Niel examines Ningaloo's isopods

Magda Błażewicz-Paszkowycz and Niel Bruce dive for specimens on Ningaloo Reef.
Image: Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum


Dr Niel Bruce, Senior Curator of the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville, is a part of a group that has been examining the marine isopods and tanaids at Ningaloo.
"We have been going out and collecting as widely as possible trying to get the maximum number of species," Niel said.
"This is the first time this area has been examined for such creatures," he said. Bigger creatures such as crabs and shrimps have been examined in the past, but no collecting has previously been focused on the small crustaceans in the region.
A range of research would be carried out on the samples, including addressing questions about diversity patterns such as latitudinal gradients and east-west differences in distribution, as well as taxonomy.
Niel said he had collected about 76 species and only a few of those were named.
"Most of the records are likely to be new to Australia at the very least; they are mostly going to be new species," he said.
"I can't say that I have seen anything that is likely to be a new genus or a new family. There is certainly a whole number of taxonomic families that are not recorded from Australia." He said that was big news. "If it was birds it would be world news and on the BBC and CNN."
"There are probably about five species that I think I will be able to identify easily."
Niel has collected his isopod samples using a method he developed that employs diving, bait trapping and night lighting (see Magda's story on the Lizard Island field trip for more information).
He compared the look of the reef to others where he had dived.
"The character of the reef is very different here, it is almost like the outside is not a real coral reef, and it is just like coral growing on rock. I know as we have been heading south and diving more and more south the coral has got better and our results have got more typical towards what you'd expect from a coral reef habitat.
He said something that he didn't expect was the higher population and species of Asellota (a large suborder of isopods) on the Ningaloo.
Niel said, typically, asellotes made up around 30 per cent of the species in any area.
But at Ningaloo Reef, these species made up about 60 per cent of the isopods collected.
"That is really, really unusual, it is really uncharacteristic, but I think when you speak to most of the scientists they would say that this reef doesn't behave like coral reefs elsewhere," he said.