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

Fishy “juveniles” from the Caribbean to be recognized as a new species, the Hourglass basslet

Living in deep reefs in the Atlantic Ocean, the banded basslet, a small and colorful species with a wide range of distribution, has long been thought to undergo significant changes during its growth into an adult. Suspiciously, the juveniles appeared much more heavily banded. Recently, however, American scientists figured out that the ‘juveniles’ were in fact a new species.

lipogramma-levinsoni-img-2In a paper published in the open access journal ZooKeys, Dr. Carole C. Baldwin, Ai Nonaka, Dr. Luke Tornabene, all affiliated with the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and Dr. Ross Robertson, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama, describe two new basslet species discovered in the Caribbean off the southern coast of Curaçao. Their finding comes as part of the Smithsonian’s Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP), devoted to documenting the biodiversity in the poorly studied depth zone of 50–300 m with the help of a special submersible, called Curasub.

Having been previously confused with the banded basslet’s juveniles, one of the new species was discovered after the submersible’s hydraulic arms collected specimens with smaller size and thicker bands from shallower depths. Subsequent study of the specimens revealed additional morphological, as well as molecular, evidence that suggest the specimens represent a new species.

The species is characterized by predominantly white to tan colored body with three vertical blackish bands, one running across its head, and two along the body. The latter often appear hourglass-shaped, with their middles being narrower and lighter. Due to this resemblance, the authors suggest that the new species is commonly called Hourglass basslet, while its scientific name is Lipogramma levinsoni, in recognition of the generous and continuing support of research on neotropical biology at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panamá) made by Frank Levinson.

The second new basslet from Curaçao can be distinguished by the three dusky bars likewise running across its head and body. Its ground color is yellow to white, with the bar at the rear being much lighter than the rest. Reflecting its appearance, its common name is proposed to be Yellow-banded basslet, while its scientific identity is Lipogramma haberi, in recognition of Spencer and Tomoko Haber, who funded and participated in one of the submersible dives that resulted in the collection of a paratype of the new species.the-second-newly-described-basslet-species-lipogramma-haberi

In their study, the researchers also point out that it is likely that there are at least two additional cryptic species belonging to the same genus. Those species are  currently being analyzed in ongoing investigations of the Caribbean deep-reef ecosystems.

Past discoveries made as part of the DROP Project at Curaçao include adorable fishes such as the Stellate scorpionfish and the Godzilla goby. To recognize all involved in the DROP research program, the team have described the small blenny fish as Haptoclinus dropi, after the project itself, while another goby species, Coryphopterus curasub, bears the name of the submersible used in the dives.  

Original source:

Baldwin CC, Robertson RD, Nonaka A, Tornabene L (2016) Two new deep-reef basslets (Teleostei, Grammatidae, Lipogramma), with comments on the eco-evolutionary relationships of the genus. ZooKeys 638: 45-82. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.638.10455

Old specimens establish a new bamboo worm genus and species

Bamboo worms (family Maldanidae) comprise an easily recognizable family of bristle worms (class Polychaeta). Their common name they receive because of their elongated segments, ending with an appendage, which gives them the joint appearance of slender bamboo-shoots. These often fragile marine inhabitants can be found in mud-walled tubes in shelf sediments.

However, bamboo worms are tough to identify from each other. The problem is that to safely recognize them, a researcher needs both anterior and posterior ends from the same specimen. Nevertheless, now PhD student Wang Yueyun and Dr Li Xinzheng from the Marine Biological Museum, Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences have discovered two new species and a new genus (Paramaldane). The new bamboo worms are described in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Several specimens of the new genus were found during re-examination of specimens collected from South China Sea between 1959 to 1962. The new genus is characterized by the collar-like glandular band on the sixth chaetiger. This is the first discovery of a collar-like structure in the subfamily of Maldaninae. Moreover, there is only one species in this genus till now.

Another discovery, published in the present study, is the second new species, called Maldane adunca, which belongs to another genus within the family. It is similar to the cosmopolitan species Maldane sarsi, yet the differences are clear. The shape of its nuchal grooves, a kind of sense organ, is much more curved, thus resembling hooks. Therefore, it is called adunca, meaning ‘hooked’ in Latin.

Both new species are only found in mud sediment of offshore waters of Hainan Island.

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Original source:

Wang Y, Li X (2016) A new Maldane species and a new Maldaninae genus and species (Maldanidae, Annelida) from coastal waters of China. ZooKeys 603: 1-16. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.603.9125

The Godzilla goby is the latest new species discovered by the Smithsonian DROP project

As part of the Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP), initiated by the Smithsonian Institution, a new goby fish species was discovered in the southern Caribbean. Living at depths greater than conventional SCUBA divers can access, yet too shallow to be of interest for deep-diving submersibles, the fish will now be known under the common name of the Godzilla goby.

Its discoverers Drs Luke Tornabene, Ross Robertson and Carole C. Baldwin, all affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, have described the species in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Formally called Varicus lacerta, the species name translates to ‘lizard’ in Latin and refers to the reptilian appearance of the fish. Its prime colors are bright yellow and orange, while the eyes are green.

The new goby also has a disproportionately large head and multiple rows of recurved canine teeth in each jaw. This is also why the research team has chosen the common name of the Godzilla goby.

Apart from its lovely coloration, the new fish stands out with its branched, feather-like pelvic-fin rays and the absence of scales.

The scientists caught the Godzilla goby thanks to the manned submersible Curasub, which had already helped in discovering several species over the course of the project. Last year, Drs Ross Robertson and Carole Baldwin had another new goby published in ZooKeys. That time, they even named it after the submersible. Earlier this year, the DROP team also described nine additional new species, many of which were collected by the Curasub.

The manned submersible Curasub reaches depths up to 300 m in search of tropical marine fishes and invertebrates. As a result, it provides new information on the fauna that inhabits poorly studied deep-reef ecosystems.

The sub relies on two hydraulic arms, one equipped with a suction hose, and the other designed to immobilize the fish with an anaesthetizing chemical. That way, not only do the researchers gather live specimens, which once collected, are deposited into a vented acrylic cylinder attached to the outside of the sub, but also individuals suitable for critical DNA analyses.

Img 2 Baldwin Robertson

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Original source:

Tornabene L, Robertson DR, Baldwin CC (2016) Varicus lacerta, a new species of goby (Teleostei, Gobiidae, Gobiosomatini, Nes subgroup) from a mesophotic reef in the southern Caribbean. ZooKeys 596: 143-156. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.596.8217