First-ever fish species described by a Maldivian scientist

Though there are hundreds of species of fish found off the coast of the Maldives, a mesmerizing new addition is the first-ever to be formally described by a Maldivian researcher.

Named after the country’s national flower, the species is added to the tree of life as part of the California Academy of Sciences’ global Hope for Reefs initiative

Originally published by the California Academy of Sciences

Though there are hundreds of species of fish found off the coast of the Maldives, a mesmerizing new addition is the first-ever to be formally described—the scientific process an organism goes through to be recognized as a new species—by a Maldivian researcher.

The new-to-science Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa), described in the journal ZooKeys, is also one of the first species to have its name derived from the local Dhivehi language, ‘finifenmaa’ meaning ‘rose’, a nod to both its pink hues and the island nation’s national flower.

Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences, the University of Sydney, the Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI), and the Field Museum collaborated on the discovery as part of the Academy’s Hope for Reefs initiative aimed at better understanding and protecting coral reefs around the world.

“It has always been foreign scientists who have described species found in the Maldives, even those that are endemic, without much involvement from local scientists. This time, it is different and getting to be part of something for the first time has been really exciting, especially having the opportunity to work alongside top ichthyologists on such an elegant and beautiful species,”

says study co-author and Maldives Marine Research Institute biologist Ahmed Najeeb.

First collected by researchers in the 1990s, C. finifenmaa was originally thought to be the adult version of a different species, Cirrhilabrus rubrisquamis, which had been described based on a single juvenile specimen from the Chagos Archipelago, an island chain 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of the Maldives. 

In this new study, however, the researchers took a more detailed look at both adults and juveniles of the multicolored marvel, measuring and counting various features, such as the color of adult males, the height of each spine supporting the fin on the fish’s back and the number of scales found on various body regions. These data, along with genetic analyses, were then compared to the C. rubrisquamis specimen to confirm that C. finifenmaa is indeed a unique species. 

Importantly, this revelation greatly reduces the known range of each wrasse, a crucial consideration when setting conservation priorities.  

“What we previously thought was one widespread species of fish, is actually two different species, each with a potentially much more restricted distribution. This exemplifies why describing new species, and taxonomy in general, is important for conservation and biodiversity management,”

says lead author and University of Sydney doctoral student Yi-Kai Tea. 

Despite only just being described, the researchers say that the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse is already being exploited through the aquarium hobbyist trade. 

“Though the species is quite abundant and therefore not currently at a high risk of overexploitation, it’s still unsettling when a fish is already being commercialized before it even has a scientific name. It speaks to how much biodiversity there is still left to be described from coral reef ecosystems,”

says senior author and Academy Curator of Ichthyology Luiz Rocha, PhD, who co-directs the Hope for Reefs initiative.

Last month, Hope for Reefs researchers continued their collaboration with the MMRI by conducting the first surveys of the Maldives’ ‘twilight zone’ reefs—the virtually unexplored coral ecosystems found between 50- to 150-meters (160- to 500-feet) beneath the ocean’s surface—where they found new records of C. finifenmaa along with at least eight potentially new-to-science species yet to be described. 

This new-to-science Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa) became the first Maldivian fish to ever be described by a local researcher.
Photo by Yi-Kai Tea.

For the researchers, this kind of international partnership is pivotal to best understand and ensure a regenerative future for the Maldives’ coral reefs. 

“Nobody knows these waters better than the Maldivian people. Our research is stronger when it’s done in collaboration with local researchers and divers. I’m excited to continue our relationship with MMRI and the Ministry of Fisheries to learn about and protect the island nation’s reefs together,”

says Rocha says

“Collaborating with organizations such as the Academy helps us build our local capacity to expand knowledge in this field. This is just the start and we are already working together on future projects. Our partnership will help us better understand the unexplored depths of our marine ecosystems and their inhabitants. The more we understand and the more compelling scientific evidence we can gather, the better we can protect them,”

adds Najeeb.

