Evolusjon! – Evolution!

HIDDEN DIVERSITY IN THE GREAT BARRIER REEF

By Maria Capa

An expedition to the Great Barrier Reef revealed 91 species of marine worms new to Science

Lizard island
Lizard Island archipelago

The ocean is a universe yet to be explored. Emblematic, and apparently well known, regionsas the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, still hold surprises beneath its waters. An international group of 15 marine worms experts visited the archipelago of Lizard Island in August 2013 for two weeks. The aim was cataloging and describing the diversity of species inhabiting its coral reefs.
Annelids are a group of invertebrates that have successfully colonized most of the environments in our planet. They are extremely abundant in the ocean floor, and can be found in all marine habitats at any depth. They present an amazing variety of morphologies, lifestyles, feeding and reproductive strategies. There are more than 17,000 described species but their numbers continue to grow after each scientific survey, especially in sparsely prospected areas.

Syllidae is the most specious family of polychaetes and they show an extremely diverse reproductive strategies
MI QLD - 2424 - Spirobranchus gardineri - 1
Members of Serpulidae are often bright colored and inhabit within the coral heads

This expedition was no exception and great surprises were unrevealed. It has taken two years to study the material collected back then, but it has been worth it. In a special issue of the journal Zootaxa (with over 800 pages), 91 species new to Science, new records for the Great Barrier Reef and others, are described and illustrated. Perhaps some of these are close to extinction, maybe others hide a remedy to cure diseases, or they could end up enlightening valuable information about the evolutionary past of this group of diverse and attractive organisms and yet so unknown to the general public.
For the time being, the first step is already taken: their existence has been revealed. This initiative was funded by the Lizard Island Research Foundation and demonstrates the importance of ocean exploration and funding taxonomic work as it underpins a host of scientific knowledge including biodiversity conservation and maintenance of ecosystem services.

 



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