Thursday, October 13, 2016

New Species of Sea Stars from the North Pacific and BEYOND!

You may recall back in 2009 when I accompanied the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) on a 10 day cruise exploring the North Pacific on the Juan de Fuca and Gorda Mid Ocean Ridges off the Oregon coast. Here was the cruise website.  I blogged about it here.
When we returned from the expedition I was VERY excited because we had collected MANY specimens and several were either new records of rarely seen species or outright NEW species!

I would like to give a big shout out to MBARI because almost EVERY thing they send me turns out to be a NEW species!  Here's a new coral-devouring star I named after MBARI geologist Dave Clague  and here was a poraniid starfish that was observed climbing up a black coral (antipatharian) to devour it

One of my favorite undiscovered starfish was this one, Paulasterias macclaini which I had to describe a whole FAMILY and genus in order to accommodate it!  This species was named for Dr. Craig Macclain, at Deep-Sea News, who had invited me on the cruise.

Well, describing that 6 rayed star took quite a bit of effort but there were many, MANY more species to understand!!!
We also collected many of the more 'non-descript' stars that we encountered as well as several others which turned out to be UNDESCRIBED species!! 

And YES its literally taken me almost 6 YEARS to get all of this done. As I've discussed before (here), it can sometimes take quite awhile for a species to be formally described.

The starfish I reported on in my Zootaxa paper are members of the Goniasteridae, the most diverse family of sea stars, which includes over 260 species in 65 genera!  Most goniasterids live in relatively deep-water (continental shelf and deeper) but historically, there haven't been many of them known from abyssal and lower bathyal (i.e., >1000 meter) depths.

Only recently have we been seeing better collections of these animals from these depths. As I've reported below, some were collected from below 4000 meters!

Sibogaster nieseni! 
The first few specimens of this species were collected by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute from Taney Seamount (off the coast of San Francisco) from abyssal depths (over 3000 meters!).

It is named for one of my former advisors from San Francisco State University: Professor Tom Niesen (now emeritus)! Author of the Marine Biology Coloring book and noted intertidal naturalist/ecologist along the California coast! 

He gave me my first shot at grad school and happily, his advice and instincts correctly guided me through my early years as a Masters degree student!
photo by J. Sharei
It seemed VERY appropriate to name this species, from off central California, after someone who has done so much to educate others about the significance of the invertebrates of the coast!! 

Interestingly, as I was in the process of writing it up, I suddenly became aware of multiple specimens of similar individuals from OTHER oceans in museums where I was NOT expecting to see them!

This one for example, turned out to be almost identical to the Pacific one I was working on but was from the tropical ATLANTIC! and even one from the deeps of Indonesia... 
Also, unusual is how, such a moderately big animal (about 4 to 5 inches in diameter) could have gone undescribed for so long?  But given how deep it was found (2100 to 4175 meters !) its been well "hidden"! 

This species is likely the deepest member of the Goniasteridae known.

Ceramaster pointsurae! 
This was a tiny little species that I think we collected as part of something else.. perhaps sampling sediment or some other part of the physical environment.

BUT it turns out that it is likely a new and distinct species with some resemblance to the shallow-water species of Ceramaster (aka the cookie stars) in shallow waters..

This species was found during my 2009 trip on the President Jackson Seamont at about 1975 meters! 

This species is named for the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories retired vessel, the Point Sur which was finally retired in 2014. 
I spent many a day sorting deep-sea invertebrates on the deck of the Point Sur and I was saddened to hear about its retirement.

Bathyceramaster careyi! New genus and NEW species! 
Figuring this one out required a bit of detective work, as it turns out...

Several years ago when I was working as a technician for the California Academy of Sciences, I had the pleasure of studying a newly deposited collection of deep-sea starfishes from Oregon State University.

It turned out, that one of the species in the collection was a rarely known species called "Mediaster elegans" collected by oceanographer Drew Carey. To the best of the knowledge of the workers at the time, it was thought that this was a new occurrence, since the original specimens were only known from South America (collected in 1905). 

But as it turns out, after comparing Carey's specimens with the newly collected material by MBARI AND the original type series (i.e., the specimens on which the species was based) it turned out there were actually TWO species present, "Mediaster elegans" (original name) AND this one!  And the one seen by Carey in 1972 was actually undescribed! So, what I'd argue was actually "Mediaster elegans" turns has not actually been seen until now...

and not only that, it had to be placed into a new GENUS in order to be correctly described! 

Boom! NEW genus described! New SPECIES described!
This species was ultimately found to occur throughout the North Pacific between 1700 and 3363 meter depths! 

With this one, named for Dr. Andrew Carey, formerly of Oregon State University! 
The gut contents described by Carey's paper in 1972 suggests that this species feeds on deep-sea sponges.

