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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Celebrating Taxonomist Day with Elvis Worms and Sneaky Pipefish

Happy Taxonomist Appreciation Day! On this day dedicated to the scientists who name, define and classify all living things, the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) also honors discoveries in marine biology by posting a “Top 10” of the marine species discovered throughout the year. The year 2020 saw fascinating discoveries in the world of sea life, and, once more, species first described in Pensoft‘s open-access journal ZooKeys made it to the Top 10!

The Fabulous, Rowdy Elvis Worm   

The sparkliest entry in this year’s Top 10, and arguably the most glamorous deep-sea animal discovered in 2020, is undoubtedly a scale worm described in ZooKeys by scientists of the University of California San Diego, the French National Centre for Scientific Research and Sorbonne University.

Peinaleopolynoe orphanae

Deep in the Pacific Ocean, researchers found not one, not two, but four species of iridescent scale worms. They have yet to figure out why these critters shimmer, but the Internet was already calling them ‘Elvis worms’ or ‘glitter worms’, because their scales evoked associations with Elvis’ shiny costumes. One species was even formally named Peinaleopolynoe elvisi in honor of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

It was however one of the other three species, Peinaleopolynoe orphanae, that made it to the Top 10 –  because, in the words of the committee, it has “both the most stunning iridescence and the feistiest temperament!”

P. orphanae was first collected from a hydrothermal vent in the Gulf of California at a depth of 3700 m and named after geobiologist Victoria Orphan. The first part of its name, Peinaleopolynoe, comes from a Greek word for hungry, in reference to the attraction of these worms to food falls.

Surprisingly, Peinaleopolynoe orphanae engage in fights between each other before the eyes of the researchers! In what has never been seen in scale worms before, the scientists recorded a “face-off”, where two individuals kept attacking one another back and forth for several minutes.

The Red Pipefish, Master of Disguise

The Red Wide-Bodied Pipefish (Stigmatopora harastii) dwells in New South Wales, Australia, at 10-25 m depth, and is so good at camouflage that you might have a hard time spotting it even when you’re looking straight at it. It was first reported by underwater photographers in Jervis Bay in 2002, but was only described as a new species in 2020 by scientists from the Australian Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Burke Museum, and the University of British Columbia.

This curious new fish associates with red algae or finger sponges, which allows it to stay hidden in plain sight. It is colored bright red, but curiously that only helps it to go unnoticed. Oriented vertically or at an angle, it camouflages itself among the red algae. Virtually indistinguishable from its surroundings, it only occasionally darts out of its cozy cover to munch on small copepods and shrimp.

Stigmatopora harastii

Stigmatopora harastii was named after David Harasti, one of the first people to recognize it as a new species and a pronounced fan of the Stigmatopora genus. According to the research paper, “David has stated he counts green pipefish to fall asleep.” We don’t know how he feels about red pipefish, but this one charms with both looks and skills, so we hope it becomes one of his favorites.

Stigmatopora harastii

Researchers believe the red pipefish might have a wider distribution in New South Wales and possibly New Zealand – it can be very hard to detect because of its preferred depth range and its remarkable camouflaging ability.

The 10 remarkable new marine species from 2020 listed by WoRMS are a celebration of all wonderful and sometimes even quite weird creatures that dwell in the sea, and a reminder of how important it is to explore and protect marine life. Here’s to another year of fun little creatures and amazing scientific discoveries!

Failure to respond to a coral disease epizootic in Florida: causes and consequences

By 2020, losses of corals have been observed throughout Florida and into the greater Caribbean basin in what turned out to be likely the most lethal recorded case of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. A Perspectives paper, published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal Rethinking Ecology, provides an overview of how Florida ended up in a situation, where the best that could be done is rescuing genetic material from coral species at risk of regional extinction.

Guest blog post by William F. Precht

A colony of the large grooved brain coral, Colpophyllia natans, infected by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. The photo shows the progressive, rapid advance of disease, left-to-right, across the colony.
Image by William Precht.

Dredging projects conducted in association with coral reefs typically generate concern by environmental groups, resulting in careful monitoring by government agencies. Even though the aim of those dredge projects is to widen or deepen existing ship channels, while minimizing damage to coral reef resources, there are often the intuitive negative assumptions that dredging kills corals.

The recent Port Miami Dredge Project started as an uncomplicated case story. However, significant problems arose, caused by a concurrent and unprecedented coral disease epidemic that killed large numbers of corals, which was initiated following a regional thermal anomaly and coral bleaching event.

The coral disease, known as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD), was first observed in September 2014 near Virginia Key, Florida. In roughly six years, the disease has spread throughout Florida and into the greater Caribbean basin. The high prevalence of SCTLD and the resulting high mortality in coral populations, coupled with the large number of susceptible species affected, suggest that this disease outbreak is one of the most lethal ever recorded on contemporary coral reefs. The disease is still presently active and continues to ravage coral reefs throughout the region.

The initial response to this catastrophic disease by resource managers with purview over the ecosystem in Southeast Florida was slow. There is generally a noticeably short window of opportunity to intervene in disease amelioration or eradication in the marine environment. This slow response enabled the disease to spread unchecked. Why was the response to the loss of our coral reefs to a coral disease epidemic such a massive failure? This includes our failure as scientists, regulators, resource managers, local media, and policy makers alike. With this Perspectives paper, published in Rethinking Ecology, my intention was to encapsulate the numerous reasons for our failures during the first few years of the outbreak, reminiscent of the early failures in the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, the Port Miami dredging project was ongoing when the coral disease epidemic began. Some managers and local environmental groups blamed dredging, rather than SCTLD for the coral losses, reported in the project’s compliance monitoring program. Second, this blame was amplified in the media, because dredging projects are intuitively assumed to be bad for coral reefs. Third, during this same time, the State of Florida prohibited government employees from acknowledging global warming in their work. This was problematic because ocean warming is a proximal cause of many coral diseases.

