Tag Archives: taxonomy

Why study boring amphipoda and other strange taxa?

Bircenna thieli seen from the front and the side. SEM photo, Fig 6 in Hughes and Lörz, 2019.

This question (or a version of it) is something a lot of us taxonomists are faced with quite often when we try to explain what we do for a living. And I do understand the need to ask – couldn´t our talents be used better doing something it might be easier to understand the use of? We think the study of taxonomy is higly important, and does bring about useful knowledge for the world. Therefore, we have several taxonomic projects in our group, and we write about them here in the blog. (If you read norwegian, you can read about our projects here)

 

March 19th was the world Taxonomist Appreciation Day – a day we have “celebrated” since 2013. Why do we need this day? Taxonomy is the science of naming, defining, describing, cataloguing, identifying and classifying groups of biological organisms. We do this in labs and on fieldwork, and the natural history museums (these days represented from our home offices) have a special responsibility for this work, since one part of the formal description of a taxon is to designate a type and store that in a museum collection. We will come back to the importance of types in a later blog here.

Terry McGlynn, the professor and blogger who initiated the Taxonomist Appreciation Day wrote: ” I want to declare a new holiday! If you’re a biologist, no matter what kind of work you do, there are people in your lives that have made your work possible. Even if you’re working on a single-species system, or are a theoretician, the discoveries and methods of systematists are the basis of your work. Long before mass sequencing or the emergence of proteomics, and other stuff like that, the foundations of bioinformatics were laid by systematists. We need active work on taxonomy and systematics if our work is going to progress, and if we are to apply our findings. Without taxonomists, entire fields wouldn’t exist. We’d be working in darkness.”

Every year a large number of new taxa are described – last year almost 2000 of the new species described were marine. March 19th every year, the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) and LifeWatch publish their favourite 10 marine species described in the previous year, and this year – corona-shutdown and all – was no exception.

All ten new species are fun, beautiful and remarkable – but Polyplacotoma mediterranea Osigus & Schierwater, 2019 deserves special mentioning. P. mediterranea is the third species described ever in the phylum Placozoa – who are viewed as one of the key-taxa to understand early animal evolution. They were first described in 1883 (by Schulze), and the name Placozoa indicated what they looked like: small (around 1 mm for the largest of the specimens) platelike animals. 2018 saw the second species of placozoans described – genetically, as it was impossible to separate morphologically – but then our new placozoan came – and it is 10mm large, is branched, and has its natural habitat in the mediterranean intertidal! Phylum Placozoa will never be the same again, and our understanding of the early evolution of animals has become even more interesting.

 

What then about the boring amphipods? Or course they are not boring as in saying they are dull! The “boring amphipod” Bircenna thieli Hughes & Lörz, 2019 bores in the sense that they excavate tunnels into the stem of the common bull kelp Durvillaea potatorum (Labillardière) Areschoug, 1854 in the intertidal and shallow waters by Tasmania.

Bircenna thieli has a head almost like an ant, and a quite unusual shape of its back-body. Fig 8 from Hughes and Lörz, 2019

Their head has an ant-like ball-shape unlike many other amphipods where the head is more ornate or has a visible rostrum, but the exciting morphology comes at the other end of the animal – where the telson and last segment have structures never seen before in amphipods, and structures that only other vegetation-boring amphipods show.

So why do we think describing tiny animals, plants, fungi, bacteria and other organisms is so important? Let us ask you back: how can you appreciate what you have and care about what might be lost if you dont know who they are?

Anne Helene

(this post was written March 19th, but posted later..)


Literature:
Eitel M, Osigus H-J, DeSalle R, Schierwater B (2013) Global Diversity of the Placozoa. PLoS ONE 8(4): e57131. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057131

Hughes, L.E.; Lörz, A.-N. (2019). Boring Amphipods from Tasmania, Australia (Eophliantidae: Amphipoda: Crustacea). Evolutionary Systematics 3(1): 41-52. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.3.35340

Osigus, H.-J.; Rolfes, S.; Herzog, R.; Kamm, K.; Schierwater, B. (2019). Polyplacotoma mediterranea is a new ramified placozoan species. Current Biology 29(5): R148-R149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.01.068


Do you want to find out more about Taxonomist Appreciation Day or about all the 10 exciting species?