The paper outlines several goniasterids from the North Pacific at depths below 1000 meters, including several which have not been seen since their description. 

Now that the new genus Bathyceramaster has been described, I can also follow up with a note I made on one of the recent Okeanos dives to Wake Island! 

This white goniasterid we saw at about 2000 m MIGHT be Bathyceramaster, but I'd need to more closely examine the surface to be sure. But if the closeups of the surface texture were correct.. I think maybe??
New discoveries that lead to new questions!! 

What are they eating down there? How do they get so big? Why do some of these species always seem to be alone when you see them? 

My thanks to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the California Academy of Sciences'  Department of Invertebrate Zoology and the Museum national d'Historie naturelle in Paris! 

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Guide to Invertebrate Zoology on Twitter!!

Marine invertebrates potpourri
image by the indubitable Arthur Anker
This week. Something a little different. I was doing a short presentation for some colleagues about using social media next week and I began accumulating Invertebrate Zoology accounts on Twitter... which at one time were quite rare and realized that it would be a good thing to share all of them.

It surprised me that SO MANY have since become established. I remember many years ago when it was less than 6 people and most of it was secondary to blogging!
Now, not ONLY are there many, MANY IZ Twitter themed accounts specializing on specific taxa, there are actually REGULAR twitter events...

Invertebrate Themed Twitter Events


#TrilobiteTuesdays. Held every Tuesday.  If you are into Paleozoic arthropods then Tuesdays are YOUR thing!

#WormWednesday: Held every Wednesday. These bring forth all manner of worm-like phyla: Polychaeta, Annelida, Nematoda, Platyhelminthes, Acoela, and so on and so forth..

#SpongeThursday: Held every Thursday. Love the Porifera? the Hexactinellida? Go forth and
enjoy/post about them!

Honorable mention goes to #FossilFriday which is mostly about Dinosaurs and vertebrates..but you get some ammonites and other invertebrates in there pretty regularly...

#CephalopodAwarenessWeek. aka #CephalopodAwarenessDays Every year from October 8 to 12.  You can keep on updates at @cephalopodday. Basically 5 days celebrating EACH class of cephalopods and then some...
  • October 8 – Octopus Day, for all the eight-armed species
  • October 9 – Nautilus Night, a time for all the lesser-known extant cephalopods
  • October 10 – Squid Day/Cuttlefish Day, or Squidturday, covering the tentacular species
  • October 11 – Myths and Legends Day, for all the fantastical cephalopods of movies, literature and legend. 
  • October 12 – Fossil Day
#Polychaete Day. Held yearly on July 1 ever year. (Older hashtag was #InternationalpolychaeteDay).  In conjunction with polychaete related events at the NMNH and other museums.   This day honors international polychaete worm expert Dr. Kristian Fauchald on his birthday July 1st. Celebrates all manner of polychaete (and related) topics!  Here were my posts from 2015 and 2016. 

#SeaSlugDay. Held every year on October 29th in honor of Dr. Terry Gosliner's birthday! Celebrate by posting images, videos and links to all manner of shell-less marine gastropods! Nudibranchs and their kin! My post from last year. 

And of course #Okeanos when the NOAA vessel Okeanos Explorer goes into research/streaming mode!  in which case, there are new deep-sea invertebrate posts for several hours every day for about 2 to 3 weeks!!

Various Twitter accounts/Persons with Invertebrate themed content
from the USNM Invertebrate Zoology FB page @InvertebratesDC
So, here we go. All said and done a list of about 65 IZ twitter accoutns! A list of all the accounts I could locate which focused primarily on Invertebrates, exclusive of insects and arachnids.  Yes, sorry land-based arthropods but you are a whole thing all on your own.

This will be a fairly subjective list-I focused mainly on marine groups and those with academic or otherwise focused content that I thought was appropriate. Activity was also a consideration. Some accounts looked essentially inactive and were not included.

Let me clear that there are a LOT of accounts which have a broader focus that regularly include Invertebrate Zoology themed tweets, including aquariums, natural history museums, etc. and frankly those have so many followers its unnecessary to give them much more publicity anyway..

There were MANY, many individual accounts of photographers, naturalists, educators, scientists, etc. who for one reason or another I just couldn't include for the sake of space, focus, etc.

And there are some topics, for example about coral reefs, there's a TON of coral-related accounts and I simply could not list them all... A search on Twitter's search engine will get you all of those names pretty quickly though.

So, please don't take an omission as an offense. In fact, if you've got an IZ twitter account that you'd like me to know about, please let me know and if I think its appropriate, I'd be happy to include it.

As a side note: my search for these Twitter accounts took me to some interesting places and its curious to see how many of of the phylum or other taxonomic names have made it into popular use: band names, student groups, social clubs, business organizations, video games, so on and so forth...

