Category Archives: PolyNor

Door #9: Delving into the DNA

From the pre-PCR lab

From the pre-PCR lab

The four PCR-machines lined up

The four PCR-machines lined up

We are very fortunate in that we have a modern DNA lab available «just down the street» from us, as the University Museum is part of the shared Biodiversity laboratories (BDL) structure.

The BDL is a formalized cooperation between three research groups at Dept. of Biology (Marine biodiversity, Geomicrobiology and the EECRG), and two of the research groups at the University Museum. One of the senior engineers if this lab is a Museum employee, and from time to time we are also able to hire in other collaborators for specific projects.





Pipetting samples onto one of the plates that we fill with DNA-extracts


For the past couple of months we’ve had a technician – Morten – working on resolving some of the challenges that we run into when we work on COI barcoding of marine invertebrates.

Unlike many of the other groups that this method works exceedingly well for (like the Diptera), we are experiencing difficulties in obtaining DNA barcodes from a significant proportion of our samples.

IMGP0775-001We are currently focussing particularly on the Polychaeta (bristle worms), as this is the group we have submitted the majority of samples from in both our major barcoding projects: MIWA (Marine Invertebrates of Western Africa) and NorBOL (Norwegian Barcode of Life).


Morten has been working on obtaining DNA from the more problematic species, by troubleshooting and tinkering on various aspects of the ways we extract and amplify genes.

Basically there are more or less standardized ways of obtaining DNA, and these methods normally works well. Unfortunately (for various reasons) this is not always the case, and this is where we have to alter the protocols to see if we can find a way to retrieve the sample DNA from the specimens.

So far it looks quite promising; we’ve been able to fill in some of the most important “blanks” in our datasets – and we’re not done yet!

– Morten & Katrine

Door #1: A day at sea

Welcome to our marine invertebrates December calendar! In Norway it is very common for children to have a Advent calendar of some sort to help shorten the wait towards Christmas.

We’ve decided to run with the idea here on the blog, giving you a tidbit about our work every day from December 1st to 24th.

We hope you’ll join us on our little venture – we can guarantee a varied selection of topics!

All the posts will be gathered under the Category 2015 December calendar

First out is a tale of sampling in the sleet…!

The scientific collections are the backbone of all the research performed at the University Museum – as it is at any museum. They hold treasures collected through the entire lifetime of a museum, and most times a collection was the reason for the establishment of a proper museum. The University Museum of Bergen is one of the oldest natural history collections in Norway, and we have grand collections.

But a collection needs to live – to be added to and to be used of – and this was the reason that bright and early Monday morning Katrine and Anne Helene were ready to go to sea. Our goal was to make a jumpstart at Anne Helenes new project about Amphipods (more about that in a later blog), and to take a grab (or two) of sandy seafloor to look for bristle worms (Polychaeta).

It is always a risk planning on a cruise in the very end of November, but this time the weather was on our side. Our plan – “go out and grab animals, sandy bottom is nice” – was cooked up in the spur of the moment  when we got an offer for boat time late Friday afternoon (someone else had to change their plans in the last minute), and maybe that was why everything went so smoothly? Going out collecting benthic animals (those that live on the seafloor) is one of our favourite things, and so we didn’t need much prodding.

The grab and sledge performed beautifully, and now is the time for sorting and photographing live animals before adding them to the collection. Be sure to follow their story through later blogs – they will show up in the categories NorAmph and NorBOL, and maybe somewhere else as well?

 Katrine and Anne Helene

Make sure to check back tomorrow to see what is behind Door #2…!

The 14th Deep-Sea Biology Symposium

  • IMG_9001


  • 5 days
  •  ~200 talks
  • ~240 posters
  • 35 nationalities
  • 360 enthusiastic participants
  • Immeasurable cups of coffee & lots of pastries



The 14th Deep-Sea Biology Symposium was arranged in Aveiro, Portugal between 31st of August and 4th of September, and these happy people were amongst the participants.

The Norwegian University/museum entourage came from the Biological Institute (9),                  the University Museum (4), and the NTNU University Museum (1).


