Tiny sea spiders inspire research student

Claudia Arango collecting specimens.
Image: Gary Cranitch


Tuesday 24 February 2009
CLAUDIA Arango is on Lizard Island for two reasons.
One is to study sea spiders. The other is possibly to change our view of a seemingly common organism.
Claudia, from the Queensland Museum, said sea spiders (pycnogonidea) were a relatively unknown group due to their size.
The tiny organisms are found all over Australia's coastline and Claudia said she was finding some already on Lizard Island, despite only being here for a few days.
"There seems to be a good diversity when you sample different micro habitats," she said.
The one type of sea spider she is determined to find here is Achelia assimilis, which is found all along the Eastern seaboard of Australia.
She said researchers often saw the sea spiders, identified them as A. assimilis, and then didn't look too closely at them.
However sea spiders are not known for their ability to disperse over large areas, making it unusual for this particular organism to be so widespread.
Claudia hopes to find samples of A. assimilis so she can do genetic analyses to determine whether it is in fact one widespread species, or if there are differences between those found on the Great Barrier Reef and those found elsewhere.
"I want to know how this species is colonising so many habitats," she said.
Claudia hails from Colombia, where she was working on marine biology in the Caribbean.
She said she was looking for a project for her PhD and discovered that sea spiders were relatively understudied.
Once she started looking at them they became more and more interesting.
"They are so special. They are just great animals," she said.