General Accounts:
Invertebrate Zoology department of the NMNH at the Smithsonian @InvertebratesDC The official account for one of the most active Invertebrate Zoology departments in the world.

Heidi Gartner. @RBCMInverts. Collection Manager at the Royal British Columbia Museum Invertebrate Zoology dept.

Annelida & Segemented Worms

Dr. Christoph Bleidorn @C_Blei. Evolutionary biologist at the MNCN in Madrid

Dr. Conrad Helm. @conrad_helm. Sars International Center at the University of Bergen. Works on the systematics of segmented worms.

Brachiopod research at the Natural History Museum in London @NHM_Brachiopoda.

Bryozoan research at the Natural History Museum in London @BryozoanNHM This is, I daresay, the finest Twitter account about bryozoans I have seen to date!!  Both fossil and living!

Dr. Allen Collins, NMFS/Invertebrate Zoology NMNH. @tesserazoa. Specialist in jellyfish systematics, sponges and metazoans relationships.

Australian Coral Reef Society. @AustCoralReefs. Official twitter account of the Australian Coral Reef Society.

Dr. Casey Dunn, Brown University. @caseywdunn. Evolutionary biologist at Brown with a special eye towards siphonophores! He also produces Creature Cast videos.

Dr. Cheryl Lewis Ames,  @boxjellytalkNMNH/University of Maryland, box jelly expert.

Coral Morphologic. @CoralMorph. Strong visuals, images, videos of cnidarians and many other invertebrates.

Gates Lab @GatesCoralLab. Coral Research at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

Dr. David Plachetzki. University of New Hampshire. @plachetzki.  Cnidarian genomics.

Dr. Mercer R. Brugler @ProfBrugler. Professor at City Tech, SUNY, Taxonomy & Systematics of Black Corals & Anemones.

Medusozoa Columbia. @Medusozoacol.  Jellyfishes of Columbia!

NOAA Coral Program @NOAACoral.  Official Twitter account for the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Dr. Rebecca Helm. @RebeccaRHelm. Woods Hole Oceanographic Instition.  Jellyfishes and all manner of swimming cnidarian.

Dr. Paulyn Cartwright @pcart. Professor at the University of Kansas specializing in Cnidarian Evolution.

Dr. Andrea Quattrini. @quattrinia.  Harvey Mudd College. Studies deep-sea corals.

Miranda Lowe, @NatHistGirl. Principal curator of Marine Invertebrates at the Natural History Museum in London.

Dr. Tammy Horton, Amphipod taxonomist at the Discovery Collections in Southampton @tammy_horton. 

Adam Hadsall. @_Nezumiiro_  Tweets #craboftheday and many other items of carcinological interest!

Chris Mah, Research Associate at the NMNH. @echinoblog. I work on sea stars but know stuff about things.

David Clark. @Clarkeocrinus. A great account for enjoying Paleozoic and fossil stalked crinoids!

Fossil Worms (Miscellaneous)
Luke Perry. At the University of Bristol in the UK/Natural History Museum. @Cambriannelids. Works on Cambrian worms, primarily annelids.

Hemichordates, deuterostomes, etc.

Dr. Chris Cameron. @InvertEvo at the University of Montreal. One of my colleagues who studies the evolution and development of deuterostomes, especially hemichordates.

Invertebrate Paleontology

Dr. Dave Rudkin, @RudkinDave. Royal Ontario Museum. Studies Paleozoic arthropods and other fossil invertebrates.

Invertebrate Vision
Dr. Michael Bok at the University of Hawaii @mikebok. Studies Vision in invertebrates.

Leeches (Hirudinea)
Dr. Anna Phillips, Curator of leeches and parasitic worms at the NMNH, Smithsonian. @Annalida500.

Dr. Mark Siddall Curator at the American Museum of Natural History. @theleechguy. 

Dr. Sebastian Kvist, Curator at the Royal Ontario Museum. @sebastian_kvist. Annelid & leech systematics.

Dr. David Hayes. @Gnarly_Larvae at Eastern Kentucky University. Works primarily on molecular ecology and freshwater mussels.

Freshwater Mussels. @WeNeedMussels. What more can you ask for? A Twitter account entirely devoted to Freshwater mussels!

ALCES: The AUT Lab for Cephalopod Ecology and Systematics. @ALESonline.  Devoted to studying cephalopod biology, especially deep-sea squids

Research account for fossil cephalopods at the Natural History Museum in London. @NHM_cephalopoda

CIAC-The Cephalopod International Advisory Council. @cephCIAC. The Cephalopod International Advisory Council is a scientific group for cephalopod researchers worldwide

Dr. Louise Allock. @DrShmoo at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Deep-sea octopuses!

The Octopus Newsletter Online (TONMO) @cephs  A hub for cephalopod research and interest.

Dr. Stephanie Bush, Monterey Bay Aquarium. @podlett. Deep-sea Octopus biologist/systematist at MBA.