The topics of the conference was divided into seven main themes:

  1. Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
  2. Advances in taxonomy and phylogeny
  3. Autoecology
  4. Connectivity and biogeography
  5. Evolutionary history and fossil records
  6. Natural and anthropogenic disturbance
  7. Stewardship of our deep oceans (DOSI)

(more details about the themes can be found here)

Our contributions ranged from sponges to fish, and included both talks and posters.

In no particular order (UM people in bold):

Bilder Aveiro

Eilertsen MH, Kongsrud JA, Rapp HT – Evolutionary history of Ampharetinae (Ampharetidae, Annelida) adapted to chemosynthetic ecosystems

Hestetun JT, Vacelet J, Boury-Esnault N et al – Phylogenetic relationships of carnivorous sponges

Rees DJ, Byrkjedal I, Sutton TT – Pruning the pearlsides: reconciling morphology and molecules in mesopelagic fishes (Maurolicus: Sternoptychidae)

Bakken T, Oug E, Kongsrud JA, Alvestad T, Kongshavn, K – Polychaetous annelids in the deep Nordic Seas: strong bathymetric gradients, low deep-sea diversity and underdeveloped taxonomy

Xavier JR, Marco J, Rapp HT, Davies AJ – Predicting suitable habitat for the bird’s nest sponge Pheronema carpenteri (Porifera, Hexactinellida) in the Northeast Atlantic



Kongshavn K, Kongsrud JA, Tandberg AHS, Alvestad, T, Bakken, T, Oug, E, Willassen E – Intergrating DNA-barcoding and morphology to study marine invertebrates – Exploring biodiversity and biogeography of deep-sea polychaetes in the Norwegian Sea

Hestetun JT, Xavier JR, Rapp HT – Carnivorous sponges from the Southwestern Indian Ocean Ridge seamounts

Alvizu A, Tendal OS, Rapp HT – Deep-water calcareous sponges (Calcarea: Porifera) from the Norwegian, Greenland and Iceland Seas (GIN) – from abyssal plains to mid-ocean ridges and hydrothermal vents

(Xavier JR), Pereira R, Gomes Pereira JN, Tempera F et al – Sponge assemblages of the Condor seamount (Azores) characterized from underwater imagery

Olsen BR, Troedsson C, Hadziavdic K et al – The influence of hydrothermal fluids on pelagic eukaryotic microorganism diversity and subsequent prey selection in a pelagic amphipod in the Nordic Seas

Bilder Aveiro1

In addition to these direct contributions, it was very gratifying to see our friends and colleagues presents results that were in part based on University Museum assistance, whether through participation on cruises with us, loans of material, visits to the Museum collections or data made available. Quite a few of our photos also found their way into presentations, which is always fun!


It was a busy week with a lot of information to absorb and a lot of old and new acquaintances and friends to talk to. We used this opportunity to spread the word about our current projects, and especially to discuss the challenges and potential of barcoding marine invertebrates.

We are very grateful to the organizing committee for taking on the herculean task of setting up such a wonderful symposium!


Photo by @tangerina_ (Twitter)

Photo by @tangerina_ (Twitter)

The 1st International Polychaete Day!

Mystides sp Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

Mystides sp Photo: Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

Nereiphylla lutea Photo: Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

Nereiphylla lutea Photo: Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

Welcome to our contribution to the very first International Polychaete Day!

Today, we want to share information and photographs of these amazing creatures that usually reside in the deep blue, and who therefore haven’t gotten the public attention that they deserve (until now!). The event will take place world wide, starting at the Australian Museum in Sydney and move through the time zones where it will be celebrated in Russia, Norway, the UK, and in the USA – amongst others!

Dorvillea rubrovittata Photo: Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA-NC

Dorvillea rubrovittata Photo: Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA-NC

Kristian Fauchald

The celebration has been initiated as a way to commemorate Kristian Fauchald, a key figure in the polychaetologist community for many years.

