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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Notice me! Neglected for over a century, Black sea spider crab re-described

After the revision of available type specimens from all available collections in the Russian museums and the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt-on-Main, as well as newly collected material in the Black Sea and the North-East Atlantic, a research team of scientists, led by Dr Vassily Spiridonov from Shirshov Institute of Oceanology of Russian Academy of Sciences, re-described Macropodia czernjawskii and provided the new data on its records and updated its ecological characteristics.

Even though recognised in the Mediterranean Sea, the Macropodia czernjawskii spider crab was ignored by scientists (even by its namesake Vladimir Czernyavsky) in the regional faunal accounts of the Black Sea for more than a century. At the same time, although other species of the genus have been listed as Black sea fauna, those listings are mostly wrong and occurred either due to historical circumstances or misidentifications.Now, scientists re-describe this, most likely, only species of the genus occurring in the Black Sea in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

The studied spirder crab species Macropodia czernjawskii in the wild, Tuaphat (near Gelendzhik), Caucasus, Black Sea.
Photo by Sergey Anosov

The spider crab genus Macropodia was discovered in 1814 and currently includes 18 species, mostly occurring in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The marine fauna of the Black Sea is predominantly of Mediterranean origin and Macropodia czernjawskii was firstly discovered in the Black Sea in 1880, but afterwards, its presence there was largely ignored by the scientists.

After the revision of available type specimens from all available collections in the Russian museums and the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt-on-Main, as well as newly collected material in the Black Sea and the North-East Atlantic, a research team of scientists, led by Dr Vassily Spiridonov from Shirshov Institute of Oceanology of Russian Academy of Sciences, re-described Macropodia czernjawskii and provided the new data on its records and updated its ecological characteristics.

“The analysis of the molecular genetic barcode (COI) of the available material of Macropodia species indicated that M. czernjawskii is a very distinct species while M. parva should be synonimised with M. rostrata, and M. longipes is a synonym of M. tenuirostris”,

states Dr Spiridonov sharing the details of the genus analysis.

All Macropodia species have epibiosis and M. czernjawskii is no exception: almost all examined crabs in 2008-2018 collections had significant epibiosis. It normally consists of algae and cyanobacteria and, particularly, a non-indigenous species of red alga Bonnemaisonia hamifera, officially reported in 2015 at the Caucasian coast of the Black Sea, was found in the epibiosis of M. czernjawskii four years earlier.

“It improves our understanding of its invasion history. Museum and monitoring collections of species with abundant epibiosis (in particular inachid crabs) can be used as an additional tool to record and monitor introduction and establishments of sessile non-indigenous species,”

suggests Dr Spiridonov.
The spider crab species Macropodia czernjawskii in the wild, Tuaphat (near Gelendzhik), Caucasus, Black Sea.
Photo by Sergey Anosov

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Original source:

Spiridonov VA, Simakova UV, Anosov SE, Zalota AK, Timofeev VA (2020) Review of Macropodia in the Black Sea supported by molecular barcoding data; with the redescription of the type material, observations on ecology and epibiosis of Macropodia czernjawskii (Brandt, 1880) and notes on other Atlanto-Mediterranean species of Macropodia Leach, 1814 (Crustacea, Decapoda, Inachidae). Zoosystematics and Evolution 96(2): 609-635. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.96.48342

Wakanda Forever! Scientific divers describe new purple species of “twilight zone” fish from Africa

Named for Black Panther’s mythical nation of Wakanda, a dazzling new “Vibranium” Fairy Wrasse enchants with purple scales and a preference for deep, little-known mesophotic reefs up to 260 feet below the surface

Africa has new purple-clad warriors more than 200 feet beneath the ocean’s surface. Deep-diving scientists from the California Academy of SciencesHope for Reefs initiative and the University of Sydney spotted dazzling fairy wrasses—previously unknown to science—in the dimly lit mesophotic coral reefs of eastern Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. 

Preserved specimen of Vibranium fairy wrasse (Cirrhilabrus wakanda) retains its striking coloration.
Photo by Jon Fong © 2018 California Academy of Sciences.

The multicolored wrasses sport deep purple scales so pigmented, they even retain their color (which is typically lost) when preserved for research. The scientists name this “twilight zone” reef-dweller Cirrhilabrus wakanda (common name “Vibranium Fairy Wrasse”) in honor of the mythical nation of Wakanda from the Marvel Entertainment comics and movie Black Panther. The new fish is described in the open-access journal Zookeys.

