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News Article | December 21, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

From a fleet of shining beetles to sharks and an alarming bird virus, spanning 5 continents and 3 oceans, these discoveries add to Earth's tree of life SAN FRANCISCO (December 21, 2016) -- In 2016, researchers at the California Academy of Sciences added 133 new plant and animal species to our family tree, enriching our understanding of Earth's complex web of life and strengthening our ability to make informed conservation decisions. The new species include one bee fly, 43 ants, 36 beetles, one sand wasp, four spiders, six plants, 23 fishes, one eel, one shark, seven nudibranchs, five fossil urchins (and one fossil sand dollar), one coral, one skate, one African lizard, and an alarming new bird virus. More than a dozen Academy scientists--along with several dozen international collaborators--described the discoveries. Proving that our planet contains unexplored places with never-before-recorded plants and animals (with their own set of evolving viruses), the scientists made their finds over five continents and three oceans, ventured into vast deserts, plunged beneath the sea, and scoured thick rainforests and towering mountain ranges. Their results help advance the Academy's mission to explore, explain, and sustain life on Earth. "Biodiversity scientists estimate that we have discovered less than 10% of the species on our planet," says Dr. Shannon Bennett, Academy Chief of Science. "Academy scientists tirelessly explore the lesser-known regions of Earth--not only to discover new species, but also to uncover the importance of these species to the health of our natural systems. Each of these species, known and as-yet-unknown, is a wonder unto itself but may also hold the key to ground-breaking innovations in science, technology, or society. Species live together in rich networks that thrive on complexity whether we can see it or not. Even the tiniest organism," she adds, "can be beautiful and important." Below are a few highlights among the 133 species described by the Academy in 2016. For a full list of species and images, contact press@calacademy.org. One pink-and-yellow fish has earned its spot in deep reef history. Grammatonotus brianne--an eye-popping species of groppo--is the deepest new fish discovery ever made by human hands. The discovery was captured on film at 487 feet beneath the ocean's surface. Academy scientists are currently diving to twilight zone reefs around the world. In these narrow bands of deep reefs, animals live in partial darkness, well beyond recreational diving limits yet above the deep trenches patrolled by submarines and ROVs. Reaching extreme depths requires Academy divers and their collaborators to push the boundaries of both technology and the human body, using closed-circuit "rebreathers" that extend the amount of time they can spend underwater. The new groppo is one of several new species discoveries made during an Academy expedition (along with research partners from Hawaii's Bishop Museum) to the Philippines in 2014--part of an ongoing, multi-year exploration of the Coral Triangle's biological treasures from the shallows to deep mesophotic "twilight zone" reefs 200 to 500 feet beneath the ocean surface. Deep-diving Academy ichthyologist Dr. Luiz Rocha and Bishop Museum research associate Brian Greene spotted the neon groppo (later named G. brianne for Greene's wife) during a murky, cold dive in the Philippine Verde Island Passage, a region known as the "center of the center" of Earth's marine biodiversity. "This groppo is the most beautiful fish I've ever seen," says Rocha, a co-leader of the Academy's monumental push to explore, explain, and sustain coral reefs around the world. "But beyond its looks, it's a reminder that we know very little about the mysterious half-lit reefs we call the twilight zone. We need to understand the life inside these largely-unexplored deeper reefs because they may help us understand how the oceans respond to great change." G. brianne joins 24 new species of fishes--from camouflaging gobies to lanternsharks of the Indian Ocean--described by Academy scientists in 2016 alone. Dr. Brian Fisher, Academy curator of entomology and real-life "Ant Man," recently added a whopping 43 new species to the tree of life. Fisher is a fierce advocate for the importance of small animals that support all terrestrial communities, and has devoted his life to the study of ants and biodiversity. Since 1996, he has conducted fieldwork in Madagascar--where only 10% of natural habitat remains--to explore regional biodiversity and generate data to drive conservation priorities in the country. "Our work in Madagascar focuses on determining which ants live where as we develop new field guides as tools for diagnosing and understanding conservation problems," Fisher says. "It's not just about generating data--we are trying to create a culture of interest in the natural world, from the smallest ant to the tallest tree." Several of this year's finds belong to a group called Stigmatomma--"Dracula ants" that build tiny, few-chambered colonies (generally no larger than a dime) beneath the soil. In a bizarre but fascinating means of distributing nutrients throughout the colony, ants from this group are known to wound their colonies' babies before drinking their blood--a substance called "hemolymph" in insects. An elongated jaw with two large pincers also allows the ants to grasp prey mostly comprised of centipedes, but also beetle larvae. "Because these ants are so rarely collected, finding them is like