The so-called High Seas Treaty is a legal framework for the protection of marine biodiversity and responsible and equitable use of resources of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBJN). Its draft, published on the 5th of March 2023, is the outcome of two decades of negotiations, and is part of the international effort to protect a third of the world’s biodiversity by 2030.
An unwavering dedication to the protection and conservation of biodiversity will be required to see the firm landing of this hopeful step.
On this occasion, we look back at some impactful studies published in our journals that have made waves, hopefully in the right direction towards impactful conservation measures and actions.
Following President Barack Obama’s expansion of the largest permanent Marine Protected Area on Earth (Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument) in 2016, a new species of coral-reef fish was named in his honour. The fish is the only known coral-reef species to be endemic to the Monument, and, despite its small size, it carries wide-reaching cultural and political significance as a reminder of how politics go hand in hand with science.
The Clarion-Clipperton Zone, managed by the International Seabed Authority, has been targeted by deep-sea mining interests. In the context of heightened concern over potential biodiversity loss, scientific research is crucial for informing policy-makers and the general public about the risks and outcomes of such initiatives.
The rich biodiversity of the deep sea has also been documented in big-scale taxonomic inventories and checklists in the Biodiversity Data Journal.
Going forward, the expansion of Marine Protected Areas should also ensure the implementation of policies for the methods of resource extraction and their equitable sharing and use among the world’s nations.
Over the next few years, we hope to see an ever increasing interest in biodiversity conservation - from the general public, stakeholders and policy makers, and, of course, research institutions.
We need to love what we protect in order to be able to protect it.
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Coastal and marine biodiversity has been declining at an alarming rate in recent years due to anthropogenic activity, climate change, ocean acidification and other factors.
To help protect and preserve these precious ecosystems, the new research project under the name of ANERIS (operAtional seNsing lifE technologies for maRIne ecosystemS) and coordinated by the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC) was launched under the Horizon Europe program.
ANERIS aims to contribute to improving the understanding, monitoring and protection of these ecosystems through technological, scientific and methodological innovation in the fields of marine life-sensing and monitoring.
Pensoft is joining the ANERIS consortium as a leader of WP6 Exploitation, Communication and Networking. The Pensoft team is to develop and implement sustainable communication and dissemination strategies, which will ensure the impactful knowledge exchange between partners and external stakeholders.
In addition, Pensoft is responsible for the development of a long-lasting brand identity of the project, which shall be reached by establishing and maintaining a user-friendly and eye-appealing public website. The overall visual identity of ANERIS will be supported by a set of innovatively-designed promotional materials.
ANERIS launched in January 2023 and will be running until December 2026 with the support of EUR 10 million of funding provided by the European Union’s Horizon Europe program and the work on the project officially kicked off with the project’s first consortium meeting, which took place on the 8th and 9th of March 2023 in Barcelona, Spain.
The joint mission of the ANERIS partners for the next four years is to build the next generation of marine-sensing instruments and infrastructure for systematic routine measurements and monitoring of oceanic and coastal life, and their rapid interpretation and dissemination to all interested stakeholders.
In total, ANERIS aims to pioneer 11 novel technologies rerelated to marine ecosystem monitoring, data processing and dissemination:
NANOMICS – NAnopore sequeNcing for Operational Marine genomICS
MARGENODAT – workflows for the MARine GENOmics DAta managemenT
SLIM-2.0 – A Virtual Environment for genomic data analysis (ANERIS extended version)
EMUAS – Expandable Multi-imaging Underwater Acquisition System
AIES-ZOO – Automatic Information Extraction System for ZOOplankton images
AIES-PHY – Automatic Information Extraction System for PHYtoplankton images
ATIRES – Automatic underwaTer Image REstoration System
AIES-MAC – Automatic Information Extraction System for MACroorganisms
AMAMER – Advanced Multiplatform App for Marine lifE Reporting
AMOVALIH – Advanced Marine Observations VALidation-Identification system based on Hybrid intelligence
AWIMAR – Adaptive Web Interfaces for MARine life reporting, sharing and consulting
These technologies will be validated across four ANERIS case studies which aim to bridge the gaps between existing technologies and incorporate them into a functional technological framework:
High-temporal resolution marine life monitoring in research infrastructure observatories;
Improved spatial and temporal resolution of marine life monitoring based on genomics;
Large scale marine participatory actions;
Merging imaging and genomic information in different monitoring scenarios.
