October 15, 2006
By Andy Collins,
NOAA, NOS, NWHIMNM -
Education and Outreach Specialist
Collection by suction. Photo: Jim Maragos/USFWS
a week of operations we have gotten into a groove and both the collections
and the processing of specimens has settled into a
regular schedule. To date we have found several species that the scientists
think are new, or undescribed, and many that are new records for French
Frigate Shoals. All of these discoveries come with the caveat that confirming
new species or even new records may not be possible until after our return
(see New Species article for an explanation of this process) but with
the experts we have aboard, such as Jim Maragos and Gustav Paulay we can
be fairly confident about certain species. When
species lists for Hawaii show that five species of a certain genus are
known from Hawaii, and we have collected seven, then we can at least be
relatively certain we collected new records for Hawaii. This is the case
for the anemone hermit crabs in the genus Dardanus, in which there are
six confirmed species from Hawaii with 3 questionable species. We have
collected 10 species, 5 of
which we have confirmed identity, and 5 are of unknown identity.
Maragos, a coral expert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, believes
he has found a new species of coral at French Frigate Shoals, and two
others that he thinks may be new records. The new species is an Acroporacoral,
one of the most common types of coral in the Pacific but rare in Hawaii.
If this is indeed a new species it may suggest that Acropora corals
have evolved over a longer time period in Hawaii than what is currently
thought, since there are no other Acropora like it elsewhere
in the Pacific. The two new records are Leptoseris papyracea,
papyracea has been previously reported from Maui but Jim has never
seen it alive. Although Jim has been doing coral reef surveys in the Northwestern
Hawaiian Islands since 1999 this is the first year that he has been doing
intensive exploratory surveys such as those he is conducting as part of
the Census of Marine Life, Census of Coral Reefs.
Possible new species
Photo: Jim Maragos/USFWS
Nearly all the experts on this expedition have been finding new organisms,
or at least ones they cannot readily identify. The algae team, composed
of Rebecca Most and Kris Coontz think they may have found a new species
of red algae. Tito Monteiro da Cruz Lotufo, our resident expert on the
animal group Ascidians,
or sea squirts, believes he may have found a new species of sea squirt.
There is a continuous buzz of excitement
among the scientists as the samples are being processed, and discoveries
made. For some organisms, such as the microbes, we have no idea what we
collected and will need to wait until we return since we have no way to
process these microscopic life forms on the ship. One thing is certainly
becoming clearer, that coral reefs are extremely intricate environments
and what we typically see on the surface of the reef only represents a
small fraction of the diversity of life that is present. As Gustav Paulay
puts it, “the coral reef is like a giant sponge, and we only see the outside
of the sponge, yet 80% or more of the life is hidden from view,” buried
in the reef matrix itself, much of the life never coming to the surface
at all. Collection methods such as rubble extraction, where samples of
this hidden matrix are removed and studied, are bringing to the surface
many organisms, such as an ancient animal called a brachiopod which was
found today on one of these pieces of rubble.
living fossils used to be one of the dominant marine life forms on reefs
approximately 550 to 250 million years ago but were displaced following
one of the mass extinctions and have been replaced by other organisms.
These organisms exist in only a few environments today and finding them
buried in the reef matrix is like stepping back in time.
Brachiopod collected during rubble extraction.
only are the scientists discovering life forms embedded in the reef itself,
but they are finding them on other organisms. The collector crabs we are
bringing up from the depths in our deep set epifauna traps have a pair
of legs specially adapted to hold pieces of sponge, or in some cases precious
coral. Leslie Harris, an expert on polycheates (worms), started looking
at some of the sponges that were coming up with the crabs and she found
several species of polycheates living in them. In this case we have a
crab that carries around a sponge, likely for camouflage, or at least
to not appear so tasty to predators, and within the sponge live species
of worms. From what appears to be one organism – a crab with something
on its head - we discover several. We are finding the same thing with
the anemone hermit crabs. On one anemone crab we found an anemone,
an unknown barnacle, and worm casings. With one animal we recorded several
species, including the species of marine
snail that originally occupied the hermit crab’s shell. This apparent
infinite complexity in the coral reef environment is nothing new to these
experts who have made studying similar areas and organisms their life
work, but what is new to is that Hawaii has had a unique evolutionary
history due to its isolation, and a high percentage of the relationships
among organisms, as well as many of the organisms themselves are found
nowhere else in the world.
Collector crab with sponge.
*All images and information from French Frigate Shoals are provided
courtesy of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument,
Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands State Marine Refuge, and NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries
Science Center in accordance with permit numbers NWHIMNM-2006-015,
2006-01, 2006-017, and DLNR.NWHI06R021 and associated amendments.
on one of the following areas to follow the expedition.
activities of the ship: what research is being done that
day, what the weather is like, what's for dinner, etc.
or semi-daily personal journal entries by the particpants
in the expedition. These journals do not necessarily reflect
the positions of any of the agencies connected with this
Interviews with expedition participants, scientists,
vessel crew, educators, etc.
Highlights or special information such as interesting
discoveries or related research.