uncovering buried treasure," says Flavia Esteves, a postdoctoral researcher at the Academy who has joined Fisher in the field since 2010. Most Stigmatomma species spend the entirety of their lives beneath the soil or inside rotten logs. Esteves cuts through Madagascar's clay-like soil with a machete, and then uses a pocket knife--and finally, forceps--to carefully expose the ants. "In an island like Madagascar where human activities are destroying sensitive habitats, understanding specialized species such as Stigmatomma is even more important. We fear that the unique environmental niche they occupy will go unfilled once these ants are gone," says Esteves. "We still have so much to learn from these specialized soil dwellers," adds Fisher. Fisher recently returned from a nine-month expedition to Mozambique, accompanied by Esteves, as part of a Fulbright Scholar Grant to study ants and climate. His work in Madagascar (including founding the country's first and only biodiversity research center) and Mozambique continue to provide conservation partners with a wealth of new biodiversity data and monitoring aids to inform future land-use planning. All around us, insects flit, hover, and buzz about, but one family--the bee flies (Bombyliidae sp.)--may cause passersby to look twice. The nearly 5,000 species that make up this fly group imitate a wide range of relatives, from delicate honey bees to menacing wasps and spiders. "Don't be deceived by stripes or fuzzy adornments," says fly-expert Dr. Michelle Trautwein, Academy curator of entomology: insects from this group are all flies. A new species from Madagascar was recently discovered as part of a collaborative project between the Academy and the Schlinger Foundation to document the country's diversity of insects and their close relatives. Named Thevenetimyia spinosavus (which translates to "thorny grandfather"), this gray-haired bee fly was discovered by Natalia Maass, who worked with Trautwein for two summers as an undergraduate intern. While examining specimens under the microscope, Maass noticed one quite unlike the rest. "He was longer and more slender than other bee flies, with big spikes on his thorax and longer, gray bristly hairs," says Trautwein, describing why Natalia granted it its grandparent moniker. What's more, this stubbled bee fly was completely isolated from any other species within the same relative group. Similar species of bee fly are found in Northern Africa and North America--both a long way from Madagascar--meaning this "thorny grandfather" is part of a group with an incredibly wide distribution. No matter where they're found, adult bee flies spend their time pollinating nearby plants. But as larvae, they prey viciously upon the larvae of other species. Adult bee flies will deposit their larvae in an aerial raid: dropping them from above to land in strategic locations where they can hatch, invade a nearby nest, and consume larvae of other insect colonies before growing up to be gentler, flower-visiting--rather than larvae-poaching--adults. "An important piece of this project was being able to support a young woman in science so devoted to learning the language of species anatomy and descriptions," says Trautwein. "Watching Natalia grow and become a graduate student gives me great confidence in the young scientists who will continue to contribute to natural history collections--our best snapshots of biodiversity in the face of great change." This year, scientists uncovered a fascinating new clue in the global mystery surrounding wild birds with grossly deformed beaks. Dr. Jack Dumbacher, Academy curator of ornithology and mammalogy--alongside a team of researchers from UCSF and USGS--identified a new virus that has been linked to Avian Keratin Disorder (AKD), a disease responsible for debilitating beak overgrowth and whose cause has remained elusive despite more than a decade of research. This new virus--identified from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest--is being investigated as a potential cause of AKD and represents a critical step in understanding the emergence of this disease in wild bird populations around the world. "Take one look at a bird suffering from Avian Keratin Disorder, and you'll understand the importance of stopping its spread," says Dumbacher. "Birds must be able to feed themselves and preen their plumage by carefully spreading waterproofing oils on their feathers. When deformed beaks restrict them from these life-giving activities, birds become cold, hungry, and often die. We're trying to understand the causes, origins, and distribution of this disorder." After sifting through hundreds of thousands of DNA fragments (and comparing them to known virus groups among birds), scientists identified a new virus suspect belonging to the picornavirus family--a large and diverse group that includes well-known human offenders like polio, hepatitis A, and the common cold. The team named their discovery Poecivirus after the genus of black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) from which the sequences originated, and in which AKD was first documented. Though more research is necessary to establish Poecivirus definitively as the main cause of AKD, it remains the strongest lead yet. As part of the new virus description, the team generated a detailed map of Poecivirus' genetic material--a tool that will enable scientists all over the world to aid in its identification among birds exhibiting clinical signs of AKD. After more than a dozen combined expeditions to the damp rainforests of Madagascar and cloud-kissed mountains of southwestern China, Dr. Dave Kavanaugh--Academy