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Research article:

Tea Y-K, Najeeb A, Rowlett J, Rocha LA (2022) Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa (Teleostei, Labridae), a new species of fairy wrasse from the Maldives, with comments on the taxonomic identity of C. rubrisquamis and C. wakanda. ZooKeys 1088: 65-80. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1088.78139

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Four Cheers for Marine Diversity: New species from Pensoft journals float their way up to the ‘TOP 10’ charts of WoRMS

The Harry Potter ‘hero’ crab, Palau president’s colonial anemone and the ‘living fossil’ octocoral published in ZooKeys along with the Bob Marley’s intertidal spider from the pages of Evolutionary Systematics made it to the top in the two lists compiled by the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS). The ‘TOP 10’ charts mark the 10th anniversary of the organisation dedicated to noting down all creatures splashing around Earth’s marine habitats.

While the three species in the ‘Ten remarkable new marine species from 2017’ list have been bathing in glory mostly thanks to their prominent human namesakes, the octocoral from Japan found a place amongst the ‘Ten astounding marine species of the last decade (2007-2017)’ after being identified as a ‘living fossil’.

To compile the lists, WoRMS first invited all their editors to nominate their favourites in the two disciplines, and then asked a small committee of taxonomists and data managers to provide their votes.

Without further ado, let’s dive into a little bit of a reminder to find out exactly why and how those particular species turned up at the top.

 

  • Harry Potter ‘hero’ crab (Harryplax severus)

Harryplax severus 2

To the delight of the millions of fans of the iconic fantasy franchise Harry Potter around the world, a new species of charming crab discovered in the coral reefs of the island of Guam, the Pacific Ocean, was named after not one, but two of their favourite characters – protagonist Harry Potter and the villain-turned-hero Professor Severus Snape.

Luckily for lead author and self-confessed ‘Potterhead’ Dr. Jose Christopher E. Mendoza, the crustacean was simultaneously identified as a new species and a new genus, which made it possible to have the genus name (Harryplax) ‘reserved’ for the famous fictional wizard, while the species name (severus) remains dedicated to his secretive teacher.

Furthermore, the two scientists – Dr. Jose Christopher E. Mendoza and Dr. Peter Ng, both affiliated with the National University of Singapore – used the scientific name of their rubble-inhabiting discovery to pay tribute to its initial collector – Harry Conley. About 20 years ago, the “soft-spoken ex-Marine with a steely determination and a heart of gold” collected a curious-looking crab from the waters of Guam to unknowingly hand his successors with a piece of nature’s undescribed gems.

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Learn more about Harryplax severus on our blog or read the study published in our open access journal ZooKeys.

 

  • Bob Marley’s intertidal spider (Desis bobmarleyi)

Female Desis bobmarleyi

It’s true – underwater spiders are for real!

Keep calm, though, they tend to be tiny and harmless to humans, so you are highly unlikely to get in contact with them by pure chance.

Scientists Drs. Barbara Baehr, Robert Raven and Danilo Harms, affiliated with Queensland Museum and the University of Hamburg, themselves, had to stay alert and wait for the low tide at the coastline of Australia’s “Sunshine State” of Queensland, in order to spot and collect the several-millimetre spider now known as the Bob Marley’s intertidal spider (or Desis bobmarleyi if you stumble upon it in the academic books).

Fans of the legendary reggae musician, the biologists were quick to link the emergence of the arachnid to a favourite song – “High Tide or Low Tide” – and its underlying message about love and friendship through all struggles of life.

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Check out our blog post on Desis bobmarleyi or go read the full study appearing in the open access Evolutionary Systematics and its first issue published since the journal joined Pensoft last December.

 

  • Palau president’s colonial anemone (Antipathozoanthus remengesaui)

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Yes, the species in the picture is an animal living in the sea, even though Anemone is also a genus of flowering plants growing on the ground. Confused? In fact, the two have nothing to do with each other, apart from their ‘flowery’ appearance.

While researchers from the University of the Ryukyus, Kagoshima University, Japan and the Palau International Coral Reef Center were studying the sea anemones living on top of black coral colonies in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, they discovered a total of three new lovely species (allegedly, even more!), where one, Antipathozoanthus obscurus, was spectacular with its preference for hiding in the narrow reef cracks, rather than ‘perching’ proudly on corals.

