Finding Amphipods at Ningaloo Reef

Lauren Hughes searches for Amphipods at Ningaloo Reef.
Image: Gary Cranitch.


Dr Lauren Hughes, a postdoctoral researcher with the Australian Museum, has been at Ningaloo to catalogue the diversity of her specialty, Amphipod crustaceans.
She said the crustaceans are about 1cm long and are often likened to marine insects.
"My main focus within the Amphipods, which has about 200 taxonomic families, is the shallow benthic fauna (those that occur from 0-30m)," Lauren said.
"They are usually associated with the bottom; they'll be on algae, on hard coral within the sediment and within the coral rubble."
She said because they were typically found in those locations she will search and take samples from those areas. At the moment she can process them to family level and some to genera.
She will take the remaining specimens back to her home laboratory at the Australian Museum in Sydney where she will spend the next six months completing identification of these specimens.
"I should get between 50 and 100 species," she said.
"I work on alpha-taxonomy, so I'll identify the specimens to species level (looking at new records) and also to name and describe new species."
She said little work had been done in this area of Australia, on the coast north of Perth to Darwin.
"North Australian amphipods are a little studied fauna," Lauren said.
"Much of the fauna appears to be related to other tropical areas that we know of in the Indo-Pacific, but probably between 40 and 60 per cent I'll be getting will be new to science."
To collect Amphipods, Lauren has been scuba diving and sampling habitats by hand. She places samples of the habitats (coral, seaweed and sand, etc) into either plastic or mesh bags, to later investigate under the microscope back at the makeshift field laboratory.
Lauren said that while she had not yet completed an analysis of the data collected, she did note that Amphipods were not as abundant as she had expected.
She said would like to determine why there were fewer Amphipods here than in other similar reef areas. Lauren said if given the opportunity she could have a wider sample area and search deeper waters and waters further west on the reef. "Maybe more sampling of different habitats might prove fruitful," she said.
"An exciting thing for me on this expedition is that I collected samples of a family called Maxillipiidae, which is it a bit rare. They are quite small animals, about three to four millimetres long. They are distinctive because one of their back legs is about three times the size of their body and is flagellate (whip like), an unusual feature in amphipods. There are only a few species recorded in the world. She said often the Maxillipiidae are damaged during collection due to the length of the leg and the antennae, but the three individuals she has collected remained intact.
"It is so rare I have never seen one before, so it is always exciting to see a family of Amphipod you only seen in books," she said.