emeritus curator of entomology--is sharing 36 exciting new discoveries. Ground beetles are a wildly diverse group of winged and wingless predators that feast on other insects, and some are known to survive in extreme environments around the world. Twenty-six of Kavanaugh's recent species discoveries hail from Madagascar's Ranomafana National Park--an area of lush tropical rainforest stretching nearly 160 square miles across the southwestern portion of the island. During one 5-week expedition, Kavanaugh's daughter Kathryn (for whom he later named a beetle Chlaenius kathrynae) assisted him in the field by searching for species of ground beetles in the leaf litter. "The first few days of one Madagascar expedition were dry as a bone, making the rainforest insects very hard to find," says Kavanaugh. "And then the rains came. It poured day and night for the next month. We worked through the storms with jungle rot on our feet from the constant damp." The rain led to the successful collection of many new beetle species, including flat-backed, fungi- and log-dwelling Eurydera oracle, named in honor of generous expedition support provided by Oracle. Several additional new species (including three new genera) are described from the Gaoligong Mountains of China's Yunnan Province, a region where extreme physical geography has caused a jaw-dropping array of species to evolve over millennia. Since 1998, Kavanaugh and his colleagues have trekked mountains packed with endemic species--those found nowhere else in the world. Scientists view the region as an isolated paleoenvironment, or an area that (due to its location) has remained relatively unchanged for millions of years. In less than two decades, the team has grown the list of the area's known ground beetles from 50 to 550 species. Kavanaugh collaborates with local Chinese colleagues on the China Natural History Project to document the vast array of ground beetles and other animals and plants still being discovered in this isolated region. "Due to the restricted range and specialization of these insects, they are often some of the first to indicate significant changes to regional climate and biodiversity," says Kavanaugh, "which is why it's so important that we learn all about the life around us. You never know what clues even the smallest insects underfoot may hold to the rhythms of life on this planet." Amid outcroppings of granite in the arid, sloping lowlands of southern Angola, a newly discovered species of lizard wedges itself into particularly tight crevices, head-first. Only threatening spines are left exposed along its body and tail to deter approaching predators. Despite this clever maneuver, there was no escaping discovery by Dr. Edward Stanley, Academy herpetology research associate, who suspected this particular lizard might differ from known species in the area. Stanley formally described this new species of armored lizard with the aid of CT scans, a type of imaging technology that combines a series of x-rays to reveal information about the lizard's uniquely armored body. Scans revealed that the tiny, bony spikes of Cordylus namakuiyus are actually embedded in the lizard's skin rather than attached to the skeleton itself. "CT technology allowed us to visualize and measure the armoring structure in this new lizard species," says Stanley. "This is also the first time a 3D digital representation of a newly described species is freely available to download as part of a species description." The species discovery--the result of a joint expedition between the Academy and partner institutions in Angola--represents a strong collaborative step towards exploring the region's extreme natural landscape. "Not much is known about Angolan species of armored lizards," says Stanley, "particularly in remote or inaccessible parts of the country, so we are excited to be exploring this biologically rich area." Just north of San Francisco off California's coastline, countless species thrive in the deep, chilly waters that make up the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary--one of the most biologically productive regions on the planet. Here, scientists use remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, to explore life beneath the surface. On a 2012 expedition with NOAA, octocoral expert and Academy curator of invertebrate zoology Gary Williams set off aboard the R/V Fulmar to investigate vibrant offshore life down to 1,400 feet deep. Among the sea stars, sea worms, snails, sponges, and crabs, Williams saw a single, whip-like stalk--only 15 inches in length--of a snow-white coral gently swaying in the ocean currents. Unlike the hard coral relatives that compose the famous tropical reefs closer to the ocean's surface, this soft-bodied coral species stands alone at depth and feeds on microscopic plankton floating through the water column. Even before its formal description, the new species--now named Swiftia farallonesica after its sanctuary home--served as a brilliant symbol of the region's ecological importance, and helped strengthen the case for sanctuary expansion. In March 2015, NOAA ensured these sanctuaries would be protected for years to come by more than doubling their size and adding strict bans on all drilling, mining, and ship discharges. The expansion added 2,700 square miles of protected territory, reaching up to Point Arena in Mendocino County. "Discovery is always an exciting thing," says Williams. "It's crucial to continue exploring the unknown so we can properly manage and protect these priceless marine ecosystems in our own backyard." Other new invertebrate species highlights include: five