New butterflyfish discovery in the Philippines


Roa rumsfeldi, Credit: © 2017 Luiz Rocha and the California Academy of Sciences

From the California Academy of Sciences in the USA:

Surprise new butterflyfish from the Philippine ‘twilight zone’

October 19, 2017

A newly described species of brown-and-white Philippine butterflyfish — the charismatic Roa rumsfeldi — made a fantastic, 7,000-mile journey before surprising scientists with its unknown status. Live specimens collected from 360 feet beneath the ocean’s surface in the Philippine’s Verde Island Passage escaped special notice until a single black fin spine tipped off aquarium biologists back in San Francisco. Deep-diving researchers from the California Academy of Sciences’ Hope for Reefs team — with genetic sequencing help from a parent-son team — share their discovery of a fifth species of Roa this week in ZooKeys.

“We named this reef fish Roa rumsfeldi because, as

former United States Secretary of ‘Defence’ War, torture enabler and Iraqi archaeological treasures looting enabler

Donald Rumsfeld once said, some things are truly ‘unknown unknowns‘”, says senior author Dr. Luiz Rocha, Academy curator of ichthyology and co-leader of its Hope for Reefs initiative to research, explore, and sustain global reefs. “This fish caught us completely off-guard. After traveling from the deep reefs of the Philippines to our aquarium in San Francisco, former Academy aquarium biologist and co-author Matt Wandell noticed a black fin spine that looked different from other known Roa we’ve collected in the past. It was a light bulb moment for all of us.”

Butterflyfish — which sport bold patterns — are iconic coral reef species. Because this group’s taxonomy is relatively well understood, scientists didn’t expect to find an unknown species on a recent expedition.

Under pressure

Roa rumsfeldi and its close relatives are only know to live in mesophotic “twilight zone” reefs — a place where sunlight is scarce and divers with traditional scuba gear cannot safely visit. In the narrow band between the light-filled shallow reefs and the pitch-black deep sea, these little-known mesophotic reefs, located 200 to 500 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, are home to fascinatingly diverse and previously-unknown marine life. As part of its Hope for Reefs initiative, specially trained Academy scientists are exploring these relatively unknown frontiers with the help of high-tech equipment like closed-circuit rebreathers, which take extensive training and allow them to extend their research time underwater.

As part of their expedition-driven research, Rocha and his Academy colleagues sometimes collect live fish they believe to be unknown species in order to study their behavior (making for more robust research) and inspire the public to connect with beautiful and unique reef life during aquarium visits.

“Our human bodies are not really compressible,” says Bart Shepherd, Director of Steinhart Aquarium and co-leader of the Academy’s Hope for Reefs initiative, “but fish have swim bladders for buoyancy that can’t make the journey from twilight zone depths to the surface. We gently moved this Roa to a special lightweight decompression chamber designed just for fish, brought it to the surface, and attentively cared for it through the flight back to San Francisco and into our aquarium.”

A family affair

“The team effort between our museum’s scientists and aquarium biologists helped add a new fish to the tree of life,” says Rocha, adding that the collaboration isn’t the only reason this fish discovery feels particularly special. “My teenage son Gabriel helped sequence its genes during a summer internship — his mother and I helped show him how to use complicated genomic processes to take a closer look at the fish’s DNA. This is part of how we prove a species is distinct, and it’s always a pleasure to share that learning with young people.”

Gabriel Rocha, a high school sophomore at the time, helped sequence the mitochondrial DNA cytochrome oxidase I gene, also known as the “barcode” gene. The process from DNA extraction to amplification and sequencing takes just a few days — an ideal project for short, in-depth internships. After the sequence is obtained, the work moves from the lab to the virtual world: Major online databases contain thousands of sequences of this gene for known species, and are a great comparison tool.

New discoveries and Hope for Reefs

Considered the “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs are some of the most biologically diverse, economically valuable, beautiful, and threatened ecosystems on Earth. They cover less than 0.1% of the ocean but contain more than 30% of marine species. Coral reefs provide critical habitat to vast marine communities — from the tiny coral polyps that make up the reef’s foundation to the colorful fishes and sharks that live among them. Coral reefs are integral to the livelihoods and well-being of hundreds of millions of people worldwide, providing protection from erosion and generating income through ecotourism and fishing.