Mollusks-Gastropoda (shelled snails & slugs)
Dr. Chong Chen, Biologist at JAMSTEC who works on deep-sea snails @squamiferum.  

Jessica Goodheart. @sluglife28. PhD student at the University of Maryland/NMNH. Studies sea slug systematics and behavior.

Dr. Kevin Kokot, @kmkocot. University of Alabama. Mollusk & metazoan phylogeny.

Nematode Worms
The Blaxter Lab (Dr. Mark Blaxter, University of Edinburgh),@blaxterlab.  Nematode, tardigrade and other invertebrate genomics/genetics.

Nemerteans (Ribbon Worms)
Dr. Jon Norenburg, dept. chair of the Invertebrate Zoology dept. at the NMNH. @Jnorenburg and @nemertinator (personal account)  Specializes in ribbon worms and meiofauna.

Iberian Nemerteans. @nemertan. Truth in advertising. A Twitter account about ribbon worms based in Spain.

Parasites (broadly)
Twitter account for the American Society of Parasitologists @AmSocParasit All parasites. All the time.

Tommy Leung, Parasitologist who authors the "Parasite of the Day" blog. @The_Episiarch

Pelagic Invertebrates
Leann Biancani, @LeannMBiancani PhD student at the University of Maryland and the NMNH. Studies the biology and relationships among pelagic invertebrates, including amphipods and polychaetes.

Dr. Steve Haddock, MBARI. @beroe Dr. Haddock is an expert in ALL manner of pelagic deep-sea invertebrates.

Dr. Richard Kirby, based in Plymouth, United Kingdom. @planktonpundit. A wonderful account with regular images and videos of planktonic/nektonic and other related organisms.

Platyhelminthes & Flatworms
Dr. Ulf Jondelius @ulfjo, specializes in aceolomorph "flatworms" at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Jean-Lou Justine, specialist on free-living land flatworms at the MNHN in Paris. @Plathelminthe4 If you are REALLY into Bipalium and other terrestrial, free living flatworms this feed is for you!

Polychaete Worms
UPDATE: Christoph Bliedorn has produced a magnificent list of Tweeting Polychaetologists here:

The Polychaeta Database @WpolyDB Twitter account of the World Polychaete Database (WoRMS)

ケムシ屋 @alciopidae. I don't have a full name unfortunately.  A Japanese polychaete taxonomist (Cirratuliformia/Alvinellidae/ Myzostomida/Opheliidae/Polynoidae etc...)

Dr. Helena Wiklund. @helena_wiklund, University of Gothenberg, Germany. Polychaetes and annelid diversity.

Maddie Brasier. @Madsbrasier.  Studying Antarctic polychaetes.

Dr. Shinri Tomioka. @Capitellico PhD student at Hokkaido University in Japan studying polychaetes.

Dr. Torkild Bakken. @TorkildBakken. Marine biologist at NTNU University Museum, polychaetes and other deep-sea diversity.

Porifera (the sponges)
Twitter account for @Deepsea_sponges You don't get much more specific than this, where deep-sea Porifera are concerned!

Dr. Jackson Chu @jwfchu. Glass sponges and benthic ecology.

The Pawlik Lab @PawlikLab at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Sponge chemical ecology and biology.

Dr. Ana Riesgo at the Natural History Museum in London. @anariesgogil  Sponge researcher at the British Museum.

Dr. Bob Thacker at Stony Brook University. @thackerbob 
Ecology and systematics of sponges,  Involved with the Porifera Tree of Life Project.

The International Society of Protistologists! @protistologists . Pretty much all in the title.

Psi Wavefunction.@PsiWavefunction. Protist blogger and scientist.

Dr. Daiki Horikawa. University of Tokyo. @daikidhori  Tardigrade biology & genomics!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Unravelling the secret diversity of Psychropotes! A global sea cucumber mystery!

via the NOAA photo library
Today we look at one of the most bizarre deep-sea echinoderms (if not deep-sea ANIMALS) that I know of! the sea cucumber Psychropotes!!  I briefly discussed these in an earlier post on deep-sea sea cucumbers.. but have not had the pleasure of writing something up about them in detail..

Here's some video to give you an idea of what it looks like/how it moves, etc. (I would watch without sound to enjoy the zen of the animal)
IF the name doesn't sound familiar, the animal's distinctive appearance definitely stays glued in your head after you've seen one! Imagine a big blobby sea cucumber with what looks to be a HUGE LOBE sticking out of its hind end!

Note the image above contrasted to this diagram showing mouth (top) and anus end (with lobe-bottom).

The genus Psychropotes is derived from the Greek for Psychros which means "cold or frigid" and "potes" which honestly, I could not find a definitive translation for...   One root translated to "flight"? possibly alluding to the ability of this species to swim...And another colleague tells me it might mean "dweller". Ah well, one mystery at a time!!