fossil species of ancient urchins and one fossil sand dollar described by invertebrate zoology curator Dr. Rich Mooi, and seven colorful new nudibranchs (sea slugs) described from the world's shallow reefs--including one from California--by longtime invertebrate zoology curator Dr. Terry Gosliner. The Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences is at the forefront of efforts to understand two of the most important topics of our time: the nature and sustainability of life on Earth. Based in San Francisco, the Institute is home to more than 100 world-class scientists, state-of-the-art facilities, and nearly 46 million scientific specimens from around the world. The Institute also leverages the expertise and efforts of more than 100 international Associates and 400 distinguished Fellows. Through expeditions around the globe, investigations in the lab, and analysis of vast biological datasets, the Institute's scientists work to understand the evolution and interconnectedness of organisms and ecosystems, the threats they face around the world, and the most effective strategies for sustaining them into the future. Through innovative partnerships and public engagement initiatives, they also guide critical sustainability and conservation decisions worldwide, inspire and mentor the next generation of scientists, and foster responsible stewardship of our planet.


News Article | December 21, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

The new species is the only coral-reef fish that lives exclusively within the marine protected area, which was recently expanded by the President Today, scientists from the Bishop Museum, NOAA, and the Association for Marine Exploration published the description of a new species of coral-reef fish that they named in honor of President Barack Obama. The fish, which now bears the formal scientific name Tosanoides obama, was discovered during a June 2016 NOAA expedition to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The study is published in the open-access scientific journal ZooKeys. "We decided to name this fish after President Obama to recognize his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment, including the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea," said Richard Pyle, Bishop Museum scientist and lead author of the study. "This expansion adds a layer of protection to one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth." The Museum is currently showcasing the exhibit Journeys: Heritage of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, featuring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Monument. On August 26 of this year, at the urging of Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), conservationists, and many marine scientists, President Obama expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. At 582,578 square miles, it is the largest permanent marine protected area on Earth. On September 1, during his trip to Midway Atoll within the Monument, legendary scientist, conservationist and deep ocean explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle gave the President a photograph of the fish that now bears his name. The exchange will be featured in the National Geographic global broadcast special, "Sea Of Hope" scheduled to be released on January 15, 2017. The small pink and yellow fish is a kind of basslet, a group that includes many colorful reef fishes popular in the marine aquarium fish trade. There are two other species in the genus Tosanoides, both from the tropical northwestern Pacific Ocean. Males of the new species have a distinctive spot on the dorsal fin near the tail, which is blue around the edge and red with yellow stripes in the center. "The spot on the males is reminiscent of President Obama's campaign logo," said Pyle. "It seemed especially appropriate for a fish named in honor of the president." "The new fish is special because it is the only known species of coral-reef fish endemic to the Monument (meaning that the species is found nowhere else on Earth). Our research has documented the highest rate of fish endemism in the world -- 100% -- living on the deep reefs where we found this new species," said NOAA scientist Randall Kosaki, chief scientist of the research cruise, and co-author on the paper. However, unlike all the other Hawaiian endemic species, which also occur in the main Hawaiian Islands, this new species is special because it is the only one that is limited to within the Monument itself. "Endemic species are unique contributions to global biodiversity," Kosaki added. "With the onslaught of climate change, we are at risk of losing some of these undiscovered species before we even know they exist." The new fish was first discovered and collected on a dive to 300 feet at Kure Atoll, 1200 miles northwest of Honolulu. Kure is the northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands, and is the highest latitude coral atoll in the world. Deep coral reefs at depths of 150 to 500 feet, in the so-called "Twilight Zone" (also known as mesophotic coral ecosystems), are among the most poorly explored of all marine ecosystems. Located deeper than divers using conventional scuba gear can safely venture, these reefs represent a new frontier for coral-reef research. Pyle and co-authors Brian Greene and Randall Kosaki pioneered the use of advanced mixed-gas diving systems known as closed-circuit rebreathers for Twilight Zone research, and have been documenting the previously unexplored deep reefs throughout Hawai'i and the broader Pacific for the past three decades. "These deep coral reefs are home to an incredible