Female specimen of Vibranium fairy wrasse (Cirrhilabrus wakanda) in its natural habitat (Zanzibar). Photo by Luiz Rocha © 2018 California Academy of Sciences.

Yi-Kai Tea, lead author and ichthyology PhD student from the University of Sydney, says:

“When we thought about the secretive and isolated nature of these unexplored African reefs, we knew we had to name this new species after Wakanda. We’ve known about other related fairy wrasses from the Indian Ocean, but always thought there was a missing species along the continent’s eastern edge. When I saw this amazing purple fish, I knew instantly we were dealing with the missing piece of the puzzle.”

The Academy scientists say Cirrhilabrus wakanda’s remote home in mesophotic coral reefs—below recreational diving limits—probably contributed to their long-hidden status in the shadows of the Indian Ocean. 

A California Academy diver on an expedition in the Indian Ocean.
Photo by Bart Shepherd © 2018 California Academy of Sciences.

Therefore, Hope for Reefs’ scientific divers are highly trained for the dangerous process of researching in these deep, little-known mesophotic reefs, located 200 to 500 feet beneath the ocean’s surface. Accessing them requires technical equipment and physically intense training well beyond that of shallow-water diving. The team’s special diving gear (known as closed-circuit rebreathers) includes multiple tanks with custom gas blends and electronic monitoring equipment that allow the divers to explore deep reefs for mere minutes before a lengthy, hours-long ascent to the surface.

Dr. Luiz Rocha, Academy Curator of Fishes and co-leader of the Hope for Reefs, comments:

“Preparation for these deep dives is very intense and our dive gear often weighs more than us. When we reach these reefs and find unknown species as spectacular as this fairy wrasse, it feels like our hard work is paying off.”

California Academy’s “twilight zone” dive gear prepped for Zanzibar.
Photo by Luiz Rocha © 2018 California Academy of Sciences.

Using a microscope, the team examined the specimens’ scales, fin rays, and body structures. DNA and morphological analyses revealed the new fairy wrasse to be different from the other seven species in the western Indian Ocean as well as other relatives in the Pacific. The new species’ common name is inspired by the fictional metal vibranium, a rare, and, according to Rocha, “totally awesome” substance found in the nation of Wakanda. The Vibranium Fairy Wrasse’s purple chain-link scale pattern reminded the scientists of Black Panther’s super-strong suit and the fabric motifs worn by Wakandans in the hit film.

Precious life in deep reefs

In a recent landmark paper, the Academy team found that twilight zone reefs are unique ecosystems bursting with life and are just as vulnerable to human threats as their shallow counterparts. Their findings upended the long-standing assumption that species might avoid human-related stressors on those deeper reefs. The Hope for Reefs team will continue to visit and study twilight zone sites around the world to shed light on these often-overlooked ecosystems.

Newly described Pohnpei fish (Liopropoma incandescens). Photo by Luiz Rocha © 2018 California Academy of Sciences.

In addition to this new fish from Zanzibar, Rocha and his colleagues recently published descriptions of mesophotic fish from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Micronesia. Luzonichthys kiomeamea is an orange, white, and sunny yellow dwarf anthias endemic to Rapa Nui, and the basslet Liopropoma incandescens (another new species published today in Zookeys) inhabits Pohnpei’s deep reefs—a neon orange and yellow specimen collected from a rocky slope 426 feet beneath the ocean’s surface.  

“It’s a time of global crisis for coral reefs, and exploring little-known habitats and the life they support is now more important than ever,” concludes Rocha. “Because they are out of sight, these deeper reefs are often left out of marine reserves, so we hope our discoveries inspire their protection.”

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(Text by the California Academy of Sciences, USA)

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Research articles:

Tea YK, Pinheiro HT, Shepherd B, Rocha LA (2019) Cirrhilabrus wakanda, a new species of fairy wrasse from mesophotic ecosystems of Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa (Teleostei, Labridae). ZooKeys 863: 85–96. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.863.35580.

Pinheiro HT, Shepherd B, Greene BD, Rocha LA (2019) Liopropoma incandescens sp. nov. (Epinephelidae, Liopropominae), a new species of basslet from mesophotic coral ecosystems of Pohnpei, Micronesia. ZooKeys 863: 97–106. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.863.33778.