Amazed by the quantity of yet to be explored biodiversity at the studied localities, including the island country of Palau, the scientists took the occasion to say Thank you to Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau for his nation’s support.

By naming one of the new species A. remengesaui, the scientists also pay tribute to the politician’s vision on nature conservation which has already placed Palau “at the forefront of marine conservation”, as noted by senior author Dr. James Reimer.

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Find more about the new anemones from our blog post or check out the full study openly accessible in ZooKeys.

 

  • The ‘living fossil’ octocoral (Nanipora kamurai)

living fossil

Dubbed ‘living fossil’ for having much more in common with extinct species than it has with its ‘living’ relatives, this octocoral discovered in Okinawa, Japan, comes to show that sometimes it’s staying calm and still on the (shallow reef) surface that takes you places.

Here, the extraordinary, in modern sense, octocoral species landed a spot among the ten most astounding marine species of the decade.

The ‘living fossil’ resembles the extraordinary blue corals, which are said to have been widely distributed around the globe during the Cretaceous period. Much like its ancestors, it sports a hard skeleton of calcium-carbonate, explain graduate student Yu Miyazaki and associate professor Dr James Davis Reimer, University of the Ryukyus.

Planning a trip to Okinawa? Keep an eye open, as this unusual species prefers depths of less than a meter, which is once again quite the contrary to the habitats picked by its contemporaries.

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Check out our blog post on the ‘living fossil’ octocoral and find the study in our open access journal ZooKeys.

DNA study in the Pacific reveals 2000% increase in our knowledge of mollusc biodiversity

Lead author Dr Helena Wiklund examining specimens on the RV Melville in October 2013
Lead author Dr Helena Wiklund examining specimens on the RV Melville in October 2013

Scientists working in the new frontier for deep-sea mining have revealed a remarkable 2000% increase in our knowledge of the biodiversity of seafloor molluscs.

The 21 mollusc species newly described thanks to the latest DNA-taxonomy methodology
The 21 mollusc species newly described thanks to the latest DNA-taxonomy methodology

Tweny-one species, where only one was previously known, are reported as a result of the research which applied the latest DNA-taxonomy methodology to mollusc specimens collected from the central Pacific Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in 2013. They are all described in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Among the discoveries is a monoplacophoran mollusc species regarded as a ‘living fossil’, since it is one the ancestors of all molluscs. This is the first DNA to be collected from this species and the first record of it from the CCZ mining exploration zone – a vast 5-million-km² region of the central Pacific that is regulated for seabed mining by the International Seabed Authority.

“Despite over 100 survey expeditions to the region over 40 years of mineral prospecting, there has been almost no taxonomy done on the molluscs from this area,” says lead author Dr Helena Wiklund of the The Natural History Museum in London (NHM).

Dr Wiklund undertook a comprehensive DNA-based study of the molluscs to confirm species identities and make data available for future taxonomic study. This was coupled with the expertise of the NHM’s Dr John Taylor, who led the morphological work.

The molluscs were found in samples taken on and in the mud surrounding the potato-sized polymetallic nodules that are present in high abundance across the CCZ. These nodules are the target for potential deep-sea mining being rich in cobalt, copper, nickel, manganese and other valuable minerals.

The data are vital for the future environmental regulation of deep-sea mining, but have also revealed surprising patterns.

“I was amazed to discover that specimens collected during the 19th century by HMS Challenger were probably the same as ours over a range of 7000 km, but that data lodged on genetic databases from closer but shallower depths is likely to be from a different species,” comments Dr Thomas Dahlgren, population geneticist at Uni Research, Norway and University of Gothenburg, Sweden, who studied in detail a species called Nucula profundorum.

“Our efforts are now focussing on studying the DNA from many more samples of this species to examine connectivity and potential resilience to deep-sea mining,” he added.

Dr Thomas Dahlgren sieving sediments to find new clam and snail
Dr Thomas Dahlgren sieving sediments to find new clam and snail species

“It is a simple truth that we cannot move forward on regulatory approval for deep-sea mining without fundamental baseline data on what animals actually live in these regions,” says Principal Investigator of the NHM Deep-sea Systematics and Ecology Research Group, Dr Adrian Glover.