The final goal of the project through the creation and validation of these novel technologies and involving academia, industry, governments and civil society, is to build up the concept of Operational Marine Biology (OMB) to provide faster, higher quality, reliable, and accessible marine and coastal life data. OMB opens the door for near-real-time marine observations, data interpretation and decision making based on that data.
The interdisciplinary ANERIS consortium consists of 25 partnering organisations from 13 countries around Europe, the Mediterranean basin and Israel, bringing diverse expertise spanning from robotics, biooptics, marine biology and genomics, to programming and sustainability.
Many partners represent acclaimed scientific institutions with rich experience in collaboration in EU projects, specifically in the fields of marine research.
Discovering a new species is always exciting, but so is finding one alive that everyone assumed had been lost to the passage of time. A small clam, previously known only from fossils, has recently been found living at Naples Point, just up the coast from UC Santa Barbara. The discovery appears in the journal ZooKeys.
“It’s not all that common to find alive a species first known from the fossil record, especially in a region as well-studied as Southern California,” said co-author Jeff Goddard, a research associate at UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. “Ours doesn’t go back anywhere near as far as the famous Coelacanth or the deep-water mollusk Neopilina galatheae — representing an entire class of animals thought to have disappeared 400 million years ago — but it does go back to the time of all those wondrous animals captured by the La Brea Tar Pits.”
On an afternoon low tide in November 2018, Goddard was turning over rocks searching for nudibranch sea slugs at Naples Point, when a pair of small, translucent bivalves caught his eye. “Their shells were only 10 millimeters long,” he said. “But when they extended and started waving about a bright white-striped foot longer than their shell, I realized I had never seen this species before.” This surprised Goddard, who has spent decades in California’s intertidal habitats, including many years specifically at Naples Point. He immediately stopped what he was doing to take close-up photos of the intriguing animals.
With quality images in hand, Goddard decided not to collect the animals, which appeared to be rare. After pinning down their taxonomic family, he sent the images to Paul Valentich-Scott, curator emeritus of malacology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. “I was surprised and intrigued,” Valentich-Scott recalled. “I know this family of bivalves (Galeommatidae) very well along the coast of the Americas. This was something I’d never seen before.”
He mentioned a few possibilities to Goddard, but said he’d need to see the animal in-person to make a proper assessment. So, Goddard returned to Naples Point to claim his clam. But after two hours combing just a few square meters, he still hadn’t caught sight of his prize. The species would continue to elude him many more times.
Nine trips later, in March 2019, and nearly ready to give up for good, Goddard turned over yet another rock and saw the needle in the haystack. A single specimen, next to a couple of small white nudibranchs and a large chiton. Valentich-Scott would get his specimen at last, and the pair could finally set to work on identification.
Valentich-Scott was even more surprised once he got his hands on the shell. He knew it belonged to a genus with one member in the Santa Barbara region, but this shell didn’t match any of them. It raised the exciting possibility that they had found a new species.
“This really started ‘the hunt’ for me,” Valentich-Scott said. “When I suspect something is a new species, I need to track back through all of the scientific literature from 1758 to the present. It can be a daunting task, but with experience it can go pretty quickly.”
The two researchers decided to check out an intriguing reference to a fossil species. They tracked down illustrations of the bivalve Borniacooki from the paper describing the species in 1937. It appeared to match the modern specimen. If confirmed, this would mean that Goddard had found not a new species, but a sort of living fossil.
It is worth noting that the scientist who described the species, George Willett, estimated he had excavated and examined perhaps 1 million fossil specimens from the same location, the Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles. That said, he never found B. cooki himself. Rather, he named it after Edna Cook, a Baldwin Hills collector who had found the only two specimens known.
Valentich-Scott requested Willett’s original specimen (now classified as Cymatioacooki) from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. This object, called the “type specimen,” serves to define the species, so it’s the ultimate arbiter of the clam’s identification.
Meanwhile, Goddard found another specimen at Naples Point — a single empty shell in the sand underneath a boulder. After carefully comparing the specimens from Naples Point with Willett’s fossil, Valentich-Scott concluded they were the same species. “It was pretty remarkable,” he recalled.