Kristian Fauchald

Kristian Fauchald (1935-2015). Top and bottom right photos from the International Polychaete School held at the White Sea Biological Station of The Moscow State University in 2011, © A. Semenov. Bottom left: from Kristian’s public lecture in Moscow in 2011 © Dynasty Foundation

"The Pink Book", more properly known as Fauchald, K. 1977. The polychaete worms, definitions and keys to the orders, families and genera. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: Los Angeles, CA (USA) Science Series 28:1-188, available online at

“The Pink Book”, Fauchald 1977

Amongst many other achievements, he was the author of the famous “pink book”, which has served as an introduction to the world of polychaete taxonomy for many of us.

Kristian was born in Norway in 1935, and studied biology at the University of Bergen until beginning his doctorate work in California in 1965. An obituary by Fredrik Pleijel and Greg Rouse can be found at the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), which he was a founding editor of:
Obituary – Kristian Fauchald

He had a big, hearty laugh, a even bigger heart and a keen interest in the world around him – and he will be sorely missed.

Today, the 1st of July 2015, would have been Kristian’s 80th birthday, so it seems an appropriate day to blitz the public with an appreciation for the amazing animals that Kristian loved so much.

IMG_0044_1_red © UiB

                                                                      The Annelida

The Phylum Annelida, the “ringed worms”, includes two classes, the Polychaetae and Clitellata (Subclasses Oligochaeta and Hirundinea). Annelids typically have a slender cylindrical body (with a head in one end and an anus in the other), and externally visible annulations along the body – think of an ordinary earth worm (who belong in the Oligochaeta), and you have a typical annelid! The polychaetes are extremely common in the marine environment, from coastal areas to the deepest areas of the world oceans. These days, scientist are working on unravelling the family tree of the Annelida, if you are interested you can start reading about the phylogeny of annelid evolution here (Struck et al 2011).


The Polychaeta (Gr. Polys = many, Lat. chaeta = bristle), or bristle worms, often have – as the name suggests – conspicuous chaeta or bristles along their body. The bristles are found on parapods; locomotory structures typically found on each side of the body segments. They can be simple, hairlike structures, or they can be much more complex – as pictured below.

Details related to the types of bristles provide in many cases important taxonomical characters, and identification of species often requires observation of bristles in a regular microscope. Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) is used to examine the finest details of the bristles when we are working on describing species – the photos below are taken using SEM.

Ampharete undecima. One of the tools used when describing a new species is the electron microscope, which allows us to take very detailed photographs of the animals. Photo: K. Kongshavn

Ampharete undecima. One of the tools used when describing a new species is the electron microscope, which allows us to take very detailed photographs of the animals. Photo: K. Kongshavn

There are more than 12 000 described species of polychaetes, and the vast majority of these are marine.

They live from the intertidal to the abyssal (all the way to the bottom  of the Mariana trench, at approximately 10.970 meters depth! More here)

Polychaetes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from “Barry the giant sea worm” at 1.2 m (!) to minute species like Ampharete undecima, the new species we described last year which is up to 5 mm in length. They range from fast, predatory hunters to burrowers and tube-dwellers.

The Australian Museum in Sydney – which hosted the previous International Polychaete Conference – har written a nice introduction to the polychaetes on their web page, you will find it here

Group photo of the assembled polychaetologists in Sydney in 2013 (photo  © the IPC 2013 crew)

Group photo of the assembled polychaetologists in Sydney in 2013, Kristian is sitting next to the left column (photo © the IPC 2013 crew)

Amblyosyllis Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA-NC

Amblyosyllis Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA-NC

There are about 700 described species of polychaetes occurring in Norwegian waters – and the number is steadily increasing, as new species are being described every year, together with new occurrences for known species. Cryptic species – two or more morphologically similar species that erroneously have been classified as one – are also abundant in polychaetes, raising the species count even further.



There is a substantial amount of ongoing research taking place, and at the University Museum the focus is on polychaete taxonomy:
ActionbilderOur scientific collections  are of course of vital importance as a source of material and data dating back all the way to  “Den Norske Nordhavs-expedition, 1876-1878” (book 1 can be found here) and the 1910 Michael Sars Expedition (“The depths of the ocean : a general account of the modern science of oceanography based largely on the scientific researches of the Norwegian steamer Michael Sars in the North Atlantic“). For an account of some of the earliest collections and taxonomic works on the Norwegian polychaete fauna and how it ties in with present work, see Oug et al 2014.