“Our work has highlighted obvious gaps in our knowledge, but also shown that with even relatively modest effort, we can greatly increase our understanding of baseline biodiversity using DNA-taxonomy.”

Creating a library of archived DNA-sequenced samples from known species allows for the future possibility of using the latest environmental DNA (eDNA) methods to ‘search’ for these species using just tiny samples of mud or seawater.

“Its akin to forensic science’, says Dr Glover. “You can’t use eDNA to find the criminals or species unless you have a library of information to compare them too”.

All data and specimens from the study have been lodged at the NHM and online repositories to make them accessible for future study. Of particular importance are the frozen tissue collections, which are housed in the state-of-the-art Molecular Collections Facility at the NHM and available for loan or further DNA work.

 

Original source:

Wiklund H, Taylor JD, Dahlgren TG, Todt C, Ikebe C, Rabone M, Glover AG (2017) Abyssal fauna of the UK-1 polymetallic nodule exploration area, Clarion-Clipperton Zone, central Pacific Ocean: Mollusca. ZooKeys 707: 1–46. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.707.13042

Six new sponge species and new symbiotic associations from the Indonesian coral triangle

Comprising more than 17,000 islands, the Indonesian archipelago is one of the world’s most biodiverse places on Earth.

Sponges, aquatic organisms whose bodies consist of numerous pores to allow the ingress of water, are key components of this richness and play a fundamental role in the survival of coral reef habitats. Furthermore, they are also known for their medicinal benefits.

Unfortunately, due to the paucity of taxonomic expertise, the sponges from the Indonesian reefs are often ignored in monitoring surveys and conservation programmes, while their diversity is largely underestimated.

Researchers from the Italian Università Politecnica delle Marche and Università degli Studi di GenovaPharmaMar, Spain, and University of Sam Ratulangi, Indonesia, describe six new species in their paper in the open access journal, ZooKeys.

Inspired by their extraordinary biodiversity, the researchers teamed up with the pharmaceutical company PharmaMar to conduct several expeditions in the waters of North Sulawesi Island.

Psammocinia albaThe authors reported a total of 94 demosponge species belonging to 33 families living in the North Sulawesi Island. Amongst them, there are six species new to science and two previously unknown symbiotic relationships.

Seven of the recorded species were collected for the very first time since their original description.

However, these findings are still scarce, given the abundance of the sponges in similar localities in the Indonesian archipelago.

In conclusion, the authors note that the marine diversity in Indonesia is still far from being well known.

“Thanks to this impressive diversity, these areas are important spots for diving tourism and require the urgent development of sustainable tourism practices,” they say.

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Original source:

Calcinai B, Bastari A, Bavestrello G, Bertolino M, Horcajadas SB, Pansini M, Makapedua DM, Cerrano C (2017) Demosponge diversity from North Sulawesi, with the description of six new species. ZooKeys 680: 105-150. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.680.12135

New species of crab with unusual outgrowths has its name written in the stars

A new species of crab with star-shaped tubercles all over its body has been collected from red coral beds during a survey at a small seamount by Peng-Chia-Yu Island, Taiwan. It has also been found in the Philippines. It is described in the open access journal ZooKeys.

This astonishing creature is distinct with its carapace and chelipeds covered in pointy protrusions. Interestingly, these change with age, becoming shorter, blunter and mushroom-shaped to resemble wart-like outgrowths and granules. Regardless of their sex, as the crabs grow larger, their carapaces also get proportionately rounder and wider.

The curious protuberances on the bodies reminded the research team of Dr. Peter Ng, National University of Singapore, and Dr. Ming-Shiou Jeng, Biodiversity Research CenterAcademia Sinica, Taiwan, of stars. Hence, the crab was given the name Pariphiculus stellatus, where stellatus translates as ‘starry’ from Latin.