Psychropotes includes 11 species which occur widely, all around the world in the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Southern (but not in the Arctic) oceans in the deep abyss of the world's oceans! That means roughly 2000 to 6000m. They are the deepest of the deep! Considered "classic" deep-sea inhabitants they were collected and described from the HMS Challenger's historic mission.

These can be pretty BIG animals!! as this image from a recent MBARI expedition demonstrates. (with deep-sea biologist Greg Rouse for scale!)

But there is ONE species in particular, P. longicauda (the species name "longi-" means long and "caudex" refers to 'trunk or stem" and alludes to the posterior lobe in the same way that caudal fin refers to the end of a fish) that is of interest.
Individuals all identified as this species, P. longicauda have been observed from oceans all around the world and varies rather widely in many ways. Sea cucumber species are identified based on tiny calcite bits called sclerites which seem to be highly variable.. with differences in sclerite shape varying between different regions.  But do all of these differences amount to different species?  Or variation within ONE species?? 

Here for example was one seen from the recent tropical Pacific Okeanos Explorer cruises. Note that the "lobe" is a different shape. Separate species? Damage? 
This turns out to be a pretty important question to deep-sea biologists. Can there be ONE species present at such a huge scale? Or are there species present that are CRYPTIC or hidden from us by body characteristics alone???

Note the one above with the shorter, forked "lobe" Is it the SAME species as the purple one shown earlier? Is this variation? (such as what we might see in humans who live in different parts of the world) Or are these separate species?

Their study explored the widespread occurrence of this species based on 128 specimens of Psychropotes longicauda collected from THREE different oceans over a 34 year period, from 1977 to 2011!
This represented an INTERNATONAL team of experts from not only the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom but also the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology in Russia, the American Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), Scripps Institute of Oceanography and many, others!! 

They sampled tissue for two genetic markers (COI and 16S for those who need to know) across all the sampled individuals in order to compare populations from all around the world. 

The Global Colors of Psychropotes
So, here's the result. Scientists use diagrams to show a basic outline of relationships between different populations. Roughly speaking, the greater the distance between the circles the larger the distance between the populations and the greater chance they are separate species...

In the first diagram, the LARGER the circle, the larger the sample size. So the bigger circle represents the largest number of samples. Which were all from the Atlantic Ocean.  

Note the helpful color key so you can tell apart the populations you are seeing below:

Dark Blue= North Atlantic (east)                      
Light Blue= North Atlantic (west)
Yellow= South Indian Ocean
Green= South Atlantic
Red= Northeast Pacific 
Dark Purple= Northwest Pacific
Pink= South Pacific                                                                                               
Their figure 2 here shows what is basically the number of "steps" away from one another each population happens to be... The size of each circle represents the sample size. The big patch of BLUE reflects the LARGE sample of ATLANTIC specimens..but note how they are all clustered together. 

Some closer, some farther away.. This means they are all more closely related to one another than to those the others.  But note how many different subgroups are present away from the big blue circle in the middle?  That suggests lots of 

The Red (Northeast and Northwest Pacific) therefore seem to display a somewhat closer relationship to those in the North Atlantic than to those in the Southern hemisphere (yellow, green, pink, etc.)
Figure 2 from Gubili et al. 2016
Their figure 3 below, shows all of the populations in more of a "family tree" (i.e. phylogenetic), not only do we see that all of the Atlantic and Pacific members are "close" but they all occur on a single lineage, which means they were all MUCH more closely related

Two major lineages are most evident in the phylogenetic tree below, Lineages 1 and 2 each with subgroups:  Lin 1A, Lin 1B and Lin 2A and 2B, respectively. 

The pattern is kind of unclear..but there's definitely an Atlantic cluster (Lineage 2) with members that occur in the Indian and Pacific but this seems very separate from the Lineage 1 which seems to include members from all over, including the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific.

Figure 3 from Ghibili et al. 
Ultimately, the two lineages (Lineages 1 and 2) showed > 5% divergence from one another. When compared with other echinoderm species, that much population genetic divergence is enough to recognize a separate species (as opposed to simply a population with structure).

So, YES. One lineage, is the "proper" Psychropotes longicauda species, but there's at LEAST one more which has been "hidden" by the taxonomic definition of Psychropotes longicauda. That is, they all LOOK like the described species but in fact, the differences are FAR more subtle than we had previously recognized! More diversity (i.e., further species) will likely be discovered as more data is collected..

Some of these further subgroups will be so-called "cryptic species" because morphology does not immediately distinguish them. Thus, their status as species is "hidden" by external morphology (but subsequently discovered by genetics).  But now that we are looking, many, MANY more characters that could help distinguish these species could conceivably be discovered.

