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miércoles, enero 21, 2009


September 18, 2008--A comb jelly trips the light fantastic as it pulses off Heron Island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef complex.

The creature, which lacks the stingers of jellyfish, was among thousands of species studied at three coral reef sites--two of them along the Great Barrier--during a four-year survey led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The survey team announced today that it has discovered hundreds of animals new to science, including previously unknown microscopic shrimp, worms, scavenging crustaceans--and as many as 150 new species of soft corals. (Read the full story.)

The reef expeditions were done as part of the Census of Marine Life, a global ten-year initiative to assess the diversity, distribution, and abundance of creatures in the world's oceans.

--James Owen

Not even this small, delicate seaweed species, Caulerpa cupressoides, escaped the notice of scientists cataloging coral reef inhabitants near Heron Island in Australia.

The island was one of three sites recently surveyed by marine experts looking for lesser known reef life as part of the ongoing global Census of Marine Life. Expedition researchers reported in September 2008 that their four-year effort in Australia has yielded hundreds of species that may be new to science.

"Amazingly colorful corals and fishes on reefs have long dazzled divers, but our eyes are just opening to the astonishing richness of other life-forms in these habitats," said Census of Marine Life chief scientist Ron O'Dor.

A green-banded snapping shrimp reveals its disproportionate weaponry after being discovered inside dead coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Researchers released the above picture of the shrimp in September 2008 along with shots of other animals found during a recent biodiversity survey at three sites along the reef.

The teams used a wide variety of sampling methods, which included looking inside the hollow skeletons of old coral structures.

Samples were obtained by enveloping dead coral in a bag and chiseling the structures off at their bases to capture the animals inside. A single such sample can yield more than 150 individual animals, the survey team said.

A gelatinous "creature" pictured floating in the water column off Lizard Island in northeastern Australia is actually a colony of smaller animals called salpae.

These sac-like filter feeders can either float as individuals or can form long chains as they drift through the ocean feeding on plankton.

In September 2008 researchers led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science released photos of unusual animals--including the salpae seen above--found while surveying coral reef biodiversity as part of the ten-year Census of Marine Life.

A pair of fan worms wave their feathery feeding arms to filter tiny particles from the water in a picture released in September 2008.

Scientists spotted the worms during a recent survey of reef-dwelling species at three sites in Australia. The teams found hundreds of previously unknown animals, including colorful soft corals, tiny shrimp, and scavenging crustaceans.

Worms were also highlighted in the study, including a potentially new class of marine worm known as bristle worms, relatives of leeches and earthworms.

A species of sea slug, or nudibranch, makes an exotic addition to the coral reefs off Heron Island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

(See stunning photos of nudibranchs from National Geographic magazine.)

Results from a recent survey announced in September 2008 suggest that a large proportion of the animals living on Australia's reefs have yet to be scientifically described, making the true effects of threats to coral ecosystems harder to define.

"Corals face threats ranging from ocean acidification, pollution, and warming to overfishing and starfish outbreaks," said Ian Poiner, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

"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.

Survey teams recently snapped a variety of soft corals--so-called because they lack the hard skeletons of reef-building corals--growing near Lizard Island in Australia.

The researchers found about 300 species of soft coral during a four-year census of marine life in Australia's coral reefs. Up to half of the species found could be new to science, the teams announced in September 2008.

Soft corals dominate some of the areas studied, covering up to 25 percent of the ocean floor at the three survey sites. The animals provide important habitat for other marine species.

(Related: "Soft Corals 'Melting' Due to Warming Seas, Expert Says" [July 13, 2007].)

Neil Bruce of the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Australia inspects a sampling aquarium at Lizard Island and its haul of coral-dwelling animals collected from the Great Barrier Reef.

Teams of scientists, including Bruce, recently conducted a four-year survey of life along the reef. They reported in September 2008 that they have found hundreds of species that could be new to science.

Bruce is also part of a team developing new sampling methods to help standardize surveys of coral reef diversity around the world.

For example, researchers set up layered plastic structures, likened to empty dollhouses, for marine life to colonize at Lizard Island and other sites. The structures could facilitate future discoveries.

—Photograph courtesy Gary Cranitch/Queensland Museum/copyright 2008


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