the conference was Andrea Waeschenbach from The Natural History Museum in London, who presented her work on the evolution of Bryozoa.
The yearly scientific meeting of the society took place online on November 6th. It included nine scientific talks and the general assembly of the society. Two invited speakers delivered outstanding talks: Allison Daley from the University of Lausanne talked about the diversity and evolution of Radiodonta, a group of large-bodied arthropods that lived during the early Paleozoic. And Lukas Rüber from the Natural History Museum in Bern told us fish tales from Asia that involved many enigmatic species, including the smallest fish on earth. The remaining talks covered a good deal of the taxonomic and methodological breath of modern systematics, from the phylogenomics of Leguminosacea, to the biogeography of amoebas and island birds. This year’s SSS award for the best master thesis went to Karin Urfer, who presented her work on the unusually high intra-specific diversity of the crab spider Synema globosum.
Once more, we aimed to encourage young systematists through three actions in 2020, two of which became irrelevant due to the pandemic: the travel grant that supports students to travel to international conferences did not attract any submissions, due to obvious reasons. And applications for reimbursement for train tickets to the annual meeting by students were not received either, as the event was held entirely online. The only activity of the society devoted to students that could be conducted was the award for the best master thesis in systematics, which went to Karin Urfer for her master thesis on DNA barcoding and morphological analyses of the crab spider Synema globossum.
Our outreach project “fantastic stories” included two main parts: short videos with an associated competition (both online) on one hand, and the national day of natural history collections (“collections day”) on the other. The collections day was supposed to take place on 22th November 2020 in 26 museums and botanical gardens all over Switzerland. While we could conduct the first, online part very successfully, the collections day had to be cancelled at nearly all the institutions due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, feedback on the outreach project was very positive, especially as the online component allowed the participating institutions to remain visible even during the lockdown.
We produced four short videos each at 23 institutions all over Switzerland. The first three videos of each institution tell the stories of three objects from their collections, with two stories unbelievable but true and the third story made up by the curator. In the fourth video, the curator then solves the riddle and tells the true story of the third object. The public could participate in a competition by registering their answer online on our webpage.
The videos were watched 5,636 times in total and 690 people took part in the competition. Several local media (print, radio, TV) reported favourably on the project. In a questionnaire sent out to all participating institutions, all replied that they would like to participate again in a future collections day and in more “fantastic stories”. The videos and webpage remain active at least for another year (www.fantasticstories.ch) and have already been advertised among teachers to be used in biology classes.
The activity was supported by the AGORA funding scheme of the Swiss National Science Foundation and by ScNat.