WoRMS’ Top 10 Marine Species (2018): ZooKeys journal scores 5/10 in the prestigious yearly list

The World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) announced the

Top 10 Marine Species of 2018 just in time for

Taxonomist Appreciation Day

What could be better timing to take a look back on the most spectacular animals described as new to science throughout 2018 than 19th March, Taxonomist Appreciation Day?

For the sixth time around, biologists from across the world are all hyped-up about this special date when we celebrate the experts who put things in order by giving names, identities and belonging to what the world has thought non-existent only a moment ago. After all, no sooner is a species formally acknowledged than it can be studied, understood and protected.

Having said that, at Pensoft and ZooKeys we’re immensely proud of becoming a prime publication choice for marine taxonomists from around the globe. Amongst them are the authors of not one or two, but FIVE exceptional animal curiosities, now recognised by a selected committee and the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), and featured in the TOP 10 Marine Species of 2018.

 

The “Japan Pig” which is also a… seahorse (Hippocampus japapigu)

Photo by Richard Smith.

We fail to find the obvious reason why locals diving in the waters of Hachijo-jima Island (Japan) had already likened this dazzling seahorse to a “tiny baby pig”, when a research team collected specimens and identified them as a species new to science. Naturally, the scientists assigned it with the name japapigu, which translates to “Japan Pig” in Japanese.

One thing is for sure, though, the stunning seahorse wouldn’t demand a degree in Zoology to attract anyone’s attention, had it not been for its expertise in camouflaging itself against the colourful algae-covered rocks.

News story by Douglas Main via National Geographic.

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Check out the study by Graham Short, California Academy of Sciences (USA), Dr Richard Smith, Pipefish Stickleback Specialist Group (UK), Dr Hiroyuki Motomura and Healy Hamilton, both of the Kagoshima University Museum (Japan), and David Harasti, Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, published in the open-access journal ZooKeys at: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.779.24799.

 

The crab that chooses an animal ‘blanket’ over a shell (Paguropsis confusa)

Photo by DST/NRF ACEP – Spatial Solutions project team.

Sure, who would go for a rigid shell left behind by a random gastropod – just like “ordinary” hermit crabs do – when they could reach for a light, soft and elastic “blanket” instead?

That’s exactly what the blanket-hermit crab Paguropsis confusa and its sibling species have been doing as they evolved to live in a cosy symbiosis with sea anemones. While the translucent anemone peacefully “shares” the crab’s meals and grows its zoophytes around the soft-bodied crustacean, the latter is free to easily draw them up and down – as if they were a real silky duvet – and even completely cover its head whenever it feels threatened.

The crab species name is con­fuso in reference to its morphological resemblance to the closely related species Paguropsis typica. In fact, had it not been for the similarity, what we now call Paguropsis confuso would’ve most likely been described well over a century ago.

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Find more in the research article by Dr Rafael Lemaitre (Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, USA), Dr Dwi Rahayu (Indonesian Institute of Sciences) and Dr Tomoyuki Komai (Natural History Museum and Institute, Japan) published in ZooKeys at: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.752.23712

 

The ‘flower’ of Okinawa (Hana hanagasa)

Photo by Yee Wah Lau

Amidst ongoing talks and grim forecasts of declining coral reefs spelling demise for the world as we know it, the discovery of this endemic to Okinawa Island (Japan) flower-like octocoral comes as a stunning reminder of Nature’s supremacy.

Described as a new genus, as well as a species new to science, the octocoral was aptly named Hana hanagasa, where “Hana translates to “flower” in Japanese, while “hanagasa” is a traditional Okinawan headpiece, crafted in the form of hibiscus and worn by female dancers at ceremonies.

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Find the study by the team of Yee Wah Lau and Dr James Reimer of the University of the University of the Ryukyus (Japan) and their colleagues Frank Robert Stokvis and Dr Leen van Ofwegen at Naturalis Biodiversity Center (the Netherlands) in ZooKeys at: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.790.28875.

 

The distinctly hairy-foot shrimp (Odontonia bagginsi)

Illustration by Franz Anthony.