diversity of fishes, corals, and other marine invertebrates," said Brian Greene, an experienced deep diver and researcher with the Association for Marine Exploration, and co-author of the paper. "There are many new species still waiting to be discovered down there." This is the second new species of fish from Papahānaumokuākea named this year. In August, Pyle and Kosaki published the description of a new species of butterflyfish (Prognathodes basabei) based on specimens collected on deep reefs at Pearl and Hermes Atoll earlier this year. President Obama also has several species from other locales named after him: a trapdoor spider, a speckled freshwater darter (fish), a parasitic hairworm, and an extinct lizard. The new study was published on December 21, 2016, in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, ZooKeys, and is available online at https:/ . Pictures and video of the fish and its habitat can be downloaded, and videos are available on YouTube. Citation: Pyle RL, Greene RD, Kosaki RK (2016) Tosanoides obama, a new basslet (Perciformes, Percoidei, Serranidae) from deep coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. ZooKeys 641: 165-181. https:/ The Bishop Museum was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop in memory of his wife Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a royal descendant of King Kamehameha I. Bishop Museum is proud to be recognized as the principal museum of the Pacific, housing the world's largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific artifacts and natural history specimens. In total, Bishop Museum's collections consist of more than 25 million items including over 22 million biological specimens and more than two million cultural artifacts derived from a legacy of research spanning more than 125 years. These collections also include more than 115,000 historical publications, one million historical photographs, films, works of art, audio recordings and manuscripts. More than 300,000 people visit the Museum each year, including over 40,000 schoolchildren. The exhibit "Journeys: Heritage of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands" is open to the public until January 29, 2017. Live specimens of the new butterflyfish are on public display in the Museum's Science Adventure Center. For more information, please visit http://www. , follow @BishopMuseum on Twitter and Instagram, become a fan of Bishop Museum on Facebook, visit Bishop Museum's YouTube channel at http://www. , or call (808) 847-3511. Papahānaumokuākea is cooperatively managed to ensure ecological integrity and achieve strong, long-term protection and perpetuation of Northwestern Hawaiian Island ecosystems, Native Hawaiian culture, and heritage resources for current and future generations. Three co-trustees - the Department of Commerce, Department of the Interior, and State of Hawai'i - joined by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, protect this special place. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument was inscribed as the first mixed (natural and cultural) UNESCO World Heritage Site in the United States in July 2010. For more information, please visit http://www. . The Association for Marine Exploration (AME) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that conducts and facilitates innovative scientific exploration of undersea environments. Using advanced technologies, AME organizes, funds, and conducts research projects, and collaborates with other research organizations on joint projects. Pensoft is an independent academic publishing company, well known worldwide for its innovations in the field of semantic publishing and for its cutting-edge publishing tools and workflows. Founded in 1992 "by scientists, for the scientists" and initially focusing on book publishing, it has grown to become a leading publisher of innovative open access journals, such as: Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO), ZooKeys, Biodiversity Data Journal, PhytoKeys, MycoKeys, Nature Conservation, NeoBiota, Comparative Cytogenetics, and others. Pensoft has published more than 1,000 books and over 4,000 open access articles, mostly in the field of natural history. Pensoft is a member or partner of several professional publishing organisations and data publishing platforms, including CrossRef, OASPA, PubMedCentral, CLOCKSS, Research Data Alliance (RDA), OpenAIRE, LifeWatch, DataONE, Dryad Data Repository, Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), Encyclopedia of Life (EoL), and others. Pensoft journal content is indexed by: ISI Web of Science, Scopus, BIOSIS, Google Scholar, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Zoological Record, CAB Abstracts, Vifabio, BHL Citebank, Globalnames, JournalMap and others, and is archived in PubMedCentral, CLOCKSS and ZENODO. In 2010, Pensoft was the first publisher to implement semantic tagging and enrichment of published articles as a routine editorial practice. The company is actively developing novel tools, workflows and methods for text and data publication and dissemination of scientific information, as well as technologies for semantic enrichment of content. In 2013, Pensoft launched the first ever, end-to-end, XML-based, authoring, reviewing and publishing workflow, as demonstrated by the Biodiversity Data Journal (BDJ) and the Pensoft Writing Tool (PWT), now upgraded to the ARPHA Publishing Platform. The company has also developed a number of tools for semantic publishing: Pensoft Markup Tool (PMT), Pensoft Taxon Profile (PTP), Pensoft Wiki Converter (PWC), the literature and data discovery tool Refindit.org, and others.