In response to coral reef threats, the Academy launched the Hope for Reefs initiative in 2016 to explore, explain, and sustain the world’s coral reefs by making fundamental breakthroughs in coral reef biology; developing new conservation solutions and restoration techniques with partners like SECORE International and The Nature Conservancy; and sharing what we know through innovative exhibits and educational programs.

Every Academy expedition yields new understanding and surprising discoveries, and the public can see new and rare species, many of which have never been displayed in a public aquarium, at Steinhart Aquarium. Explore the great unknown alongside our scientists as they uncover the secrets of our world’s critically important reefs. Visitors to the Academy’s aquarium can take a closer look at many mesophotic marine creatures from around the world — and discover why they deserve protection — in Twilight Zone: Deep Reefs Revealed.

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Newly discovered hermit crab shelters in corals, not shells


Left: Diogenes heteropsammicola and its coral house. Right: the hermit crab without its coral house. Image: Momoko Igawa

By Mariah Quintanilla, 2:57pm, September 20, 2017:

This newfound hermit crab finds shelter in corals, not shells

Symbiotic find is surprising as these corals already pal up with another critter: marine worms

A new species of hermit crab discovered in the shallow waters of southern Japan has been enjoying the perks of living like a peanut worm. Like the worms, the 7- to 8-millimeter-long hermit crab uses corals as a covering, researchers report September 20 in PLOS ONE.

Other kinds of hermit crabs live in coral reefs, but typically move in and out of a series of mollusk shells as the crabs grow. Diogenes heteropsammicola is the first hermit crab known to form a mutually beneficial relationship with two species of mobile corals called walking corals. The host coral grows with the crab, providing a permanent home for the crustacean. In exchange, the crab helps the coral “walk.”

Walking corals are already known to be in a symbiotic relationship with a different sea creature — flexible, marine peanut worms called sipunculids. A symbiotic shift between such distantly related species as the worms and the crab is rare because organisms in a mutualistic relationship tend to be specialized and completely dependent on one other, says study coauthor Momoko Igawa, an ecologist at Kyoto University in Japan.

But similar to the worms, D. heteropsammicola appears to be well-adapted to live in the corals. Its extra slim body can slip inside the corals’ narrow cavity. And unlike other hermit crabs — whose tails curve to the right to fit into spiral shells — D. heteropsammicola’s tail is symmetrical and can curl either way, just like the corals’ opening.

“Being able to walk around in something that is going to grow larger as you grow larger, that’s a big plus,” says Jan Pechenik, a biologist at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., who was not involved in the study. A typical hermit crab that can’t find a larger shell to move into “really is in trouble.”

D. heteropsammicola’s relationship with walking corals may begin in a similar way as it does with sipunculan worms, Igawa says. A walking coral larva latches onto a tiny mollusk shell containing a juvenile hermit crab and starts to grow. When the hermit crab outgrows the shell, the crustacean moves into the readily available host coral’s crevice, and the shell remains encapsulated in the coral.

By observing the hermit crab in an aquarium, Igawa and coauthor Makoto Kato, also an ecologist at Kyoto University, determined that the crab provides the corals with the same services as the worms: transportation and preventing the corals from being overturned by currents or buried in sediment.

Igawa hopes to search for this new hermit crab in Indonesia, a region where walking corals are normally found. Plus, because walking coral fossils are easy to come by in Japan, she also wants “to reveal the evolutionary history of the symbioses of walking corals [with] sipunculans and hermit crabs by observing these fossils.”

See also here.

Many new underwater fungi species discovered in coral reef


This video is about a mushroom coral moving. It is not a fungus; it is coral.

This video from the USA says about itself:

This short film introduces one of the coral fungi (Family Clavariaceae, genus Ramaria) which is found in mixed hardwood and coniferous forests in autumn. Filmed at the Rydell NWR, Erskine, Minnesota (10 September 2016).

Coral fungi are fungi that look like coral, but are not coral.

Now, to organisms that are neither marine mushroom coral nor land-living coral fungi: to marine fungi.