As a result, some managers ignored the well-known links between warming and coral disease. A consequence of this policy was that the dredging project provided an easy target to blame for the coral mortality noted in the monitoring program, despite convincing data that suggested otherwise. 

Specifically, the intensive compliance monitoring program, conducted by trained scientific divers, was statistically significant. SCTLD that was killing massive numbers of corals throughout the region was also killing corals at the dredge site. Further, this was happening in the same proportions and among the same suite of species. 

Finally, when the agencies responded to the outbreak, their efforts were too little and much too late to make a meaningful difference. While eradication of the disease was never a possibility, early control measures may have slowed its spread, or allowed for the rescue of significant numbers of large colonies of iconic species. Because of the languid management response to this outbreak, we are now sadly faced with a situation where much of our management efforts are focused on the rescue of genetic material from coral species already at risk of regional extinction.

The delayed response to this SCTLD outbreak in Southeast Florida has many similarities to the COVID-19 pandemic response in the United States and there are lessons learned from both that will improve disease response outcomes in the future, to the benefit of coral reefs and human populations.

Publication:

Precht W (2021) Failure to respond to a coral disease epizootic in Florida: causes and consequences. Rethinking Ecology 6: 1-47. https://doi.org/10.3897/rethinkingecology.6.56285

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

states Dr Spiridonov sharing the details of the genus analysis.

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

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

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

***

Original source:

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

A new character for Pokémon? Novel endemic dogfish shark species discovered from Japan

A new endemic deep-water dogfish shark: Squalus shiraii, was discovered in the tropical waters of Southern Japan by an international team of scientists led by Dr. Sarah Viana from South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity. The finding brings the amount of spurdogs shark species inhabiting Japanese waters to six. The discovery is published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

Newly discovered creatures can often be as impressive and exciting as the ones from the Japanese movies and shows. Many of those fictional characters, including inhabitants of the famous Pokémon universe, might have their analogues among the real animals native to Japan. Maybe, a new species of the dogfish shark published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution is also “a real Pokémon” to be?

A new deep-water dogfish shark: Squalus shiraii, was discovered in the tropical waters of Southern Japan by an international team of scientists, led by Dr. Sarah Viana from South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity


 Map of the North-western Pacific Ocean, showing the geographical distribution of Squalus shiraii
Credit: Sarah Viana
License: CC-BY 4.0

The new shark has the body length of 59-77 cm and some unique characteristics such as tall first dorsal fin and caudal fin with broad white margins. Currently, the species is known exclusively as a Japanese endemic, occurring in the tropical shallow waters of Southern Japan in the North-western Pacific.


Squalus shiraii lateral view
Credit: Sarah Viana
License: CC-BY 4.0

Spurdogs represent commercially important for the world fish trade taxa. They are caught for a range of purposes: consumption of meat, fins and liver oil. Despite their high occurrence, the accurate identification data of species is scarce, population threats and trends remain unknown.

Japan currently represents one of the world’s leading shark fish trade countries, though, during the last decades the amount of shark catches is decreasing and over 78 elasmobranch species traded in Japanese shark fin markets are now evaluated as threatened.

The new species Squalus shiraii previously used to be massively misidentified with shortspine spurdog, due to the resembling shape of body, fins and snout length. However, there are some differences, defining the specificity of the new species.

Squalus shiraii has body brown in colour, postventral and preventral caudal margins whitish, dorsal and ventral caudal tips broadly white and black upper caudal blotch evident in adults. S. mitsukurii has body conspicuously black to dark grey and caudal fins black throughout with post-ventral caudal margin fairly whitish and black upper caudal blotch not evident in adults”, shares lead author Dr. Viana.

Scientists propose the name for the newly described species as Shirai’s spurdog in honour to Dr. Shigeru Shirai, the former Japanese expert of the group.

Original source:
Viana STFL, Carvalho MR (2020) Squalus shiraii sp. nov. (Squaliformes, Squalidae), a new species of dogfish shark from Japan with regional nominal species revisited. Zoosystematics and Evolution 96(2): 275-311. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.96.51962

Contact:
Dr. Sarah Viana
Email: stviana@gmail.com


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.

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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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precious life in deep reefs

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

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

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

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

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(Text by the California Academy of Sciences, USA)

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Research articles:

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

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

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

The World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) announced the

Top 10 Marine Species of 2018 just in time for

Taxonomist Appreciation Day

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

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

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

 

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

Photo by Richard Smith.

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

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

News story by Douglas Main via National Geographic.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The ‘flower’ of Okinawa (Hana hanagasa)

Photo by Yee Wah Lau

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

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

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

 

The distinctly hairy-foot shrimp (Odontonia bagginsi)

Illustration by Franz Anthony.

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

News story by Mike Wehner via New York Post.

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

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

 

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

 

Photo by Dr Toby S. Daly-Engel.

 

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

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

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

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

 

Happy Taxonomist Appreciation Day from Pensoft!

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

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

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

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.