Other Interesting Observations/Questions..
One interesting factoid was that Psychropotes, and many other deep-sea sea cucumbers only occur in areas of high productivity (i.e. marine snow). Could these nutrient rich regions be related to speciation? and diversity within the species? 
The authors were able to note changes in the genetic diversity and abundance of the Atlantic lineage across a temporal series! Based on the extensive collections at the National Oceanography Collection at Southampton University, they they observed an uptick in the abundance of small individuals but also a change in the amount of genetic diversity  in relation to an increase in organic flux called the "Amperima Event" in 1996!

They found that there were MORE individuals which belonged to the "Atlantic population" and fewer of those which shoed affinities to other oceans. This might explain why the Atlantic "genetic type" was so well established.  They cautioned that although they didn't have enough of a dataset to show changes over time, they DID say that there WERE changes in the genetic makeup related to the nutrient availability. 

That is a pretty snazzy thing to record from a collection of deep-sea sea cucumbers! 

Is there an Antarctic origin for Psychropotes longicauda
The authors argue that the combination of Southern Indian Ocean lineages was consistent with other hypotheses arguing for an Antarctic origin for this widely occurring deep-sea sea cucumber. 

Repeated colonization events from the Antarctic via the Southern Indian Ocean (yellow colored in the figures above)  might explain the many lineages of Psychropotes present throughout the world's oceans as well as the presence of multiple lineages of Indian Ocean Psychropotes versus the derived and consistent clustering of Atlantic and Pacific populations.

(Coincidentally this picture of a Southern Atlantic Psychropotes is yellow!! )

What further mysteries does Psychropotes have in store? I anxiously await the next paper! if I could only figure out what the "potes" part of Psychropotes means!
And just because, here are some FANTASTIC Psychropotes Bonuses! 

Here was an AWESOME Psychropotes cake by Elizabeth Ross, one of the authors of the study...
And of course Psychropotes stuffed animals.. from Japan of course!! 
from ebay

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Taxonomy: Lurking behind all the Big Announcements!

GREETINGS! And my apologies for the long silence over the last few weeks: a little bit of time to recharge the batteries and a little bit of frantic insanity as the fall began! So, this week I am back!

There's been a fair amount of news about taxonomy lately, so I thought I would embellish with some "behind the scenes" knowledge that might not have been evident simply from the news reports themselves...

Scientific Names vs. Common or Popular Names: What's Required
Just so that we're all on the same page, here's some general information about the naming of new species.

There are actually a set of internationally recognized CODES (i.e. rules) for describing species and governing their use. These codes are overseen by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (here) and although they are not much more than a regulatory organization, they do try to keep everything from going taxonomic kablooey!

Basically, it is these rules that dictate HOW a lot of organisms in the world get scientific names. So, simply SAYING that a new organism is called "A blue Baboo Fish" won't cut it. It actually has to be supported by evidence and published in a PEER-REVIEWED journal and given a proper scientific name in the proper format (in Latin, etc.). ONLY THEN is such a name considered valid.

Common or popular names (e.g., "blue tang" or "cushion star") have their uses but ultimately, scientists depend on the specific context of having a unique identifier associated with a particular organism. Mainly because common names are EXTREMELY variable. I've talked about the insanity of the term "cushion star" here before..

BUT a number of other rules are also at play in order to keep the process of naming new species orderly...

Nomen Nudum aka Why we don't know the name of the President's Fish (yet!)
Have you ever noticed that there's often a significant time lag between the time someone ANNOUNCES that they have DISCOVERED a new species and the time that new species is ACTUALLY described??

That's because the name is not "official" until it is actually published in a scientific journal. If for some reason, the name is actually published before the proper scientific documentation is released to accompany it, the name becomes what is called a nomen nudum which is Latin for "naked name."
So, for example, many probably saw the news that there was a fish species named in honor of President Obama (here), who dramatically expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Note that while some accounts actually went so far as to cite the genus name (Tosanoides) nowhere will you find the FULL name until its published in the literature.  Is it a liberal conspiracy? NOPE. Its Taxonomy!

If they actually announced the full species it would create a nomen nudum, which is kind of like the taxonomic equivalent of a time-space anomaly from Star Trek. That means there's a proper scientific name flying around WITHOUT a proper scientific description.

When written out completely, the full format of valid scientific names display a reference to the original author and date of the paper which described it. Thus, the full name of one of my species
"Circeaster arandae Mah 2006" refers to a paper in 2006 in which I described the species Circeaster arandae.

Getting back to the nomen nudum however, Note  that this does not necessarily invalidate the name. But it does open the name up for other unscrupulous (or unknowing) individuals to inadvertently use the name, thus "taking away" the name from the author's original intent. (or in the worst case, stealing the name from the original author).

