Casting a wide net for unknown isopods

Niel L Bruce
Image: Gary Cranitch


By Angus Livingston
Tuesday 2 June 2009
WHEN Dr Niel L Bruce was preparing for what he might find on the trip to Ningaloo, there was one group of isopod species he left out of his homework.
That's because the Paramunnidae had never been found on a coral reef. Until now.
"I've found six species here so far," Niel said.
Senior Curator at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, Queensland Museum, Niel is recording isopod species here at Ningaloo.
One species of Paramunnidae has been found on Magnetic Island before, but Niel said this was the first time it had been found on a coral reef (he classed the Magnetic Island find as an inshore species).
Due to the localised nature of isopods – they mostly crawl or walk – every region has its own species, although there are a few that can spread from the Pacific as far as East Africa.
Niel said there had been little taxonomic work done on some major isopod groups from coral reefs in Australia; even on species that were common in most other parts of the world.
When he went on the first CReefs trip to Lizard Island, as few as 60 isopod species had been recorded from the surrounding reef.
After his two trips to the island, the list now stands above 140 species.
Niel said he was finding a lot of new species here at Ningaloo – as he had expected.
He said previous taxonomic trips had focused on one or two groups of isopods and had to ignore the rest.
"Here we're going out to target the whole range," he said.
Niel is also focusing particularly on a group known as the Asellota (there is no "popular" name).
This group contains about 35 per cent of the world's isopod species, but in Australia only about four species are known from coral reefs.
He has already sampled about 60 species in the group, most not described.
Niel is working with Dr Lauren Hughes, a postdoctoral researcher from the Australian Museum in Sydney.
She is here at Ningaloo to study amphipods – specifically, the benthic amphipod families from 0-30m depth.
Lauren said the diversity of species here was "very different" to the east coast, although there were some constants.
"I am getting overlap with some species from Lizard Island and Darwin," she said.
Once her work here is done she will use the information to do a large biogeographical analysis of amphipods in Australia.