Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

February 3, 2011

New Species in Our Own Back Yard

Photo credit: P. Wirtz

This is amazing to me...

Carl Linnaeus established the cornerstone of taxonomy (the separation of plants and animals into separate taxa) some 350 years ago. The Linnaean method uses anatomy, appearance, and in some cases, behavior to describe plants and animals. Until the 1990s, scientists had to rely soley on the Linnaean method to group or separate species, and this method is still largely used today. But, the advent of DNA analysis has not only blurred the lines that separate species, it has also allowed for further separatation of species.

For example: Fish 1 and Fish 2 were long been thought to be the same species because they posess almost identical physical attributes; with new DNA analysis, Fish 1 and Fish 2 are found to be completely different on the genetic level; so, Fish 2 becomes a new species, or subspecies. Another example: Fish 3 and Fish 4 were thought to be separate species; DNA analysis proves they are one in the same; Fish 3 and 4 are then grouped under the same name.

We often hear about new species being discovered or described for the first time from far-flung locales such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, and from the darkest ocean depths. These are species that probably have been there for hundreds to thousands of years, but were only recently determined to be unique and separate from those around them. Sometimes these animals live in small, hard-to-reach pockets, thus explaining their recent discovery. Sometimes these animals were misidentified as a similar bretheren: they appear on the surface as identical, but in fact have minute attributes that separate them. Sometimes, these animals are so small, they go overlooked!

Seven new Labrisomid blennies from the Bahamas and Caribbean Sea were recently described using a complex combination of Linnaean taxonomy and DNA analysis. Not two, not three, SEVEN! Here's the deal: these guys are really small (just over an inch long), live cryptically on reefs, and could easily have been misidentified for eachother, meaning they all look somewhat alike. Some (if not all) of the blennies have male and female color patterns that serve to further confuse the issue. I don't know how long it took the researchers to conclude their study, but on the surface, it looks like a years-long project of collecting, analizing, untangling, and concluding.

The article is complex, and not for the faint of heart. I think it's pretty darned impressive. This is heavy science! Way over my head. But, it will make it much much easier for me to illustrate these fishes in the near future!

Click here to read more.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice post. I found your blog today through OBN. I like it. In fact I will hit the "follow" button right now. =)

    The Average Joe Fisherman


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