Another real example...
You might have seen this little guy for example. A new species of dumbo octopus that one of my colleagues Stephanie Bush is working on out at MBARI/Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

In an interview she alluded to the fact that the animal is SO cute that she might call it "adorabilis." She called it that informally as part of an interview but the media took the name and pretty much made it stick.

SO many news outlets have now used this name that it has turned up everywhere..but it has NOT been described or published in a scientific journal as of this date (Sept. 2016). This is not strictly a nomen nudum but conceivably, someone might mistakenly cite it in a scientific journal somewhere.

If that happens, then BOOM. It has entered the literature. This still does not mean that Dr. Bush cannot use the name..but it DOES mean that if someone else happens to use the species name "Opisthoteuthis adorabilis" that will "steal" the name away from her because ANOTHER scientist will have justified a species using that name in compliance with the ICZN code..

If by chance the name was published TWICE and in proper compliance by BOTH authors then a new situation arises. In that case the name published first has priority... A great segue into a discussion of SYNONYMY...

Synonymy aka Why you have to be careful if you "bought" a new species

Probably one of the most important of the codes in the ICZN is that of "priority" which basically states that the OLDEST (i.e. the FIRST) name established for a species is the correct one. All subsequent names of the SAME species are essentially considered redundant and their use is suppressed once that assessment is made (but there are exceptions on occasion-better explained at another time).

That seems pretty straightforward.  But in truth, it can get pretty unfairly brutal.

There's a LOT of new species that are named in "good faith", sometimes even with very strong data that for whatever reason are ultimately deemed to be "redundant" and are suppressed in the literature.

So that means if someone described a new species with a shoddy (or in some cases, almost NO details)  description-but it was ADEQUATE, followed by a second description that was just an objectively BETTER account, that FIRST author gets credit and the other species get put into the list of "redundant names" aka the synonymy.

While this consideration is always important, one of the biggest trends this becomes relevant for is the "Buy a new species name" thing that has been done recently to raise funds for further research, or otherwise charitable causes...  Scripps Institute of Oceanography advertised the honor of naming a new species for $5,000 (see worm below as an example) whereas other places have gone over into bidding wars over $7,200!   This ebay auction won the rights to name this new species of moth for $12,600.00
So, someone who is NOT a scientist can easily get the rights to name a new species or even name a new species AFTER you as a gift....but its always possible that the name you give it, whether your own or someone else's, could eventually be synonymized by another person in the future because of some unknown specimen or just better understanding of the species in the future. 

Now, granted, there tends to be LESS of a chance of that happening depending on how much work the scientist doing the work has done and depending on what kind of data supported that new species in the first place, especially with molecular data.

But its STILL possible, sometimes even if nothing was done wrong... Science is an ongoing process and although taxonomy has kind of a reputation for being a bit stogy the truth is that it IS quite dynamic and taxonomic changes are common place (much to the annoyance of those who use species names!)

Can you name a new species from a picture?
Okeanos Explorer is a research vessel operated by NOAA that broadcasts LIVE streams of its deep-sea research over the internet. I'm one of the "shoreside talent pool" which answers questions from the scientists on the ship AND from the public. (see #Okeanos on Twitter for some of my live-tweets from the dive).

A question that came up recently from my last Okeanos round, was whether or not a new species could be described ONLY from a picture or video rather than a specimen???

Uh.. No and yes.

For MOST (nearly all) cases, some kind of voucher is necessary. Why? Because we require EVIDENCE to describe a new species. Measurements. Observations of the skeletal (or non-skeletal) structure. Analysis of different features. DNA. Any one of thousands of kinds of data which permit us to carefully contrast the known species of organisms from one another.

At the very least, a specimen must be examined so that we can carefully discern why its gross morphology is different from other similar species. These specimens are conserved. They are saved in museums for future generations to reference and retained for hundreds of years.

HOWEVER. In some RARE instances, there IS an allowance for new species to be described ONLY from a picture. It used to be invoked for exceptional cases-rare and endangered species for example.

But just a FEW months ago Neal Evenhuis at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii made the case that in some cases, a photo ALONE is enough to describe a new species-given PROPER evidence.  (Scientific paper is here)
We live in an era with increasingly high-resolution imagery, sometimes SO good that even the minutest details can be made out without physical examination. Millions of images of a biodiversity survey can be brought back on a drive the size of a large coin.

The octopus seen by Okeanos was identified because it was an "incirrate" octopus (as identified by NOAA researcher Mike Vecchione) which had NEVER been seen at that depth before. Almost certainly a new species

The conservative scientific approach in publications would be to indicate it IS a new species but without a proper name (e.g., Octopus n. sp. 1)

BUT it can't be properly characterized because a LOT of octopus characters are internal and require direct comparison (unlike the South African fly (bee mimic) example above which COULD be identified and characterized).