However, there is always a need for new material, and we do a fair bit of collecting ourselves, especially in the Bergen area. Above are some action shots of us collecting in the local fjords.

We are currently in the final year of the 3-year project “Polychaete diversity in the Nordic Seas – from coast to abyssal”, affectionately nicknamed PolyNor. You can find information about PolyNor workshops and work taking place at the University Museum by clicking here. This project is financed by the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre, and relies heavily on fresh material collected by the MAREANO-project (Marine AREAl database for NOrwegian waters).

norbol logoThrough the Norwegian Barcode of Life (NorBOL) project, we are working on building a comprehensive library of genetic barcodes: short, species specific DNA sequences. Polychaetes are a focus group here, and so far we have submitted 1900 samples collected in Norwegian waters. Unfortunately, polychaetes are tricky costumers when it comes to genetic barcoding, and we are working on increasing the success rate. So far we have barcodes on about 70% of the species we have submitted, but as only 40% of the samples result in barcodes, a significant proportion of the diversity is still missing. We have also barcoded quite a lot of African polychaetes through our MIWA-project (Marine Invertebrates of Western Africa). Below are two maps with pins showing the localities that we have submitted polychaetes from for barcoding in the BOLD database.

Efforts are ongoing on the taxonomy of both Norwegian and West African polychaetes – we can for certain say that “more research is needed!” on the topic.

Location of polychaete samples submitted from UM to BOLD

Location of polychaete samples submitted from UM to BOLD

The University Museum also participates in the education of polychaetologists for the future: One of our students defended his Master of Science on taxonomy of the genus Diopatra in the family Onuphidae last Friday, you can read more about that here.

To sum up, polychaetes – bristle worms – are fascinating animals that have adapted to a wide variety of habitats and modes of life. They are incredibly diverse, are important parts of the marine food webs, they help turn over sediments (like earth worms do on land), they can build reefs with their tubes, and they even have their own International Day!

Melinna sp photo K Kongshavn ©UiB

Melinna sp photo K Kongshavn ©UiB

Below you will find a slideshow featuring some of the amazing polychaete diversity, we hope you will enjoy it!


 If you would like to see how other institutions are celebrating today,

then head over to Twitter and the tag 


Selected references:

Alvestad, T., Kongsrud, J.A., Kongshavn K. (2014) Ampharete undecima, a new deep-sea ampharetid (Annelida, Polychaeta) from the Norwegian Sea  Memoirs of Museum Victoria 71 :11-19 (2014) Open access

Fauchald, K. 1977. The polychaete worms, definitions and keys to the orders, families and genera. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: Los Angeles, CA (USA) Science Series 28:1-188 Available online at (this is “the pink book”!)

Oug E, Bakken T, Kongsrud JA. 2014. Original specimens and type localities of early described polychaete species (Annelida) from Norway, with particular attention to species described by O.F. Müller and M. Sars. Memoirs of Museum Victoria 71: 217-236. Open Access.


Thank you to Nataliya Budaeva for supplying photos of Kristian, and to Arne Nygren and Fredrik Pleijel for polychaete photos!

A new polychaete species!

Meet Ampharete undecima, a new species of polychaete (bristle worm) that we recently described:

One of the tools used when describing a new species is the electron microscope, which allows us to take very detailed photographs of the animals. Photo: K. Kongshavn

One of the tools used when describing a new species is the electron microscope, which allows us to take very detailed photographs of the animals. Photo: K. Kongshavn

The sites where the species has been found

The sites where the species has been found


The species has been decribed based on material collected by the University of Bergen in the Nordic Seas in the 80s, and from samples collected by MAREANO in more recent years. It occurs in deep waters between 600 and 1650 meters depth, and has a broad distribution. The type specimen of the species is from a location that MAREANO sampled in 2009.

Alvestad T., Kongsrud J.A., and Kongshavn , K. (2014) Ampharete undecima, a new deep-sea ampharetid (Annelida, Polychaeta) from the Norwegian Sea . Memoirs of Museum Victoria 71:11-19 Open Access.