Ten remarkable new marine species from 2019

Today is Taxonomist Appreciation Day!

A compendium of taxonomists on ORCID

and not least –  you can still follow the #TaxonomistAppreciationDay on Twitter (and be prepared for 2021!)

Door #2: A glimpse of Hydrozoan anatomy

Hydroids and hydromedusae are abundant and widespread, but they can be difficult to identify, in part due to the overwhelming amount of terminology used to describe their polyps, colonies and medusae. The diversity of shapes and life cycle strategies in Hydrozoa is in fact so high that it is almost impossible to find a single set of descriptive terms for all species, and different glossaries have been developed for closely related families, sometimes genera, and also for the different stages in the life cycle of the same organism. To further complicate things, the terminology we use for the characterization of hydrozoan morphology has been adapted in many cases from other fields of science (like botany and geometry), and some of the words ended up with very different meanings depending of the organism we are looking at.

But if you are interested in these fascinating creatures, fear not! We at the invertebrate collections have thought about giving you a little visual aid in the form of four plates including some of the basic structures of hydroids and hydromedusa (courtesy of artsprosjekt HYPNO and upcoming artsprosjekt NORHYDRO).

Figure 1: Thecate polyps, like the ones of Aglaophenia harpago, are protected by rigid structures called “thecae” into which the polyp can retract. In many species they live all together forming colonies. Credit: Joan J. Soto Àngel and L. Martell.

Figure 2: Unlike their “protected” relatives, athecate polyps (e.g. those of Pennaria disticha) lack the skeletal protection of the theca, but can also form large colonies with many polyps. Credit: Joan J. Soto Àngel and L. Martell.

Figure 3: The hydromedusae produced by thecate polyps are called leptomedusae, and can be recognized by the development of gonads in the radial canals (among other characteristics). From left to right and top to bottom in the picture are three species present in Norwegian waters: Tiaropsis multicirrata, Modeeria rotunda, and Tima bairdii. Credit: L. Martell and A. Hosia, HYPNO project.

Figure 4: Anthomedusae (hydromedusae produced by athecate polyps) usually have the gonads developed in the manubrium. From left to right and top to bottom in the picture are Leuckartiara octona, Rathkea octopunctata, and Sarsia tubulosa. Credit: L. Martell and A. Hosia, HYPNO project.

Hopefully these images can be used as a starting point for the uninitiated, and why not? perhaps also as a source of inspiration for cool marine-related presents for the season!

-Luis Martell and Joan J. Soto Àngel

AmphipodThursday: IceAGE-amphipods in the Polish woods

img_2610This adventure started 26 years ago, when two Norwegian benthos researchers (Torleiv Brattegard from University of Bergen and Jon-Arne Sneli from the University in Trondheim) teamed up with three Icelandic benthos specialists (Jörundur Svavarsson and Guðmundur V. Helgasson from University of Iceland and Guðmundur Guðmundsson from the Natural History Museum of Iceland) to study the seas surrounding the volcanic home of the Nordic sages. 19 cruises and 13 years later – and not least lots of exciting scientific findings and results the BioICE program was finished.

But science never stops. New methods are developed and old methods are improved – and the samples that were stored in formalin during the BioICE project can not be used easily for any genetic studies. They are, however, very good for examinations of the morphology of the many invertebrate species that were collected, and they are still a source of much interesting science.

Participants of the IceAGE workshop. Photo: Christian Bomholt (www.instagram.com/mcb_pictures)

Participants of the IceAGE workshop. Photo: Christian Bomholt (www.instagram.com/mcb_pictures)

The dream about samples that could be DNA-barcoded (and possibly examined further with molecular methods) lead to a new project being formed – IceAGE. A large inernational collaboration of scientists organised by researchers from the University of Hamburg (and still including researchers from both the University of Iceland and the University of Bergen) have been on two cruises (2011 and 2013) so far – and there is already lots of material to look at!