Also, while unlikely, its POSSIBLE that there is a specimen of this animal somewhere in a museum somewhere in the world which has already been published.  Without reconciliation of all these disparate factors, one risks creating redundant names which are essentially permanent and creating possible confusion.

Thus, identifying a species directly from ONLY a picture would be more direct but not as thorough and does not give us enough data to properly assess it. But yes, there are exceptions.

Identifying species only from pictures also invites the possibility of abuse and reckless taxonomy which could impede and hopelessly confuse the work of legitimate scientists during a time when there is a dire need for workers to be be studying Earth's biodiversity...

Species named after celebrities & pop culture? What's up with that? 
Scientific names as outlined in the Zoological codes are always supposed to be in Latin. A dead language that nobody speaks any longer. This used to be a scholarly language that was widely used among educated people.

This also made scientific names pretty straightforward. I've documented the word origins of MANY starfish species before (such as here)   Some make great stories in and of themselves 

Most scientific names are based on descriptive terminology. So, for example, the name Acanthaster , which is the scientific name of the Crown of Thorns starfish (learn more about this genus here), literally translates into "thorny star" from the Greek acanth- and the Latin -aster meaning star. Many of these names were sort of an open book...
Crown-of-Thorns Starfish
But there has been a LONG tradition of naming species AFTER people, places and things to honor them. Both genera AND species. Some of the oldest and best known genera are named for the "noted scientist of the day", for example Luidia-the starfish is named for Edward Lhuyd who called himself Luidius.

Although you would think that naming a genus would be better than a species (because a genus is higher up in the taxonomic hierarchy), in fact, its not. Higher level names tend to be made into synonymies more frequently than species. Species tend to stick around for quite awhile longer..

It USED to be that many of these names would stick to people known to the scientists: wives, children, close confidants and good colleagues and certainly this continues to be the case. I've named MANY species after close friends and colleagues.

As we have gotten into the 20th and 21st Century however, we NOW see increasingly the role of pop culture influencing taxonomists! There are a number of reasons: Some think it makes taxonomy more relatable, some have found genuine inspiration from popular entertainment, others have many MANY species and have just "run out" of Latin names.. an endless list from a huge pool of scientists.

Sometimes the people/characters as names are directly influential!   As with Yoda above. the genital flaps of that acorn worm (an enteropneust) were VERY reminiscent of Star Wars Jedi Master Yoda! The ICZN is actually surprisingly flexible in allowing for "translating" terms into taxonomic names... And hence its namesake! From a character created in the late 20th Century into an ancient dead language! No problem! (if you know how)

We have flies named after Beyonce, wasps named after Shakira and trilobites named after Mick Jagger! You can see a full list of names here on Wikipedia.

and of course the brittle star named after George RR Martin of Game of Thrones! 

Taxonomists are diverse. No longer done by ONLY classic stodgy, out of touch scientists-but hip, trendy nerds as well! .. it is done by many students and dynamic individuals who follow popular trends.. and we will likely see more and MORE of these pop culture names in the future....

thanks to Monica M. who asked me the question about Obama's fish! that inspired this post.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Gorgeous Closeups of Australian Starfishes!

Seastar Detail - Bateman's Bay
Greetings! This week, I thought I would share some GREAT closeups of the textures and plates on some sea stars from one of my favorite places in the world-AUSTRALIA! 

These were all taken from images on Flickr, and so the original photographers can be found merely by rolling over the image itself. What's great about them, is that the images were taken from LIVING animals, and so their colors remain vibrant! Nothing here is photoshopped.

Contributions herein by photographers:  Bill, Tony Brown, Beth Heap, Leander, Richard Ling,  Lox Pix, Morley Mason, Andrew Newton, Matt Nimbs, Valguille and especially SASpotato! 

An asterinid, Patiriella I think?
Asteroidia | Asterinidae | Patiriella calcar [Variegated Sea Star] - Flat Rock, Ballina, NSW
Cushion-star  Patiriella calca
They look knitted
Here is a close up of the papulae or gills on Plectaster decanus 
271104 Seastar Close-up Long Bay
Mosaic Starfish
The rest of the animal looks like this. Gorgeous.
Mosaic Sea Star
Some goniasterid beauties! Pentagonaster dubeni
Steps Red Seastar
Pentagonaster pattern
Lovely plate architecture on Tosia australis
Biscuit star detail

From above, these are the surface plates of the goniasterid genus Nectria
Seastar Detail - Bateman's Bay
Any guesses what these are?

and here's what the rest of the goniasterid Nectria looks like!
image by Peter Southwood, via

A stunning yellow one!

The very distinctive button like plates on Asterodiscides sp. 
Firebrick Sea Star
and from the same animal, the large penultimate marginal plates, which are distinctive of the genus.

Some nice spination from what looks to be Coscinasterias
Sea star detail
Uniophora granifera! One of my favorites!
Beaded Seastar