News Article | February 28, 2017
Site: www.sciencemag.org

ABOARD THE HI'IALAKAI NEAR KURE ATOLL—Back in 1986, 19-year-old college dropout Richard Pyle was 75 meters deep in the clear waters off Palau, pursuing a small pink fish with red tiger stripes, when he noticed it seemed hard to breathe. His pressure gauge showed plenty of air in his scuba tank, and at this depth, far below where most scuba divers dare to venture, Pyle was certain the fish would be a species new to science. He caught the fish in his net, then headed up. When he reached 55 meters, though, he couldn't breathe at all. The needle on his gauge, which had apparently been stuck, plunged to zero. Pyle did a rocket ascent, exhaling so his lungs wouldn't burst from expanding gas. As he breached the surface, he was seeing stars, a symptom of shallow-water blackout. He gulped a few breaths and managed to holler to an eminent ichthyologist waiting aboard the boat: "Jack, take a look at this fish!" Because of Pyle's rapid ascent, nitrogen bubbles within his bloodstream and tissues had ballooned in size, tearing flesh and nerves. He had decompression sickness—the bends—and further mishaps delayed treatment. By the end of the day he was paralyzed, unable to control his arm, legs, or bladder. And the fish? It wasn't new to science after all: The ichthyologist, John E. "Jack" Randall of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, had already collected, described, and named it. Reflecting back on the incident 30 years later, Pyle says without a trace of irony: "It was the best day of my life. Everything good in my life can be traced back to that day." Sure, he spent the next 30 days in decompression chambers, worked for weeks to regain use of his limbs, and walked with a cane for more than a year. But in order to get health insurance, he re-enrolled at the University of Hawaii. Once there, he continued on to earn a Ph.D. in ichthyology with Randall as his adviser, and then went to work at the Bishop Museum. His crippling brush with the bends propelled him into the world of technical diving, where he emerged as a pioneering rebreather diver, using the technology to reach greater and greater depths. Today, Pyle is still at the Bishop, working as an associate zoologist, database coordinator, and dive safety officer. But his impact on marine science goes much deeper than those titles suggest. He has carved out a niche as an explorer of the mysterious, dimly lit coral habitat that thrives from about 30 to 150 meters below the surface, in what he calls the Twilight Zone. Shallow reefs, with their brightly colored hard corals and fish, get most of the attention from scientists, conservationists, and the public. But studies of these deeper habitats, technically known as the mesophotic coral ecosystems, have surged lately, in part because they may offer a refuge for species squeezed out of shallower reefs damaged by pollution, overfishing, or global warming. The soft corals that dominate the mesophotic zone host a diverse and colorful community of wrasses, butterflyfishes, damselfishes, mollusks, crustaceans, and other sea creatures. Some of them dwell in both deep and shallow habitats, whereas others specialize in one or the other. Pyle "was really the first to bring deep reefs to the attention of both the science community and the general public," says Pim Bongaerts, a research scientist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Pyle helped develop the specialized diving equipment needed to explore the twilight reefs. He has already discovered more than 100 new fish species there, though he estimates that perhaps 2000 more coral reef fish have yet to be identified. He's driven by a sense of urgency to help science build a card catalog to the world's "biodiversity library," as he calls it, before species are lost to long-term human impacts such as climate change and overfishing. Pyle "does what little kids do: He asks questions and then follows up on them, fearlessly," says Sylvia Earle, former chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who is now president of Mission Blue, a nonprofit advocating ocean conservation in Oakland, California. "He's a true pioneer and a courageous scientist." Identifying and describing the inhabitants of these reefs is just the first step. "We are just beginning to understand what lives there, but we don't know how they feed, how they interact with each other, how they reproduce," Pyle says. Whereas shallow reefs are sustained by photosynthesis, researchers still aren't entirely sure just what energy sources sustain such low-light ecosystems, for example. "Compared to what we know about shallow coral reefs, everything in the deep coral reefs is a big question mark." version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"? Tropical coral reefs extend to a surprising 150 meters below the surface. The brightly lit reefs in the top 30 meters, dominated by scleractinian or stony corals, make up about 20% of coral reef habitat and can be reached by divers using conventional scuba gear. Divers using