Small size and cryptic habitat notwithstanding, all of this begs the question of how the clam eluded detection for so long. “There is such a long history of shell-collecting and malacology in Southern California — including folks interested in the harder to find micro-mollusks — that it’s hard to believe no one found even the shells of our little cutie,” Goddard said.
He suspects the clams may have arrived here on currents as planktonic larvae, carried up from the south during marine heatwaves from 2014 through 2016. These enabled many marine species to extend their distributions northward, including several documented specifically at Naples Point. Depending on the animal’s growth rate and longevity, this could explain why no one had noticed C. cooki at the site prior to 2018, including Goddard, who has worked on nudibranchs at Naples Point since 2002.
“The Pacific coast of Baja California has broad intertidal boulder fields that stretch literally for miles,” Goddard said, “and I suspect that down there Cymatioa cooki is probably living in close association with animals burrowing beneath those boulders.”
Valentich-Scott P, Goddard JHR (2022) A fossil species found living off southern California, with notes on the genus Cymatioa (Mollusca, Bivalvia, Galeommatoidea). ZooKeys 1128: 53-62. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1128.95139
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.
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.
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.
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,”
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
Sometimes research emerges from the strangest turns of events. In this case, an online video created by an amateur videographer on life under the sea ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, resulted in a unique taxonomic study on Antarctic jellyfish and an image-based training set for machine learning. This study was published in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal.
Sometimes, scientific discoveries emerge from the strangest turns of events.
It all started in 2018, when Dr. Emiliano Cimoli, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tasmania, joined a field campaign to McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea, Antarctica – to study not jellyfish, but rather the algal communities that thrive beneath the ice.
“These algae are like the plants of the under-ice world and are very important for the Antarctic food chain,” Dr. Cimoli says. The research team he was part of focused on the development of new sensing technologies to monitor these algal communities (e.g. optical techniques and chemical microsensors).
“We usually have a nice large tent to be able to work and operate such instruments in the harsh Antarctic environment. The cool part is that inside this tent, we have a massive 2 x 2 m hole in the sea ice that allows us to deploy these instruments to the under-ice world.”
It’s kind of like a magic portal to another world filled with mysterious and wondrous jellyfish-like creatures that live down there.
Besides working as an engineer and remote sensing scientist, Dr. Cimoli is also a passionate amateur nature and wildlife photographer and videographer, and in his free time he decided to document all sightings of these creatures with his camera. The researcher used a combination of macro photography equipment and a set of light sources, along with underwater robots for filming underwater.
“Finally, I ended up having a massive amount of jellyfish footage, did not know what to do with it, then lockdown hit and suddenly I found myself working on a trippy video composition of all these creatures,” he adds.
“When I came across Emiliano’s video, I was amazed by the image quality of his underwater footage. You could clearly distinguish some key morphological features.” Unlike hard-bodied animals, the fragile body of jellyfishes and comb jellies (i.e. “sea gooseberries”) are easily destroyed when sampled with nets, which is why photography and videography of specimens are crucial to describing them taxonomically.
The two postdocs soon joined forces to produce a collaborative study.
“I think I underestimated the time needed to produce a jellyfish taxonomic paper,” laughs Dr. Verhaegen. “Most of the original descriptions of Antarctic jellies date back to the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration in the early 20th century, and are written in English, French, and German. Furthermore, due to the high-water content of jellies, it is extremely difficult to fix and preserve them in formalin or ethanol. We therefore could not compare our specimens to physical specimens preserved in museums but had to rely on the century old descriptions and drawings. Luckily, we were in good hands with my project host, Dr. Dhugal Lindsay, senior scientist at JAMSTEC, a jellyfish taxonomist expert, and last author of our paper”.
Despite the small geographical and temporal scale of this study, which was published in the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal, a total of 12 species were reported, with two jellyfish and three comb jellies likely representing undescribed species.
Besides revealing new morphological traits for every species, including some behavior and trophic traits, this study was also the first to include a training image set for video annotation of Antarctic jellyfish through machine learning.
“Machine learning is being applied to numerous fields nowadays, from voice recognition software and translation through to detection of typhoon formation,” comments Dr. Lindsay.
“In marine biology, annotating species from underwater videos can be both time-consuming and financially costly, with very few experts able to give names to the high diversity of species invariably encountered. Machine learning techniques could help solve these issues by enabling automatic first-pass annotation of videos. However, taxonomically accurate image-based datasets are needed to train these learning algorithms, and this study is a valuable first step.”
