Three new species of zoantharians described from coral reefs across the Indo-Pacific

One of them was named after the president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, in honour of his and the nation’s support to the authors and marine conservation

Three new species of zoantharians were discovered by researchers from the University of the Ryukyus and Kagoshima University, Japan, and the Palau International Coral Reef Center. Despite not being previously known, all three species were found widely across the Indo-Pacific, with at least two species found in the Red Sea, the Maldives, Palau, and southern Japan.

Zoantharians, or colonial anemones, include species popular in the pet trade such as Zoanthus or Palythoa, but the new species are all much more cryptic, living in marine caves, cracks, or at depths below most recreational SCUBA diving (>20 m). The research was published December 29, 2017, in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The three new species belong to the genus Antipathozoanthus, which contains species that only live on top of black coral colonies. However, surprisingly, one of the new species does not live on black corals, but instead in narrow cracks in coral reefs.

obscurus“We think that the new species, Antipathozoanthus obscurus, has evolved away from needing to be on top of black corals to take advantage of the available space in coral reef cracks”, said lead researcher Hiroki Kise.

“This is yet another example of how much diversity is right underneath our noses, but we still know nothing about it.”

Coral reefs, which are widely threatened by rising temperatures from global warming, are generally believed to harbour very high numbers of species, including yet many undescribed or unknown species.

Amongst the other two new species is Antipathozoanthus remengesaui, named after the current president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau.

“Much of our work was based in Palau”, said senior author Dr. James Reimer, “and we wished to acknowledge the fantastic support we have received from the nation. Palau is considered at the forefront of marine conservation, and much of this is thanks to President Remengesau’s vision.”

While the new discoveries shed more light on our understanding of coral reef biodiversity, this work is far from done. In fact, the researchers themselves estimate they still have up to ten more zoantharian species to describe from the waters of Palau and Okinawa.

“Marine diversity of coral reefs is amazing, with new surprises all the time”, said Kise, “and biodiversity scientists still have a lot more work to do.”

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Original source:

Kise H, Fujii T, Masucci GD, Biondi P, Reimer JD (2017) Three new species and the molecular phylogeny of Antipathozoanthus from the Indo-Pacific Ocean (Anthozoa, Hexacorallia, Zoantharia). ZooKeys 725: 97-122. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.725.21006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Original source:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Original source:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Original source:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017-07-11-Sympagurus_dimorphus

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

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

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

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

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Original source:

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

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

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

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

Cyphastrea salae holotype macro 81_1530 IMG_1528

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Original source:

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

Caught red-handed: The ‘Candy striped hermit crab’ is a new species from the Caribbean

Recent underwater photographs and video obtained using scuba equipment by underwater photographer Ellen Muller at dive sites in the National Marine Park of the southern Caribbean island of Bonaire revealed the presence of a small, secretive and brightly colored red-striped hermit crab that proved to represent a species new to science. The new few-millimeter species is described in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Extra ImageThe color pattern reminded author Dr. Rafael Lemaitre, Smithsonian Institution, USA, of traditional candy cane, and thus he assigned the common name “Candy striped hermit crab”. Meanwhile, the scientific name of the new species is Pylopaguropsis mollymullerae after Ellen Muller’s young granddaughter Molly Muller. The underwater photographer believes that the honor would “inspire her to continue the tradition of protecting the amazing and fragile diversity of marine life in Bonaire”.

The unusual hermit crab was first photographed inadvertently alongside a “flaming reef lobster”, while observing invertebrates that aggregate in crevices under a large coral ledge. Subsequently, more hermit crabs were photographed in various crevices shared with moray eels such as the “broad banded moray”, “spotted moray”, and “green moray”. When permits were obtained from the Government of the Island Territory of Bonaire, a few specimens were collected and brought for study to the Smithsonian Institution. The formal description was then prepared for publication and specimens were deposited in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History, as required by scientific rules when naming new species.

