New genus found in Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure
Tuesday 24 November 2009
Specially designed mini-habitats retrieved last week from the ocean floor have uncovered a new genus of squat lobster.
Kareen Schnabel, Collection Manager of New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research made the exciting discovery, with more new species expected to be discovered.
The new genus was sampled for the first time from one of nine Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) deployed on the reef surrounding Heron Island during last year's September CReefs Australia expedition and retrieved last week.
The ARMS, consisting of a series of stacked plastic layers, are designed to mimic a reef environment, allowing sea creatures to take up residence inside.
Laetitia Plaisance, of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and involved in the international ARMS project, said the devices were designed and developed by CReefs scientists as a standardised method for comparing localities and to monitor biodiversity over time.
The CReefs Australia team has begun processing species samples collected from the ARMS but Laetitia said it would take time before more discoveries were made.
Once back in Washington, Laetitia will begin DNA barcoding the contents of the ARMS collected during this field trip.
"My job is only just starting," she said.
More than 300 ARMS have been deployed in locations around the world, with almost 40 retrieved so far, including nine from Lizard Island in February this year and nine from Heron Island last week.
Once the worldwide data is collected and processed, Laetitia said a better estimate of marine biodiversity could be calculated.
"Because so little of the world's oceans have been explored – less than 5 per cent – the current estimate of marine life biodiversity stands at between one and 10 million species."
The data will also provide marine scientists with a better understanding of the human impact on marine environments, Laetitia said.
"At the moment we have no idea how much the biodiversity of a coral reef is reduced by disturbances."