This week many of the researchers connected with the IceAGE project have gathered in Spała in Poland – at a researchstation in woods that are rumoured to be inhabited by bison and beavers (we didn´t see any, but we have seen the results of the beavers work). Some of us have discussed theories and technical stuff for the papers and reports that are to come from the project, and then there are “the coolest gang” – the amphipodologists. 10 scientists of this special “species” have gathered in two small labs in the field-station, and we have sorted and identified amphipods into the wee hours.

It is both fun and educational to work together. Everybody have their special families they like best, and little tricks to identify the difficult taxa, and so there is always somebody to ask when you don´t find out what you are looking at. Between the stories about amphipod-friends and old times we have friendly fights about who can eat the most chocolate, and we build dreams about the perfect amphipodologist holiday. Every now and then somebody will say “come look at this amazing amphipod I have under my scope now!” – we have all been treated to species we have never seen before, but maybe read about. We also have a box of those special amphipods – the “possibly a new species”- tubes. When there is a nice sample to examine, you might hear one of the amphipodologist hum a happy song, and when the sample is all amphipods but no legs or antennae (this can happen to samples stored in ethanol – they become brittle) you might hear frustrated “hrmpfing” before the chocolate is raided.

 

Isopodologists (Martina and Jörundur) visiting the amphipodologists... Photo: AH Tandberg

Isopodologists (Martina and Jörundur) visiting the amphipodologists… Photo: AH Tandberg

The samples from IceAGE are all stored in ethanol. This is done to preserve the DNA for molecular studies – studies that can give us new and exciting results to questions we have thought about for a long time, and to questions we maybe didn´t even know we needed asking. We can test if what looks like the same species really is the same species, and we can find out more about the biogeography of the different species and communities.

The geographical area covered by IceAGE borders to the geographical area covered by NorAmph and NorBOL, and it makes great sense to collaborate. This summer we will start with comparing DNA-barcodes of amphipods from the family Eusiridae from IceAGE and NorAmph. They are as good a starting-point as any, and they are beautiful (Eusirus holmii was described in the norwegian blog last summer).


Happy easter from all the amphiods and amphipodologists!

Anne Helene


Literature:

Brix S (2014) The IceAGE project – a follow up of BIOICE. Polish Polar Research 35, 1-10

Dauvin J−C, Alizier S, Weppe A, Guðmundsson G (2012) Diversity and zoogeography of Ice−
landic deep−sea Ampeliscidae (Crustacea: Amphipoda). Deep Sea Research Part I: 68: 12–23.

Svavarsson J (1994) Rannsóknir á hryggleysingjum botns umhverfis Ísland. Íslendingar og hafiđ.
Vísindafélag Íslendinga, Ráđstefnurit 4: 59–74.
Svavarsson J, Strömberg J−O,  Brattegard T (1993) The deep−sea asellote (Isopoda,
Crustacea) fauna of the Northern Seas: species composition, distributional patterns and origin. Journal of Biogeography 20: 537–555.

Door # 6: Stuffed Syllid

Todays calendar critter is a Trypanosyllis sp. – a undescribed species from the genera Trypanosyllis in the family Syllidae. It most closely resembles a species described from the Mediterranean Sea. The Norwegian species is common in coral rubble, and has been assumed to be the same species as the one described from the Mediterranean. Genetic work reveals that these two are in fact separate species, and thus the Norwegian one is a new species awaiting formal description and naming. (If you read Norwegian, you can learn more about how species are described and named here: Slik gir vi navn til nye arter).

A new species of Trypanosyllis, collected in Sletvik, Norway. Photo by Arne Nygren. CC-by-sa

A new species of Trypanosyllis, collected in Sletvik, Norway. Photo by Arne Nygren. CC-by-sa

This specimen was collected, identified and photographed by Arne Nygren during our field work in Sletvik as part of his work on cryptic polychate species in Norway.

Syllids have opted for a rather fascinating way of ensuring high fertilization rates; something called epitoky: they asexually produce a special individual – the epitokous individual – from their bodies, and release this to go swimming in search of a mate. In the photo you can see that the female reproductive body (epitoke) is filled with orange eggs and has its own set of eyes, close to the middle of the animal. This section will break away from the mother animal and swim away in search of a male reproductive body to reproduce with. The mother animal will then grow a new female reproductive body.