rebreathers are just begin- ning to explore the remaining 80% of living reef habitat, called the mesophotic coral ecosystem. Four divers were suited up, looking more machine than man with their masks, mouthpieces, wraparound hoses, valves, computer displays, and multiple tanks. Waves bounced them around on a small boat here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a half-dozen kilometers off an atoll more than a week's cruise northwest of Honolulu. They were part of a team of scientists that spent 25 days last spring aboard the NOAA ship Hi'ialakai, diving around the shoals and atolls that stretch 2000 kilometers across the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, encompassing the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Their equipment was nothing like the standard scuba gear Pyle relied on in his disastrous college dive. Instead, they were equipped with rebreathers, which recycle a diver's air, greatly expanding time that can be spent underwater. It is this technology that has opened the twilight reefs to exploration. These reefs are too deep to be safely reached with ordinary scuba gear, and too convoluted to be thoroughly explored by expensive-to-operate submersibles and remotely operated vehicles. Neither land nor sea floor was in sight, just the deep blue in all directions. Three of the divers sweated under the sun in neoprene wetsuits, hoods, and gloves—prepared for the cold that would smack them in stages as they descended through thermoclines to water as chilly as 10°C at depth. One was a cool exception: Pyle looked serene in his customary diving attire of board shorts and a blue, long-sleeve, button-down shirt. Pyle says he has adapted to handle cold with repeated exposure, but his dive partners suspect it may also be related to nerve damage from his teenage diving accident. One longtime dive buddy has seen him emerge from the deep unaware of sea urchin spines stuck in his legs. Somersaulting backward into the sea, the divers descended as fast as possible. At 100 meters down, they would have only 20 minutes on the reefs, given the tight ship schedule and the need for more than 2 hours of decompression stops on the way up. Colorful scleractinian corals basking in sunlight dominated the top 30 meters. These are the familiar coral reefs, built by tiny colonial animals that farm symbiotic algae inside their calcareous skeletons and form mounds, branches, fingers, plates, and encrustations. Recently, researchers have found such stony corals far deeper than expected. For example, in a 20-year assessment of Hawaii's mesophotic coral reefs published in October 2016, Pyle led a team of 16 researchers who documented extensive coral gardens 70 to 90 meters deep off Maui and Kauai. Tens of square kilometers had nearly complete cover by platelike stony corals growing horizontally, presumably to maximize their exposure to light. The researchers also discovered vast fields of deep-dwelling seaweeds, with unique fish and invertebrates living in the thickets. On this day near an atoll, the divers pushed even deeper as the sea around them darkened to indigo. In the twilight, the hard corals gave way to soft gorgonian corals in myriad shapes and sizes, including sea fans, sea feathers, and whips in bushy clusters. Their silhouettes appeared dark until the divers' flashlights revealed their true colors, as bright and diverse as a rainbow. These soft corals are thought to feed on plankton, detritus, or dissolved organic matter, says postdoc Sonia Rowley of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, "but we really don't know what they eat." She suspects they may farm bacteria just as stony corals grow algae. Rowley, who frequently dives with Pyle, is one of the few who study deep-living gorgonians. Most researchers stick to the shallow reefs, where more research dollars flow. What compels scientists to plumb such depths? "It's not thrill seeking," Pyle says. "It's the thrill of discovery. The magic moment comes when I see a fish that no one else has ever seen before." Pyle, a fourth-generation Hawaiian, has been fascinated with fish since his boyhood in Honolulu. He was an active child, and to quiet him, his parents and three older siblings would plunk him down facing their home aquarium. He'd watch the fish for hours, mesmerized. As a preteen he collected fish and met another collector, Randy Kosaki, at an aquarium trade show. The pair began to dive together and continued to collaborate after both earned Ph.D.s from the University of Hawaii. Today, Kosaki is deputy superintendent of Papahānaumokuākea, and together he and Pyle have spent decades exploring the Twilight Zone and documenting its inhabitants. "We call ourselves the fish nerds and fish geeks," Kosaki says. "Rich is the king of fish geeks." On 5 June last year, halfway through the 25-day research cruise, a small pink and yellow basslet caught Pyle's eye as he prowled the sea floor off Kure Atoll. The fish had an unusual eye-shaped orange spot on its dorsal fin, an adaptation to confuse predators. The fish darted