This 27 September 2016 video is called ASPERGILLUS & COMMENTS ON MARINE FUNGI.

From the University of Hawaii at Manoa:

Botanists discover hundreds of species of fungi in deep coral ecosystems

July 12, 2017

Summary: Hundreds of potentially new species of fungi have been discovered in the deep coral ecosystem in the ‘Au’au channel off Maui, Hawai’i. These mesophotic coral ecosystems are generally found at depths between 130 – 500 feet and possess abundant plant (algal) life as well as new fish species.

Researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (UHM) Department of Botany have discovered hundreds of potentially new species of fungi in the deep coral ecosystem in the ‘Au’au channel off Maui, Hawai’i. Mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCE) are generally found at depths between 130 — 500 feet and possess abundant plant (algal) life as well as new fish species. The mysteries of these reefs are only recently being revealed through technological advances in closed circuit rebreather diving. Previously overlooked — being too precarious for conventional SCUBA and too shallow to justify the cost of frequent submersible dives — mesophotic reefs continuously disclose breathtaking levels of biodiversity with each dive, yielding species and behavioral interactions new to science.

The UHM Hawai’i Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) used the Pisces V submersible to collect native algae from the mesophotic reefs in the ‘Au’au channel. Using the DNA sequencing facility at the UHM Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, Benjamin Wainwright, lead author of the study and UHM Botany postdoctoral researcher, and colleagues determined which species of fungus were associated with the native algae.

Fungi have been documented in almost all habitats on Earth, although marine fungi are less studied in comparison to their terrestrial counterparts. Scientists have found fungi in deep and shallow water corals, marine sponges and other invertebrates. The recently discovered fungi, however, were found living in association with algae.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first documented evidence confirming fungi in MCEs,” said Wainwright.

Additionally, the research team discovered that 27% of the species detected in these deep dark environments are also found on terrestrial rainforest plants in Hawai’i.

“Finding such high overlap of fungal diversity on terrestrial plants was surprising. Mesophotic reefs are as dark as it gets where photosynthesis is still possible, so to find the same species of fungi on forest plants illustrates the remarkable ability of some fungi to tolerate, and thrive, in extremely different habitats,” said Anthony Amend, senior author of the study and UHM associate professor of botany. “This ecological breadth is something that seemingly sets fungi apart from other organisms.”

Plant-associated fungi provide many benefits to society. For example, Taxol, a chemotherapy medication used to treat cancers, is produced by a fungus found inside tree bark and leaves. Additionally, research has shown that fungi are useful in bioremediation efforts (for example, oil spill and industrial waste treatment) and capable of breaking down plastic waste.

It is currently not known whether the newly discovered fungal species are pathogens, helpful symbionts or unimportant to their algae hosts.

“Further, we don’t currently know what metabolic capabilities they have that may prove to have medical or environmental applications,” said Wainwright. “We know other undiscovered species are present in these ecosystems. Unfortunately, if we do not look now we may miss our opportunity to benefit from them and conserve them.”

Deep reefs, like those in the ‘Au’au channel, may act as a refuge as Earth’s climate changes, providing habitat for any marine creatures that can take advantage of this deeper habitat. If this is indeed the case, understanding how this habitat functions and how the corals, algae and fungi interact with one another will be vital to preserving the refuge in the deep.

The results of this research are published here.

How fish eat coral


This video says about itself:

Slimy ‘Kiss’ Lets Reef Fish Feed on Stinging Corals

5 June 2017

(Inside Science) — With their sharp, stony skeletons and stinger-laden flesh, corals are well protected against most potential predators. Tubelip wrasses are one of the few fish to overcome these defenses, and now, scientists have discovered how they do it. The secret is in the lips.

Unlike their thin-lipped relatives, tubelip wrasses have big, fleshy lips that protrude in front of their teeth. These lips appear smooth to the naked eye. But in a study published today in Current Biology, scientists examined them for the first time under an electron microscope, and saw they are actually covered in parallel flaps like the gills of a mushroom. The lips produce huge amounts of mucus, and can close to form a sort of straw.

High-speed videos revealed what the strange lips are for.