The shape of the right, or major, pincer of this new hermit crab species is remarkable and unique with its shape and massive size when compared to the body. The underside of the claw of this pincer is deeply excavated, scoop-like. The function of the pincer and claw, however, is at present unknown, although a video shows that it is used by the hermit crab to push itself while crawling along the bottom.

Image 1The behavior of this new hermit crab is intriguing. Is there an ecological association of this new species with moray eels? Could this new hermit crab species function as a “cleaner” or a “den commensal”? At least in one instance, an individual was observed crawling on the body of a “broad banded moray”, perhaps feeding on mucus or materials present on it. These observations could be interpreted as evidence of some kind of symbiotic association, or den commensalism, between the two animals. The brightly colored pattern of the hermit crab with red stripes and very long, hairy antennae are also typical for most crustaceans considered fish “cleaners”.

“Cleaning” parasites or fouling organisms from the body of many cooperating fish, or removal of undesired food particles by certain small and colorful shrimps has been known for nearly 60 years, but never has a hermit crab been documented to engage in such type of ecological association. Further studies are needed in order to confirm the true ecological role of this fascinating hermit crab.

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Original source:

Lemaitre R (2017) Discovery of a new species of hermit crab of the genus Pylopaguropsis Alcock, 1905 from the Caribbean: “den commensal” or “cleaner”? (Crustacea, Anomura, Paguridae). ZooKeys 646: 139-158, https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.646.11132

First of a kind footage of a living stylodactylid shrimp filter-feeding at depth of 4826 m

Depths such as those at the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument are an extreme challenge for explorers, providing scarce information about their inhabitants, let alone their behavior.

While most of them are known from dead specimens gathered by trawls, a team of scientists, led by Dr. Mary Wicksten, Texas A&M University, USA, have recently retrieved footage of a living shrimp from the seafloor at a striking depth of 4826 m. The video presumably shows a species, previously known from a single broken specimen from the Coral Sea, while filter-feeding. The observation is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

With the help of the remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer, part of the equipment the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have used in the “2016 Exploration of the Marianas” expedition, the researchers have obtained the first footage of a living deep-sea benthic shrimp of the Stylodactylidae family. In fact, the video was of such high-quality that the scientists believe they have recognised the shrimp at a species level (Bathystylodactylus bathyalis). This is also the deepest record for this group of shrimps.

Navigating through the seafloor, mostly thickly sedimented with clay-like particles easily disturbed into clouds, the Deep Discoverer spent nearly five hours traversing the bottom, letting the scientists at the shore observe depths ranging from 4840 to 4787 meters. When it reached 4826 m, it approached a tiny shrimp measuring about 120 mm in length.

As soon as they noticed it, the researchers moved the vehicle so that it could face the shrimp and take some detailed shots. At first, the crustacean was seen to stay immobile facing the current for a few minutes, before raising to its back legs and beginning to use the front ones to form what seems to be a “filter basket” that captures particles. Curiously, while such passive feeding behavior is known from some crabs, it has not been observed within any group of carideans, the shrimp infraorder where the studied species belongs.

NOAA’s ship Okeanos Explorer, administered through the Office of Exploration and Research and used in the deep-water expedition, is equipped with the remotely-operated vehicle Deep Discoverer and a camera sled. It relies on two maneuverable and four fixed video cameras, as well as 26 LED lamps. High-speed communication capabilities enable scientists to participate in ship operations via telepresence. Thanks to this technology, anyone with Internet access is able to observe live video feeds from and participate in real time via a private chat room and satellite teleconference line.

Okeanos Explorer is to be employed once again in 2017 to continue its explorative mission focused on deepwater areas of U.S. marine protected areas in the central and western Pacific.