The colouration of P. stellatus varies among specimens. While predominantly orange with white patches, their shade could be either dull, pale or intense. The white spots might cover some of the protrusions or extend over most of the body. The underside of the body is dirty white to light brown.

Acanthodromia margaritaAnother rare crab species, Acanthodromia margarita, has been reported for the first time from Taiwan in the same study, having previously been known from the Andaman Sea in the eastern Indian Ocean, Japan and the Philippines. The collected female specimen is one of the largest representatives of the species known so far.

“With their bright orange to pink bodies, these hedgehog-like crabs are truly striking in life!” says Dr. Peter Ng.

 

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Original source:

Ng PKL, Jeng M-S (2017) Notes on two crabs (Crustacea, Brachyura, Dynomenidae and Iphiculidae) collected from red coral beds in northern Taiwan, including a new species of Pariphiculus Alcock, 1896. ZooKeys 694: 135-156. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.694.14871

Behind Green Eyes: New species of deep-water hermit crab finds itself unusual shelters

‘Green-eyed hermit crab’ is the common name for a new species recently discovered off the West Coast of South Africa. Apart from its magnetic stare, however, there is a number of characteristic morphological traits and an unusual home preference that all make the crustacean unique.

Lara Atkinson_SAEON_offshore benthic ecologistFormally named after the University of Cape Town (UCT) alumnus Dr Lara Atkinson, the new hermit crab Paragiopagurus atkinsonaeis described by PhD candidate Jannes Landschoff, UCT, and Dr Rafael Lemaitre, Smithsonian Institution, USA, in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The Green-eyed hermit crab measures merely 70 mm in length and sports a coloration of mottled orange nuanced with cream to white. Among its distinct traits is the significant sexual dimorphism, where the males grow much larger right chelipeds in comparison to females.

Much like other hermit crabs in its family (Parapaguridae), the little crustacean does not use the shells of other molluscs to shelter its vulnerable body, but rather finds a home in the soft, polypy masses built from sand and material created by sea anemones which go on to live on the backs of these crabs in an amazing symbiosis.

“So, when you hold it [the hermit crab], it’s just organic material glued together with some sand,” explains Jannes in the UCT’s announcement about their discovery.

“Even more curiously, parapagurids start off in the usual way, occupying a tiny gastropod shell. But these eventually become deposited within this non-calcified ‘amalgam’ created by the anemones. As the hermit crab grows, its live ‘shell’, or carcinoecia, grows with it.”

2017-07-11-Sympagurus_dimorphus

The new species was discovered during a three-week survey back in 2013, conducted by the Department of Forestry and Fisheries and the South African Environmental Observation Network in the shallower deep waters (199 m to 277 m) off the West Coast of South Africa. Lara was on board one of the vessels when an unusual green-eyed crab turned up among the numerous specimens collected in one of the trawls. It was at that moment that she noticed that there was something peculiar about it and sent it for identification.

Restricted to a surprisingly small area for no obvious reason, the new species might be just bringing up some very important conservation messages.

“The area isn’t noticeably biologically or oceanographically distinct, but more detailed sampling from the area will tell us more about the habitat conditions. Future studies need to take this into account and give the area more research attention. If there’s something unusual about the site, you’d want to be careful, especially with mining operations along the West Coast,” says Jannes.

“Incidents like these are flags for future protection. The bottom line is we know so little about these offshore habitats from an ecological point of view. And if you’re planning for a marine protected area, you have to know what it is you’re protecting in that area.”

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Original source:

Landschoff J, Lemaitre R (2017) Differentiation of three common deep-water hermit crabs (Crustacea, Decapoda, Anomura, Parapaguridae) from the South African demersal abundance surveys, including the description of a new species of Paragiopagurus Lemaitre, 1996. ZooKeys676: 21-45. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.676.12987

A new species of hard coral from the World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island, Australia

The discovery of a new species of hard coral, found on Lord Howe Island, suggests that the fauna of this isolated location in the Tasman Sea off south eastern Australia is even more distinct than previously recognised.

In a recent paper in ZooKeys, Prof. Andrew Baird and Dr. Mia Hoogenboom from James Cook University, Townsville Australia and Dr. Danwei Huang from the National University of Singapore, describe the new species Cyphastrea salae.

