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.

***

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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From an amateur nature video to a unique study on Antarctic jellyfish

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. 

This crystal-like comb jelly species, Callianira cristata, has been reported for the first time in the Ross Sea by the team of researchers. Photo by Dr. Emiliano Cimoli

“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. 

This brownish-orange comb jelly of the genus Beroe is likely one of the five undescribed species characterized by the team of researchers. Photo by Dr. Emiliano Cimoli

“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.

The value of his video was soon picked up by biologist Dr. Gerlien Verhaegen, postdoctoral researcher at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC):

“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.

“Life Beneath the Ice”, a short musical film about light and life beneath the Antarctic sea-ice by Dr. Emiliano Cimoli

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”.

Filming creatures in their natural environment can yield valuable information on their trophic interactions with other organisms. For example, this picture of a Diplulmaris antarctica jellyfish shows it feeds on comb jellies, with a Beroe present in its stomach, whereas numerous hyperiid amphipods (small parasitic crustaceans) are observed scattered around on the bell of the jellyfish. Photo by Dr. Emiliano Cimoli

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.

Original source

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

Taxonomist Day at Pensoft: Three species in the WoRMS’ Top 10 Marine Species of 2019 described in our journals

Happy Taxonomist Appreciation Day, everyone!

In a lovely tradition, the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) issued the Top 10 Marine Species of 2019 for the ninth time around on time for this special day! 

In what has also already become a tradition we are particularly proud of, it’s not one, but several species described as new to science in Pensoft journals that make it to the renowned list! Even if it’s a slight step back from last year’s five entries, this year, we see a total of three species making it to the list: the Vibranium Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus wakanda) and the Green Rat Clingfish (Barryichthys algicola), both published in ZooKeys, and Thiel’s Boring Amphipod (Bircenna thieli) first known from the pages of Evolutionary Systematics.

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,”

said Yi-Kai Tea.

Story via Forbes*

Find more in the WoRMS’ press release.

***

Research article in ZooKeys:

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”.

Find more in the WoRMS’ press release.

***

Research article in ZooKeys:

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.

Find more in the WoRMS’ press release.

***

Research article in Evolutionary Systematics:

Hughes LE, Lörz A-N (2019) Boring Amphipods from Tasmania, Australia (Eophliantidae: Amphipoda: Crustacea). Evolutionary Systematics 3(1): 41-52. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.3.35340

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”.

Scientific divers from the California Academy of Sciences discover new species of dazzling, neon-colored fish

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.

Male specimen of the new species (Tosanoides aphrodite). Photo by LA Rocha.

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 Alucia as 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.”

 

Research article:

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

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.

Five new blanket-hermit crab species described 130 years later from the Pacific

A blanket-hermit crab grasping an anemone.
A blanket-hermit crab grasping an anemone.

Since 1888, a lone crab species living in an extraordinary symbiosis has been considered to be one of its kind

At the turn of the twentieth century, two independent marine scientists – JR Henderson in 1888, and A Alcock in 1899, described two unusual blanket-hermit crabs from the Indo-West Pacific.

Unlike other hermit crabs, these extraordinary crustaceans do not search for empty shells to settle in for protection. Instead, they have developed a symbiotic relationship with sea anemones to cover their soft bellies. To do this, the crabs use highly specialized chelipeds to pull back and forth the anemone’s tissue to cover their soft bodies and heads whenever necessary – much like hiding under a blanket.

Among the numerous specimens collected during the famous HMS Challenger Expedition in 1874, there were two hermit crab specimens obtained from the Philippines. They amazed Henderson with their unusual physical characters, including an abdomen bent on itself rather than spirally curved, and the lack of any trace of either a shell or other kind of protective structure for their body.

As a result, in 1888, JR Henderson established a brand new genus and new species for it as Paguropsis typicus. The ending of the species name was subsequently grammatically corrected to Paguropsis typica.

image 1

A decade later, unaware of the previous discovery, A Alcock stumbled upon hundreds of hermit crab specimens off southern India, which exhibited quite spectacular behaviour. Having observed their symbiotic relations with sea anemones, the researcher also formally described in 1899 a new species and a new genus for his specimens.

However, shortly thereafter and upon learning of JR Henderson’s earlier work, A Alcock concluded that his hermit crab specimens and those of JR Henderson must be one and the same species, so the two scientific names were officially synonymized in 1901 in a publication with his colleague AF McArdle, with JR Henderson’s name taking precedence as required by the principle of priority set forth in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

Now, 130 years later, an international team of scientists, led by invertebrate zoologist Dr Rafael Lemaitre of the National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian Institution, USA, not only found that A Alcock’s Indian specimens were indeed a separate species, leading to the resurrection of its name as Paguropsis andersoni, but that blanket-hermit crabs are not as rare as previously thought.

In their recent publication in the open access journal ZooKeys, the biologists described a total of five new species and a new genus of closely related blanket-hermit crabs. Furthermore, they expect that other species are to be discovered, since there are many vast marine shelf areas and deep-sea habitats spread across the Indo-West Pacific yet to be sampled.

To develop their exceptional symbiosis with sea anemones, the blanket-hermit crabs have obviously needed just as extraordinary evolutionary adaptations. Perhaps the most remarkable of these are their specialized chelate fourth legs that allow for the crustaceans to effectively grab and stretch the thin-walled body of the anemones to cover themselves. For five of the species, the scientists report and unusual grasping shape for this cheliped that is reminiscent of bear claws, while in the other two the shape resembles ice-block tongs.

Unfortunately, the identity of the sea anemone species involved in the symbiotic relationship with any of the studied blanket-hermit crabs is currently uncertain, and their biology remains unknown.

A blanket-hermit crab 'wearing' an anemone.
A blanket-hermit crab ‘wearing’ an anemone.

So far, the genus described by JR Henderson as Paguropsis, contains five species distributed in the subtropical and tropical Indo-West Pacific, and living at depths ranging from 30 to 1125 m. These include the two species discovered in the 19th century, and three new species, one of which, Paguropsis gigas, is the largest known blanket-hermit crab that reaches a body size of 15 cm when fully stretched (a large size by hermit crab standards).

For two of the newly discovered hermit crabs, the new genus Paguropsina is erected to reflect the numerous similarities between the two species and their Paguropsis relatives. The Latin suffix -ina refers to the comparatively smaller size of the two species. Both blanket-hermit species of Paguropsina are found in the subtropical and tropical western Pacific at depth between 52 and 849 m.

“Here there is no shell to play the part of ‘Sir Pandarus of Troy,’ but the sea-anemone settles upon the hinder part of the young hermit-crab’s tail, and the two animals grow up together, in such a way that the spreading zoophytes form a blanket which the hermit can either draw completely forwards over its head or throw half-back, as it pleases,” Alcock once eloquently described his marine discovery.

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Original source:

Lemaitre R, Rahayu DL, Komai T (2018) A revision of “blanket-hermit crabs” of the genus Paguropsis Henderson, 1888, with the description of a new genus and five new species (Crustacea, Anomura, Diogenidae). ZooKeys 752: 17-97. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.752.23712