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Original source:

Wicksten M, De Grave S, France S, Kelley C (2017) Presumed filter-feeding in a deep-sea benthic shrimp (Decapoda, Caridea, Stylodactylidae), with records of the deepest occurrence of carideans. ZooKeys 646: 17-23. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.646.10969

Hawaii’s newest species named in honor of President Obama

The new species is the only coral-reef fish that lives exclusively within the marine protected area, which was recently expanded by the President

Scientists from the Bishop Museum, NOAA, and the Association for Marine Exploration published the description of a new species of coral-reef fish that they named in honor of President Barack Obama. The fish, which now bears the formal scientific name Tosanoides obama, was discovered during a June 2016 NOAA expedition to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The study is published in the open-access scientific journal ZooKeys.

“We decided to name this fish after President Obama to recognize his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment, including the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea,” said Richard Pyle, Bishop Museum scientist and lead author of the study. “This expansion adds a layer of protection to one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth.” The Museum is currently showcasing the exhibit Journeys: Heritage of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, featuring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Monument.

figure04On August 26 of this year, at the urging of Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), conservationists, and many marine scientists, President Obama expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. At 582,578 square miles, it is the largest permanent marine protected area on Earth. On September 1, during his trip to Midway Atoll within the Monument, legendary scientist, conservationist and deep ocean explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle gave the President a photograph of the fish that now bears his name. The exchange will be featured in the National Geographic global broadcast special, “Sea Of Hope” scheduled to be released on January 15, 2017.

The small pink and yellow fish is a kind of basslet, a group that includes many colorful reef fishes popular in the marine aquarium fish trade. There are two other species in the genus Tosanoides, both from the tropical northwestern Pacific Ocean. Males of the new species have a distinctive spot on the dorsal fin near the tail, which is blue around the edge and red with yellow stripes in the center. “The spot on the males is reminiscent of President Obama’s campaign logo,” said Pyle. “It seemed especially appropriate for a fish named in honor of the president.”

“The new fish is special because it is the only known species of coral-reef fish endemic to the Monument (meaning that the species is found nowhere else on Earth). Our research has documented the highest rate of fish endemism in the world — 100% — living on the deep reefs where we found this new species,” said NOAA scientist Randall Kosaki, chief scientist of the research cruise, and co-author on the paper. However, unlike all the other Hawaiian endemic species, which also occur in the main Hawaiian Islands, this new species is special because it is the only one that is limited to within the Monument itself. “Endemic species are unique contributions to global biodiversity,” Kosaki added. “With the onslaught of climate change, we are at risk of losing some of these undiscovered species before we even know they exist.”

The new fish was first discovered and collected on a dive to 300 feet at Kure Atoll, 1200 miles northwest of Honolulu. Kure is the northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands, and is the highest latitude coral atoll in the world. Deep coral reefs at depths of 150 to 500 feet, in the so-called “Twilight Zone” (also known as mesophotic coral ecosystems), are among the most poorly explored of all marine ecosystems. Located deeper than divers using conventional scuba gear can safely venture, these reefs represent a new frontier for coral-reef research. Pyle and co-authors Brian Greene and Randall Kosaki pioneered the use of advanced mixed-gas diving systems known as closed-circuit rebreathers for Twilight Zone research, and have been documenting the previously unexplored deep reefs throughout Hawai’i and the broader Pacific for the past three decades.

“These deep coral reefs are home to an incredible diversity of fishes, corals, and other marine invertebrates,” said Brian Greene, an experienced deep diver and researcher with the Association for Marine Exploration, and co-author of the paper. “There are many new species still waiting to be discovered down there.”

This is the second new species of fish from Papahānaumokuākea named this year. In August, Pyle and Kosaki published the description of a new species of butterflyfish (Prognathodes basabei) based on specimens collected on deep reefs at Pearl and Hermes Atoll earlier this year. President Obama also has several species from other locales named after him: a trapdoor spider, a speckled freshwater darter (fish), a parasitic hairworm, and an extinct lizard.

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Original source:

Citation: Pyle RL, Greene RD, Kosaki RK (2016) Tosanoides obama, a new basslet (Perciformes, Percoidei, Serranidae) from deep coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. ZooKeys 641: 165-181. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.641.11500

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