“[T]ubelip wrasses feed using short sharp ‘kisses’ to suck mucus and occasionally tissue off the coral surface,” the authors write. The kisses make a smacking sound the researchers describe as “tuk.”

According to the researchers, the lip mucus probably serves a double purpose, forming a seal on the coral’s surface while shielding the fish from stinging barbs known as nematocysts. Thus protected, the fish are free to suck out coral’s nutritious goo.

From ScienceDaily:

With specialized lips, these fish dine on razor-sharp, stinging corals

June 5, 2017

Summary: More than 6,000 fish species that live on coral reefs, but only 128 are known to feed on corals. Now, researchers have discovered how at least one species of coral-feeding fish does it. They ‘kiss’ the flesh and mucus off the coral skeleton using protective, self-lubricating lips.

Of all the things an animal could eat, corals are arguably one of the toughest, thanks to their thin, mucus-covered flesh packed with venomous stinging cells spread over a razor-sharp skeleton. Perhaps that explains why of the more than 6,000 fish species that live on the reef, only 128 are known to feed on corals. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on June 5 have discovered how at least one species of coral-feeding fish does it. They “kiss” the flesh and mucus off the coral skeleton using protective, self-lubricating lips.

“The lips are like the gills of a mushroom but covered in slime,” says David Bellwood of James Cook University in Australia. “It is like having a running nose but having running lips instead.”

The researchers suggest that the mucus may facilitate suction while offering protection from corals’ stinging nematocysts.

Bellwood and the study’s first author, Víctor Huertas, recognized that the problem when eating corals would come as lips touched the surface. They wanted to find out exactly what was happening in that process. They used a scanning electron microscope to get extremely high-quality images that could capture the specialized lips of tubelip wrasses (Labropsis australis) in unprecedented detail.

Those images revealed remarkable differences between the lips of the tubelip wrasse and another wrasse species that doesn’t feed on corals. Wrasses that don’t eat corals have lips that are thin and smooth, with teeth that protrude slightly. By comparison, tubelip wrasses have lips that are fleshy and stick out, forming a tube when the mouth is closed that covers all the teeth.

The most prominent characteristic of the tubelip wrasse’s lips, they found, are numerous thin membranes arranged outward from the center like the gills of a mushroom. The mouth surface of tubelip wrasses also includes many folds loaded with highly productive mucus-secreting glands. In other words, their lips drip with slime.

High-speed video images of feeding tubelip wrasses showed that they briefly place their lips in contact with the coral prior to delivering a powerful suck. Rather than grabbing onto coral, they appear to seal the mouth over a small area, presumably to increase suction-feeding efficiency, the researchers report. The new evidence suggests the tubelip wrasses and their mucus-laden lips survive by feeding primarily on coral mucus. The findings open up a whole new way of looking at the nature of feeding in fishes, the researchers say.

“One always assumes that fishes feed using their teeth, but, like us, the lips can be an essential tool,” Bellwood says. “Imagine feeding without lips or cheeks; the same applies to fishes.”

On their quest to learn how the wrasses cope with the challenge of reef feeding, the researchers say the next step is to discover the “magic of the mucus.”

See also here.

New worm-snail species discovered on Florida shipwreck


This 2015 video from the USA is called Florida Keys Snorkeling (Key West vs Key Largo).

From the Field Museum in Chicago, USA:

‘Spiderman’ worm-snails discovered on Florida shipwreck

New species could have major implications for coral reef restoration

April 5, 2017

Summary: Scientists have discovered a new species of worm-snail on a shipwreck in the Florida Keys. The new species, which is colorful and shoots mucus webs to trap food, is likely an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific and could have important coral reef conservation implications.

What’s brightly colored, lives on shipwrecks, filter-feeds like a whale, and shoots webs like Spiderman? If you can’t readily come up with an answer, that’s okay: until now, such animals weren’t known to science. But as of today, scientists have announced the discovery of a new species of snail that ticks all those boxes. According to its discoverer, the snail shows “amazing adaptations and are kind of cute,” and it could play an important role in coral reef restoration work.

