Hitching a ride

A bryozoan of the genus Adeona, also known as grey lace coral.
Image: Gary Cranitch.


24 May 2010
Human interaction with the oceans is changing how marine species evolve and spread, according to Museum Victoria honorary associate and bryozoan expert Phil Bock.
Bryozoans, also known as moss animals or lace corals, are tiny invertebrate organisms, typically about 0.5 millimetres long, that create colonies on dead coral or the underside of rocks in coral reefs.
There are around 6000 known species of bryozoans around the world, but Phil believes that there are hundreds more to be discovered.
"There are at least two families which were previously known from New Zealand, Indonesia, the Philippines or other places which are now known to be in Australia as well due to the collecting made possible by CReefs. Some specimens of these families will be classified as new genera. Another group was already known, but because of new information from CReefs, we're classifying it as a new family. I would say there will be between 100 and 200 new species discovered through this project," Phil says.
The specimens Phil collects on CReefs expeditions will enable scientists to investigate how bryozoans have spread and evolved.
"Bryozoans don't move across the deep ocean very easily," Phil explains.
"Some populations which are thought to be one species at present are found in Hawaii, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Australia, and in some cases right across to the Red Sea, so somehow they have spread. But there are others which are isolated on one particular sea mount. There is no simple pattern," he says.
"Some research has focused on a group of bryozoans that foul the hulls of ships, and through the movement of ships have spread around the world. DNA analysis of the genetic differences among populations may tell us more about how human interaction with the oceans has contributed to the distribution and evolution of these species," he says.