Watch the video “Life Beneath the Ice” by Dr. Emiliano Cimoli on YouTube and Vimeo.
Verhaegen, G., Cimoli, E., & Lindsay, D. J. (2021). Life beneath the ice: jellyfish and ctenophores from the Ross Sea, Antarctica, with an image- based training set for machine learning. Biodiversity Data Journal, 9, e69374.https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.9.e69374
Struggling to put a face to the name? Let us bring the stories behind these fantastic discoveries for you:
The real-life fairy wrasse, whose scales shine bright like sci-fi vibranium
Even if the “twilight zone” – the ocean depths from 60 to 150 meters underneath the water surface, are long known to be teeming with all sorts of fascinating reef-dwelling lifeforms that still await discovery, California Academy of Sciences’ (CAS) initiative Hope for Reefs and partners are already concerned with the protection of these fragile habitats. One of the ways they do this is by deploying the taxonomic approach: recording and defining every creature the current environmental crisis could be putting in danger.
One of the latest discoveries made by the CAS team and Yi-Kai Tea, lead author and PhD student at the University of Sydney, is a stunning wrasse species with colours so mesmerising and vibrant that immediately triggered the creativity of the scientists. Discovered amongst the dusky coral reefs of eastern Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, the species received the scientific name Cirrhilabrus wakanda in a nod to the Marvel Entertainment comics and movie Black Panther, where Wakanda is a mythical nation.
The fish also goes under its common name: Vibranium Fairy Wrasse, because of its hypnotising scales reminiscent of the fictional metal. In the franchise, the vibranium is a rare, robust and versatile ore capable of manipulating energy. In its turn, the scales of the Vibranium Fairy Wrasse have a pigment so strong, their shades survive even when preserved.
“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,”
Conway KW, Moore GI, Summers AP (2019) A new genus and two new species of miniature clingfishes from temperate southern Australia (Teleostei, Gobiesocidae). ZooKeys 864: 35-65. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.864.34521
The clingy, yet long unknown green fish
You might think that a common name for a genus of tiny, less than 21 mm long marine inhabitants, such as ‘Rat Clingfish’ is way too unusual already, but it’s getting even more curious when you find out about those species’ mind-boggling lifestyle.
These two miniature clingfishes were first spotted around microalgae in Australia back in the 1980s and since then they would puzzle scientists so much they would simply refer to them as “Genus B”. However, this was about to change, when in 2019, the US-Australian research team of Drs Kevin W. Conway, Glenn I. Moore and Adam P. Summers collected and studied enough specimens found in dense stands of macroalgae in intertidal and shallow subtidal areas along the coast of southern Australia. There, the two clingfishes use their well-developed adhesive discs located on their tummies to attach to the microalgae. Because of their miniature size, they have evolved multiple reduced and novel distinctive features.
As a result of their study, we now have the genus Barryichthys, whose common name is Rat Clingfish, and two new to science species assigned to it: the Brown Rat Clingfish (Barryichthys hutchinsi) and the Green Rat Clingfish (Barryichthys algicola), where the latter was found to be particularly intriguing thanks to its peculiar green colouration and a species name translated to “one who inhabits the algae”.
Conway KW, Moore GI, Summers AP (2019) A new genus and two new species of miniature clingfishes from temperate southern Australia (Teleostei, Gobiesocidae). ZooKeys 864: 35-65. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.864.34521
The boring vegetarian amphipod
Another impressive creature with a taste for algae described in 2019 from Australia is the Thiel’s Boring Amphipod, which is indeed boring. The tiny crustacean, which can be found in colonies of hundreds in Tasmania, eats its way through its favourite bull kelp leaving behind tunnels.
Another peculiarity about the species is its head, which when seen from the front resembles that of an ant!
With its species name: Bircenna thieli, the scientists behind the study – Drs Elizabeth Hughes (Natural History Museum of London, UK) and Anne-Nina Lörz (University of Hamburg, Germany) pay tribute to respected crustacean expert Prof. Dr. Martin Thiel, who had originally collected some of the studied specimens.
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)
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.
The crab that chooses an animal ‘blanket’ over a shell (Paguropsis confusa)
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.
I was previously unaware of the 'blanket hermit crab,' which gently tugs an anemone up around its body like a cozy snuggly blanket and WAIT WHAT???