“These worm-snails are particularly weird animals,” says Dr. Rüdiger Bieler, Curator of Invertebrates at Chicago’s Field Museum and the lead author of a paper in the journal PeerJ describing the new snails. “And while we find lots of unusual snails, this one could have a substantial impact on coral reef restoration efforts.”

Instead of having coiled shells like most snails, worm-snails have irregularly-shaped tubular shells that they cement onto a hard surface. And while most snails are slow movers, adult worm-snails don’t move at all — instead, they stick to one spot for the rest of their lives. That makes them good candidates to live on hard surfaces like ships and coral reefs. The new species, Thylacodes vandyensis, is named for the “Vandy,” the nickname the SCUBA diving community has given to the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenburg, a retired naval vessel intentionally sunk to serve as an artificial reef in the lower Florida Keys. This ship is the only place the new worm-snails have ever been found, glued to the vessel’s hull.

“I first got interested in these guys when I saw their giant slime glands,” says Bieler. “Normally, snails produce a trail of slime so that they can glide on it in order to move. But worm-snails are stationary — what did they need slime glands for?”

It turns out, these snails don’t use their slime to move — they use it to hunt.

“The snails have an extra pair of tentacles down near the base of their body, almost like little arms. These tentacles are what they use to shoot slime,” explains Bieler. “They shoot out a mucous web, just like Spiderman — although in slow motion. Then, microorganisms get stuck in the web, and the snails use their mouths to pull the web back in and strain the food through barbs on their tongues called radulae in order to eat. They filter-feed, much like baleen whales.”

While the worm-snails are immobile, Bieler and his co-authors from The Field Museum, Florida International University, and Cape Breton University have reason to believe that the specimens they found in Florida are a long way from home — all signs point to these snails being an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific where they had not yet been recognized.

“We know the Atlantic worm-snail fauna very well, so the likelihood of finding a new species native to the Florida Keys is pretty small,” says Bieler. “These snails might have stowed away in bilge water or the hulls on cargo ships, and once they arrived here, they were the perfect colonizers.”

The shipwrecks making up an artificial reef in the Keys seem to have been an ideal new habitat for the worm-snails. The new snails join other animals that have already been confirmed as Pacific invasives on these artificial reefs in the Florida Keys: the Orange Tube Coral and a Giant Foam Oyster, the latter discovered by Bieler’s team on another regional wreck, the Thunderbolt, in 2003.

“The living coral reefs in the Florida Keys are already full of animals,” explains Bieler, “but the deliberately scuttled shipwrecks are empty, brand-new real estate. There were fewer organisms to compete with for space on the artificial reef, and fewer resident predators that could harm them.”

But it’s not necessarily a good thing that the worm-snails have taken so well to the shipwreck. “Worm-snails can be harmful to corals and other reef organisms,” says Bieler. “They can reduce coral growth and have been shown to serve as hosts for certain blood flukes, which are parasites of loggerhead turtles.”

On top of the risks that worm-snails carry, coral reefs are in trouble all over the world. “Climate change, pollution, overfishing, and other problems are putting our reefs in danger,” says Bieler. “And while artificial reefs, such as deliberately sunk ships, might help provide additional structures for corals and other marine animals to live on, we need to carefully monitor the species present. If we don’t, non-native and potentially invasive species like Thylacodes vandyensis might eventually make its way from the artificial reef to the natural reef and cause trouble for the animals living there.”

Discovering the newly arrived snail and clam species, says Bieler, is an important step to monitoring coral reef health. “The artificial reefs could serve as the canary in the coal mine,” says Bieler. “If we monitor their presence on the shipwrecks, we can keep tabs on them and potentially stop them from spreading to the living reefs.”

Despite the havoc that the worm-snails could potentially wreak, Bieler is glad to have found them. “The discovery of Thylacodes vandyensis helps highlight why museum collections are important. Without comparing countless snail specimens at The Field Museum and around the world, we wouldn’t have been able to identify these snails as a new species, and we wouldn’t be able to make the kinds of progress in monitoring and reef restoration that we’re now equipped to,” says Bieler. “Plus, they’re awfully interesting.”

See also here.

Australian Great Barrier Reef coral problems


This March 2017 WWF video is about the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It has coral bleaching problems.