-Arne & Katrine

Today is Taxonomist Appreciation Day!

Initiated in 2013 by Dr. Terry McGlynn, March 19th has become

the International Taxonomist Appreciation Day!

The what, now?

 Carl von Linné 1707–1778 painted by A. Roslin. (Wikimedia)

Carl von Linné 1707–1778 painted by A. Roslin (Wikimedia)

Taxonomy is the science of naming, describing and classifying organisms and includes all plants, animals and microorganisms of the world. Using morphological, behavioural, genetic and biochemical observations, taxonomists identify, describe and arrange species into classifications, including those that are new to science.

Modern taxonomy began with Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), who devised the formal binominal (two-part) naming system we use to classify all lifeforms. Since then, approximately 1.7 million animal species have been formally described (according to the IUCN (2014)).

It is of course impossible to give a definite number for how many species that are still awaiting recognition and formal description, but a estimate by Mora et al. in 2011 suggest that

In spite of 250 years of taxonomic classification and over 1.2 million* species already catalogued in a central database, our results suggest that some 86% of existing species on Earth and 91% of species in the ocean still await description. Renewed interest in further exploration and taxonomy is required if this significant gap in our knowledge of life on Earth is to be closed.

From Buzz Hoot Roar

If you want to know more about what taxonomists do, you can have a read here: Taxonomy matters. Here’s why (Lyman Museum at McGill University).

There is a lot of work still to be done – and far too few taxonomists available to do it – so please appreciate the ones that we have!

Celebrate the day by

  • giving your local taxonomist a cup of coffee (or tea), and a word of encouragement (a big pile of money for research wouldn’t be amiss, either!)
  • check out the taxonomy pun contest at Buzz Hoot Roar (“a graphics-driven blog that shares and/or explains a scientific concept in 300 words or less”)
  • visit Curious Taxonomy for funny, punny, interesting and plain strange species names – and share your favourites!
    Some of ours include:
    Did you know that there is a genus of small marine snails named Ittibittium? These are – of course – smaller than molluscs of the genus Bittium.
    Strategus longichomperus (Ratcliffe) is a Honduran scarab with long mandibles.
    Ytu brutus (Spangler, 1980) is a water beetle, “Ytu” comes from the local (in Brazil) word for waterfall.
    Has your favourite book/movie/game characters been honoured with a naming?
    Aleiodes atuin, A. binkyi, A. deathi ++ (Butcher et al. 2012) are braconid wasps – all named from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. [Zootaxa 3457]
    Darthvaderum (Hunt, 1996) is an oribatid mite “When I saw the SEM (scanning electron micrograph) of the gnathosoma I immediately thought of Darth Vader, evil antihero of Star Wars.” [Records of the Australian Museum 48: 303-324]
    Gwaihiria (Nauman) is a diapriid wasp named for Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles.
  • visit the Biodiversity Heritage Library and learn something new
  • visit the exhibitions at your local Natural History Museum (Bergen sadly excepted at the moment – we will open again in 2019!)
  • If you can read Norwegian, check out this post about Amphipod taxonomy and taxonomists, and peruse the ongoing biodiversity projects from the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre, where taxonomists work to better our knowledge of the local fauna and flora.
  • understand the value of Museum Collections for Research and Society
  • remember the naturalists who have perished in pursuit of knowledge by visiting The Wall of the Dead: A Memorial to Fallen Naturalists
  • tell your taxonomist co-workers that you appreciate their work!

 

#loveyourtaxonomist is the word of the day!

 


Mora C, Tittensor DP, Adl S, Simpson AGB, Worm B (2011) How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean? PLoS Biol 9(8): e1001127.

The World Conservation Union (2014) IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014.3. Summary Statistics for Globally Threatened Species. Table 1: Numbers of threatened species by major groups of organisms (1996–2014))

*see paper for explanation for this number vs the 1.7 million of the IUCN.