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.
The distinctly hairy-foot shrimp (Odontonia bagginsi)
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.
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.
Hobbit Shrimp (Odontonia bagginsi)
Pros: + Hot off the press https://t.co/g4PhOnhPoF + Smol, hairy, lives in a hole – totally the shrimp version of Hobbits + Did not actually steal a ring
Con: – Refuses to leave its hole to visit nearby volcanoes
The ‘secretive’ dogfish shark from Hawai’i (Squalus hawaiiensis)
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.
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”.
Post originally published by the California Academy of Sciences
Named for Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty, a new species of fish enchants Academy scientists
On a recent expedition to the remote Brazilian archipelago of St. Paul’s Rocks, a new species of reef fish—striped a vivid pink and yellow—enchanted its diving discoverers from the California Academy of Sciences.
First spotted at a depth of 400 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, this cryptic fish inhabits rocky crevices of twilight zone reefs and is found nowhere else in the world. Upon discovery, the deep-diving team was so captivated by their finned find that they didn’t notice a massive sixgill shark hovering above them in an exciting moment captured on camera. The new fish description published today in Zookeys.
“This is one of the most beautiful fishes I’ve ever seen,” says Dr. Luiz Rocha, the Academy’s Curator of Fishes and co-leader of the Hope for Reefs initiative. “It was so enchanting it made us ignore everything around it.”
The sixgill shark stretched nearly ten feet long and cruised overhead as Rocha and post-doctoral fellow Dr. Hudson Pinheiro delicately collected the fish for further study back at the Academy. Behind the camera, the team’s diving officer Mauritius Bell enthusiastically announced the behemoth visitor to the duo, but to no avail. Aptly named, Tosanoides aphrodite enchanted its discoverers much like Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty, enchanted the ancient Greek gods.
“Fishes from the twilight zone tend to be pink or reddish in color,” says Pinheiro. “Red light doesn’t penetrate to these dark depths, rendering the fishes invisible unless illuminated by a light like the one we carry while diving.”
Back at the Academy, laboratory and collections manager Claudia Rocha helped the diving duo describe the new species: Males are outfitted with alternating pink and yellow stripes while females sport a solid, blood-orange color. Using a microscope, the team counted fins and measured spine length; DNA analysis revealed the new species is the first Atlantic-dwelling member of its genus.
The new denizen of the deep is a remarkable testament to the vast ocean habitats that still remain unexplored. Rocha and Pinheiro are part of a deep-diving research team that ventures to twilight zone reefs—mysterious coral habitats stretching across a narrow band of ocean 200 – 500 feet beneath the surface. In these deep reefs, animals live in partial darkness—beyond recreational diving limits, yet above the deep trenches patrolled by submarines and ROVs. As part of its Hope for Reefs initiative, the Academy team and their collaborators are exploring this unknown frontier with the help of high-tech equipment like closed-circuit rebreathers that allow scientists to extend their research time underwater.
Nearly 600 miles offshore the coast of Brazil, St. Paul’s Rocks is so remote that it required the team to utilize the research vessel M/V Aluciaas their homebase to explore the archipelago. The rocky outcroppings are extensions of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge—an active, tectonic plate boundary—puncturing the ocean’s surface. Given the region’s unique geology and isolated location, many of the species that live there are found nowhere else on Earth. Through their research, the Hope for Reefs team is finding that twilight zone habitats also host many location-specific species.
In a recent landmark paper, the team found that twilight zone reefs are unique ecosystems bursting with life and are just as vulnerable to climate change threats as their shallow counterparts. Their findings upended the long-standing assumption that species might migrate between habitats to avoid human-related stressors. As documented in the footage from this new fish’s discovery, a piece of fishing line can be seen streaming behind the sixgill shark—evidence that human impacts extend to depth too.
“In a time of global crisis for coral reefs, learning more about unexplored reef habitats and their colorful residents is critical to our understanding of how to protect them,” says Rocha. “We aim to highlight the ocean’s vast and unexplored wonders and inspire a new generation of sustainability champions.”
Pinheiro HT, Rocha C, Rocha LA (2018) Tosanoides aphrodite, a new species from mesophotic coral ecosystems of St. Paul’s Rocks, Mid Atlantic Ridge (Perciformes, Serranidae, Anthiadinae). ZooKeys 786: 105-115. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.786.27382
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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