Workshop aftermath

IMGP0475The lab is rather quiet today, compared with the frantic activity of last week – but there’s still plenty of work to do! We’ll catalog the identified material – several hundred entries – into our museum collections.

For NorBOL, a total of 250 polychaete specimens from 154 different species were selected for genetic barcoding, that’s pretty impressive! In addition, some of our participants selected material to loan with them, these will also in part become NorBOL-barcodes.

Samples, samples everywhere

Samples, samples everywhere






IMGP0468We’ll process these as quickly as we can, taking pictures, filling in the forms and taking tissue samples for analysis at the CCDB lab in Canada – fingers crossed for a high success rate on the sequencing!

Preparing drawings using a camera lucida on the stereo microscope

Preparing drawings using a camera lucida on the stereo microscope


As mentioned previously we focused on the MAREANO-material, but supplemented with other samples – including those that we have collected ourselves. That meant that beauties like this one (picture below) could be examined in detail by an expert, and get properly identified before we send it off to become part of the BOLD-database.

Previously Euchone sp, now we have it identified as Euchone analis

Previously Euchone sp, now we have it identified as Euchone analis

Thank you to all our participants for a very productive and fun week!

Workshop: Polychaete diversity in the Norwegian Sea

Our lab is currently brimming with polychaetologists (those working with the polychaeta, the bristle worms), as we’re in the middle of this year’s PolyNor workshop (Polychaete diversity in the Norwegian Sea).


The making of plans


Working hard


The Polychaete pack gathered

The colourful family Phyllodocidae is one of the groups we are working on

The colourful family Phyllodocidae is one of the groups we are working on

We have eleven participants (five nationalities) here, and all are working hard to assign names to animals, fill up our lists of material to be cataloged into the University Museum’s collections, accumulation data for their own research projects, and selecting material suitable for barcoding through the NORBOL-project.


Odontosyllis sp


A Paranaitis wahlbergi


A member of the family Sabellidae


The majority of the samples that we are working on have been collected through the MAREANO-programme, but we are supplementing with material collected around Bergen, closer to the coast and into the fjords, and material collected around Svalbard.

Collecting in the Oslofjord

The past week we’ve been staying at “Biologen”, a research station in the city Drøbak. The station is run by the University of Oslo, and we’ve been making day trips with the research vessel Bjørn Føyn collecting marine invertebrates using a variety of gear. During three days we managed to sample 19 localities, some of which were “type localities” of specific species that we were after. A type locality is the site where the specimen that the species description is based on was collected. Whenever possible, we want to include genetic barcoding of a specimen collected at the type locality. We also collected “a bit of everything” for barcoding, as we don’t have a lot of material that is suitable for genetic work from this region.


The Museum’s scientific cruise of 2014

R/V Håkon Mosby in Lysefjorden. photo: K.Kongshavn

R/V Håkon Mosby in Lysefjorden. photos: K.Kongshavn

We’ve spent the past couple of  days out on the big ole’ blue, sampling along the south-western coast of Norway for bristle worms, worm molluscs, bubble snails and fish on board the research vessel “Håkon Mosby”.

We went from Bergen down to Lysefjorden in Rogaland, and had a highly productive trip. In total we sampled 30 stations using various kinds of gear (epibenthic sled, grab, net, trawl and triangular dredge) to capture our target animals.

This is a region that we have very little material from, and what we do have has been sampled in a way that makes it unsuitable for genetic work – so we went out to remedy that. Now the work begins with sorting and identifying the animals – but we already know that we have found some of the species that we were hunting for – so the cruise was definitely a success, and the scenery and weather made for a wonderful bonus!



Netting for fish in the littoral zone

Netting for fish in the littoral zone

Collecting in the littoral zone

Collecting in the littoral zone

Lab work onboard

Lab work onboard

No cruise without mud! This pile yielded three of the tiny snails one of our researchers was after; success!

No cruise without mud! This pile yielded three of the tiny snails one of our researchers was after; success!


Sorting in the lab

Sorting in the lab

Trawl catch

Trawl catch

RP-sledge in the sunset

RP-sledge in the sunset

Emptying the triangular dredge

Emptying the triangular dredge