Upon writing up the description of this species of Indonesian shrimp, Leiden University’s then BSc student Werner de Gier is unlikely to have thought twice before coming up with the name bagginsi, as in Frodo and Bilbo Baggins – the most famous hobbits from J. R. R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.                             

News story by Mike Wehner via New York Post.

After all, what the researcher was looking at was a creature tiny enough to call another marine invertebrate – a tunicate – its snug home. Also, it had extremely hairy feet, a feature that would require for the identification key for all members of the species group to be updated.

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Find the study by Werner de Gier and Dr Charles Fransen of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center published in ZooKeys at: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.765.25277.

 

The ‘secretive’ dogfish shark from Hawai’i (Squalus hawaiiensis)

 

Photo by Dr Toby S. Daly-Engel.

 

One might think that an animal as large as a shark – especially if it’s the only shark species found in the waters of the Hawaiian Archipelago – would’ve “told” all its “secrets” by now, but that wasn’t the case with what we now refer to as the Hawaiian Spurdog.

Long mistaken for a stray population of a dogfish shark species originally from Japan, it wasn’t before US scientists deployed a range of elaborate tools used in species identification that it became apparent there was a previously unknown to science, short-ranged endemic shark trying to find shelter in Hawai’i.

Sadly, while the species is being depleted as bycatch, it has also demonstrated the lowest rate of genetic diversity known in a shark population to date.

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Find the study by Dr Toby Daly-Engel, Florida Institute of Technology, Amber Koch, University of West Florida, Dr James Anderson, University of Hawaii at Mānoa, and Charles Cotton and Dean Grubbs, both affiliated with the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory published in ZooKeys at: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.798.28375.

 

Happy Taxonomist Appreciation Day from Pensoft!

Let us conclude with the words of ecologists and entomologist Dr Terry McGlynn, who started the Taxonomist Appreciation Day tradition in 2013:

“Even if you’re working on a single-species system, or are a theoretician, the discoveries and methods of systematists are the basis of your work,” he once told the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF). “We need active work on taxonomy and systematics if our work is going to progress, and if we are to apply our findings. Without taxonomists, entire fields wouldn’t exist. We’d be working in darkness”.

How many sharks, chimaeras, skates, and rays inhabit Mexico?

Worldwide, Mexico is well-known for a lot of things: its cuisine, tequila, mariachis, pyramids, and beaches, as well as being the country with the most Spanish-speaking residents (more than 120 million people).

In contrast, however, little is known for the country’s chondrichthyan fauna: a class of fishes containing the sharks, chimaeras, rays, and skates.

To fill the gap in the knowledge of the Mexican marine fauna, scientists from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional – Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas  (IPN-CICIMAR) conducted a multidisciplinary study on the extant species of the country’s Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) and, as a result, reported a total of 217 extant chondrichthyan species. Their findings are published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

In their updated taxonomic list, the team of Dr. José De La Cruz-Agüero, Dr. Jorge Guillermo Chollet-Villalpando, and Venezuelan graduate students Lorem González-González and Nicolás R. Ehemann report eight chimaeras, 111 sharks and 98 ray and skate species. These numbers equate to 18% of the world’s chondrichthyans.

Split between the Mexican coasts there are 92 species recorded from the Mexican Pacific and the Gulf of California, whereas 94 fishes are identified for the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Additionally, 31 species are known from both coasts.

“The species richness will undoubtedly continue to increase, due to the current investigations in progress, as well as the exploration of deep-water fishing areas in the EEZ,” comment the scientists.

Considered to be primitive fishes, sharks, skates, chimaeras, and rays are believed to have been inhabiting the planet for the last 420-450 million years. To put it in perspective, the earliest evidence of our species – Homo sapiens – is pretty ‘young’ at 315,000 years.

Not only do these species are peculiar with their lack of a bony skeleton when compared to the more recently evolved fishes, but they also have an unusual digestive system, featuring a spiral valve, where the lower intestine is twisted like a corkscrew to increase the surface area. They don’t have a swimming bladder either. Further, there are about 650 extant species, whereas the known bony fishes are estimated to be over 35,000.  

Most of the chondrichthyans are considered either ‘Critically Endangered’ (a classification a step below ‘Extinct’) or ‘Endangered’, according to the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The majority are also featured in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

As if to make matters worse, these fishes are also particularly susceptible to overfishing and have a low rate of growth and fecundity (females give birth to between 1 and 25 pups a year).