Cyphastrea salae holotype macro 81_1530 IMG_1528

“The animal itself is quite non-descript from a distance, although it is beautifully symmetrical up close like most corals,” says Dr. Hoogenboom. “But we believe this is the first of many new hard coral species to be found in this World Heritage-listed marine protected area.”

Lord Howe Island is famous for its many unique plant and animal species, known from nowhere else on Earth, including at least four species of palms, nine reef fish and 47 algae. However, the coral fauna remains largely unexplored, particularly using modern genetic techniques.

While some of the earliest work on coral reef ecology was done on Lord Howe Island, the species lists were compiled using a morphological taxonomy that has since been revised.

“On my very first dive in the lagoon at Lord Howe I knew I was looking at something very special,” says Prof. Baird. “Twenty years of diving all over the globe had not prepared me for what I saw. I could hardly put a name on any coral!”

Now, six years later, and largely due to the molecular skills of colleague Dr. Huang, the team is ready to name its first species.

“Interestingly, Cyphastrea salae looks almost exactly like other closely-related corals. However, its gene sequences are distinct and there is no doubt it is a species that is new to science,” says Dr. Huang.

The team now have hundreds of specimens to work through, but they are confident that there are more new coral species left to describe.

“The Acropora, in particular, look highly promisingly,” says Prof. Baird. “There are at least five species that look unlike anything I have seen anywhere else in my travels”.

LHI Lagoon IMG_6585Lord Howe Island lies over 900 km south of the next major area of coral diversity, the Great Barrier Reef, and therefore the populations on Lord Howe are highly isolated. Such isolation creates the potential for speciation, however, C. salae is the first new local coral species described to date. The discovery of this new species greatly increases the conservation significance of Lord Howe Island and reinforces the need for strong management measures to protect this unique fauna.

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Original source:

Baird AH, Hoogenboom MO, Huang D (2017) Cyphastrea salae, a new species of hard coral from Lord Howe Island, Australia (Scleractinia, Merulinidae). ZooKeys 662: 49-66. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.662.11454

Two new zoantharian species found on eunicid worms in the dark in the Indo-Pacific ocean

While studying the abundant, yet poorly known fauna of the zoantharian Epizoanthus genus in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, Japanese graduate student Hiroki Kise and Dr. James Davis Reimer, both affiliated with University of the Ryukyus, Japan, focused on examining the species living on eunicid worm tubes. These Epizoanthus species form colonies and are only found living on the outside surfaces of tubes in which the eunicid worms live. Although these zoantharians often live in areas that are deeper than the range of SCUBA divers and tend to be indistinguishable on the outside, the present research, published in the open-access journal ZooKeys, reports the discovery of two new species.

 

Both new species have been found in low-light environments. While one of the species, scientifically named Epizoanthus inazuma, showed preference for coral reef slopes, reef floors, or the sides of their overhangs in Okinawa, the other one, E. beriber was seen to tolerate cave environments exclusively, and is found in Palau and Papua New Guinea. To recognise them as new species, the researchers turned to molecular analyses combined and compared to morphological data. Thus, this discovery presents yet another example of the utility of molecular methods as an effective tool in taxonomic and biodiversity research.

oo_77280

Forming colonies resembling a classic lightning-bolt shape, the new species Epizoanthus inazuma has reasonably been given a name meaning ‘lightning’ in Japanese. The second new species is also named in a reference to its lifestyle as it bears the name of the local Palauan folklore character Beriber, who lived in a cave.

 

The researchers believe that it is highly likely that there are other undescribed species in coral reefs. There is even greater likelihood that such are currently hidden in underwater cave habitats. The authors do not exclude the possibility that these new zoantharian species may be distributed across other locations in the Pacific, where they could easily be mistaken for other closely related species.

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Original source:

Kise H, Reimer JD (2016) Unexpected diversity and a new species of Epizoanthus (Anthozoa, Hexacorallia) attached to eunicid worm tubes from the Pacific Ocean. ZooKeys 562: 49-71. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.562.6181