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Australian corals reveal hundreds of new species

Latest update : 2008-09-18

Three expeditions on Australia's coral reef, led by an international team of scientists, have unveiled hundreds of new marines species, including more than 100 soft corals and a dozen small crustaceans.

Hundreds of new marine species have been found on Australia's coral reefs, surprising an international team of biologists who announced details of their findings here Thursday.

The three expeditions to Lezard and Heron islands, and Ningaloo Reef, included a first systematic scientific inventory of spectacular soft corals, named octocorals for the eight tentacles around each polyp.

Researchers located some 300 soft coral species, half of which are believed new to science; dozens of small crustacean species; and an unusual amphipod of the Maxillipiidae family. It has a whip-like back leg almost three times the size of its body.

Also found were "new species of tanaid crustaceans, shrimp-like animals, some with claws longer than their bodies; and a beautiful, rare Cassiopeia jellyfish."

Between 40 and 60 percent of the tiny amphipod crustaceans listed, the "insect of the marine world," will be formally described for the first time, researchers said.

"We were all surprised and excited to find such a large variety of marine life never before described 'most notably soft coral, isopods, tanaid crustaceans and worms' and in waters that divers access easily and regularly," said Julian Caley, Principal Research Scientist at AIMS and co-leader of CoML's CReefs project.

"Corals face threats ranging from ocean acidification, pollution, and warming to overfishing and starfish outbreaks," says Dr. Ian Poiner, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), which led the research.

"Only by establishing a baseline of biodiversity and following through with later censuses can people know the impact of those threats and find clues to mitigate them," he argued, so expeditions to the three sites will be repeated for the next three years to follow the species and monitor climate change and other factors.

Other major finds included potentially new polychaetes, marine animals known as "bristle worms," a relative of leeches and earth worms. As many as two-thirds of species found at Lizard Island alone were believed new to science.

Date created : 2008-09-18

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