 

Original source:

Ehemann NR, González-González LV, Chollet-Villalpando JG, Cruz-Agüero JDL (2018) Updated checklist of the extant Chondrichthyes within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Mexico. ZooKeys 774: 17-39. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.774.25028

In a hole in a tunicate there lived a hobbit: New shrimp species named after Bilbo Baggins

Digital illustration by Franz Anthony.

Two new species of tiny symbiotic shrimps are described, illustrated and named by biology student at Leiden University Werner de Gier as part of his bachelor’s research project, supervised by Dr. Charles H. J. M. Fransen, shrimp researcher of Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Leiden, the Netherlands).

Inspired by the extremely hairy feet of one of the species, the authors decided that they should honour Middle Earth’s greatest halfling, Bilbo Baggins.

Aptly named Odontonia bagginsi, the new shrimp joins the lines of other species named after Tolkien’s characters such as the cave-dwelling harvestman Iandumoema smeagol, the golden lizard Liolaemus smaug and the two subterranean spiders Ochyrocera laracna and Ochyrocera ungoliant.

Photo by Charles Fransen.

The newly described shrimps were collected during the Ternate expedition to the Indonesian islands of Tidore and Ternate, organised by Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in 2009.

Typically for the Odontonia species, the new shrimps do not reach sizes above a centimetre in length, and were found inside tunicates. It is believed that these symbiotic crustaceans are fully adapted to live inside the cavities of their hosts, which explains their small-sized and smooth bodies.

Photo by Charles Fransen.

Unlike most Odontonia species, which live inside solitary tunicates, the new species Odontonia plurellicola was the first one to be associated with a colonial tunicate. These tunicates have even smaller internal cavities, which explains the tiny size of the new species.

To determine the placement of the new species in the tree of life, the scientists compared the shrimps’ anatomical features, including the legs, mouthparts and carapace. As a result, they were assigned to Odontonia. Further, the available genetic information and Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) images of the unusual feet of the newly discovered shrimp provided a new updated identification key for all members of the species group.

“Being able to describe, draw and even name two new species in my bachelor years was a huge honour. Hopefully, we can show the world that there are many new species just waiting to be discovered, if you simply look close enough!” says Werner de Gier, who is currently writing his graduate thesis at Naturalis Biodiversity Center and working together with Dr. Charles Fransen on crustaceans.

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Original source:

de Gier W, Fransen CHJM (2018) Odontonia plurellicola sp. n. and Odontonia bagginsi sp. n., two new ascidian-associated shrimp from Ternate and Tidore, Indonesia, with a phylogenetic reconstruction of the genus (Crustacea, Decapoda, Palaemonidae). ZooKeys 765: 123-160. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.765.25277

Digital illustration by Franz Anthony.

Scientists dive into museum collections to reveal the invasion route of a small crustacean

Biological invasions are widely recognised as one of the most significant components of global change. Far-reaching and fast-spreading, they often have harmful effects on biodiversity.

Therefore, acquiring knowledge of potentially invasive non-native species is crucial in current research. In particular, it is important that we enhance our understanding of the impact of such invasions.

To do so, Prof Sabrina Lo Brutto and Dr Davide Iaciofano, both working at the Taxonomy Laboratory of the University of Palermo, Italy, performed research on an invasive alien crustacean (Ptilohyale littoralis) known to have colonised the Atlantic European Coast. Their findings are published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The studied species belongs to a group of small-sized crustaceans known as amphipods. These creatures range from 1 to 340 mm in length and feed on available organic matter, such as dead animals and plants. Being widely distributed across aquatic environments, amphipods have already been proven as excellent indicators of ecosystem health.

While notable for their adaptability and ecological plasticity, which secure their abundance in various habitats, these features also make amphipods especially dangerous when it comes to playing the role of invaders.

Having analysed specimens stored at the Museum of Natural History of Verona and the Natural History Museum in Paris, the scientists concluded that the species has colonised European waters 24 years prior to the currently available records.

The problem was that, back in 1985, when the amphipod was first collected from European coasts, it was misidentified as a species new to science instead of an invader native to the North American Atlantic coast.

A closer look into misidentified specimens stored in museum collections revealed that the species has been successfully spreading along the European coastlines.

Male of the invasive amphipod species (Ptilohyale littoralis), sampled in October 2015, from Bay of Arcachon, France.

Moreover, it was predicted that the amphipod could soon reach the Mediterranean due to the high connectivity between the sea and the eastern Atlantic Ocean through the Straits of Gibraltar – a route already used by invasive marine fauna in the past.

In the event that the invader reaches the Mediterranean, it is highly likely for the crustacean to meet and compete with a closely related “sister species” endemic to the region. To make matters worse, the two amphipods are difficult to distinguish due to their appearance and behaviour both being extremely similar.

However, in their paper, the scientists have also provided additional information on how to distinguish the two amphipods – knowledge which could be essential for the management of the invader and its further spread.

The authors believe that their study demonstrates the importance of taxonomy – the study of organism classification – and the role of natural history collections and museums.

“Studying and monitoring biodiversity can acquire great importance in European aquatic ecosystems and coastal Mediterranean areas, where biodiversity is changing due to climate change and invasions of alien species,” Prof Lo Brutto says. “In this context, specific animal groups play a crucial role in detecting such changes and they, therefore, deserve more attention as fundamental tools in biodiversity monitoring.”

“Regrettably, the steadily diminishing pool of experts capable of accurately identifying species poses a serious threat in this field.”

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Original source:

Lo Brutto S, Iaciofano D (2018) A taxonomic revision helps to clarify differences between the Atlantic invasive Ptilohyale littoralis and the Mediterranean endemic Parhyale plumicornis(Crustacea: Amphipoda). ZooKeys, 754: 47-62. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.754.22884

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.

How did the guppy cross the ocean: An unexpected fish appears on a volcanic archipelago

While people tend to describe tropical oceanic islands as ‘paradises on Earth’ and associate them with calm beaches, transparent warm waters and marvellous landscapes, archipelagos are often the product of a fierce natural force – volcanoes which erupt at the bottom of the sea.

Because of their origin, these islands have never been connected to the mainland, thereby it is extremely difficult for species to cross the ocean and populate them.DSCN1337

One such species – the South American guppy (Poecilia vivipara) – is a small freshwater fish which looks nowhere equipped to cross the distance between the mainland and the Fernando de Noronha oceanic archipelago in Northeast Brazil.

Nevertheless, the research team of PhD student Waldir M. Berbel-Filho and his professor Dr. Sergio Lima from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte recorded the species from a local mangrove on the island. The question that immediately sprang to the minds of the scientists was: ‘Where did the guppies come from and how did they get to Fernando de Noronha?’

To answer these questions, the scientists sequenced a gene of the guppies’ DNA to analyze potential signatures of the island colonization left in the fish DNA. As a result, they concluded that the isolated population was in fact closely related to the fish inhabiting the closest continental drainages.

However, this evidence was not enough to explain how the species turned up on the island in the first place. Was it natural colonization, or rather human introduction?

Poecilia vivipara Sergipe-2

The most likely scenario, according to the team, leads back to about 60 years ago when the American military had their WWII bases positioned at both Fernando de Noronha and Natal – the closest continental city. Indeed, the soldiers suggested to bring guppies to the island in an attempt to control mosquito population (in this region, guppies are commonly placed in water reservoirs to eat mosquito larvae).

On the other hand, natural dispersion cannot be completely excluded. The biologists remind that, apart for their exuberant colours and shapes, the guppies are well known for their capacity to resist to a wide range of environmental conditions. It could be that a set of circumstances occurring together, such as a favourable sea current, physiological adaptation and a bit of luck, might have brought the guppies to the archipelago.

Regardless of their means of transportation,” argue the authors, “this guppy population represents a valuable lesson on how small populations manage to colonize and thrive in isolated environments.

Despite being visited by thousands of people every year, some of the most intriguing secrets of tropical islands may still be hidden in the DNA of their inhabitants,” they conclude. “These ‘paradises on Earth’ are capable of simultaneously filling our hearts with beauty and our minds – with knowledge.”

 

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Original source:

Berbel-Filho WM, Barros-Neto LF, Dias RM, Mendes LF, Figueiredo CAA, Torres RA, Lima SMQ (2018) Poecilia vivipara Bloch & Schneider, 1801 (Cyprinodontiformes, Poeciliidae), a guppy in an oceanic archipelago: from where did it come? ZooKeys 746: 91-104. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.746.20960

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