under a rock, but Pyle managed to net it before he was out of time and had to begin a slow 2-hour ascent. Later that day, Pyle plopped his tiny, colorful catch in an aquarium tank aboard the NOAA ship. He snapped a picture and emailed it to the world's top tropical fish experts. The list included Randall, who at age 92 is officially retired but still producing papers. "Never saw it," Randall fired back. Pyle's excitement rippled through the ship, as fellow scientists paraded by to see the discovery. The next day, Brian Greene, a longtime deep dive partner, spotted the female of the species in the last minute before he had to begin his ascent. "It was the luckiest collection I've ever been involved in," says Greene, an expert fish collector and a director of the Association for Marine Exploration in Honolulu. Both fish died shortly after coming aboard, probably because the seawater in the aquarium was not chilled. That suited Pyle just fine. Now he had a pair of holotypes, the first specimens of an unknown species. They needed to be pinned to a board, photographed, sampled for DNA, meticulously measured, fixed in formalin, and preserved in alcohol. Once their anatomy and DNA were compared with other species, the little fish could get a name. Pyle's an expert namer: He has named two dozen species in publications and has dozens more in the works. He's also a commissioner of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the arbiter of scientific animal names since 1895. He was recruited for his knowledge of fish taxonomy and to use his database expertise to help modernize the organization, says Ellinor Michel of the Natural History Museum in London. She says Pyle emerged as "the architect and visionary" behind ZooBank, ICZN's online, open-access registry designed to capture all named animals; it's now at more than 175,000 names, or about 10% of the total. For this particular little fish, Pyle and his colleagues hatched a plot. When it was published in December 2016, they named it Tosanoides obama, in appreciation of then-President Barack Obama's decision to quadruple the size of Papahānaumokuākea, making it the world's largest marine protected area. T. obama is just one of hundreds of fish known only in these waters. The recently published review of Hawaii's reefs confirms that in contrast to shallow reefs, the deep habitats have extremely high levels of endemic fish. In the mesophotic zone surrounding Kure Atoll, 100% of fish were endemic to Hawaii—the highest proportion ever documented in the marine world, Kosaki says. Pyle and Kosaki have long puzzled over such high levels of endemism, which they attribute in part to Hawaii's remoteness. They also think it may have arisen because the deep reefs were unaffected by the rise and fall of sea levels during the ice ages. When glaciers grow and oceans shrink, the shallow reefs that sit atop steep-sided atolls go high and dry, triggering die-offs. Then, as sea levels rise again, these reefs are recolonized from larvae elsewhere in the Pacific. But on deep reefs, the habitat simply shifts up and down the steep slopes, allowing inhabitants enough time to evolve into endemic species, Pyle explains. He and Kosaki have assembled a team to test this hypothesis by comparing genetic signatures of species inhabiting deep and shallow reefs. If their hypothesis holds true, species restricted to shallow reefs will show genetic signs of recolonization across the Pacific within the past 20,000 years, whereas species restricted to deeper habitats will have telltale genetic divergences. Pyle typically surfaces last on team dives. He errs on the side of caution these days, allotting extra time for nitrogen and helium to escape his bloodstream. Decades ago, he began to pause his ascent below 30 meters to vent the expanding gas from the swim bladders of fish he was bringing to the surface. If he didn't puncture these buoyancy-control organs with a hypodermic needle, they would expand or burst and the fish would die. What was good for the fish turned out to be good for the fish collector. Pyle published his observation that he had less fatigue when he made such deep stops—now often called "Pyle stops"—which have become common practice on deep dives. In the mid-1990s, Pyle teamed up with Bill Stone, president and CEO of Austin-based Stone Aerospace, to improve the company's Poseidon rebreathers. Stone works on outer space vehicles for NASA but also probes the depths of Earth by mounting expeditions to the world's deepest caves, which invariably means deep diving in hard-to-reach places. So he began to design and engineer lighter weight rebreathers. A closed-circuit rebreather works by scrubbing carbon dioxide from exhaled air as it is recycled and then injecting fresh doses of oxygen into the gas mixture, which typically also includes nitrogen and helium. The trick is figuring out how much oxygen. "If you go too low, you go hypoxic and die," Stone says. "If you go too high, the oxygen level becomes poisonous and you will suffer a grand mal seizure. That simple question has been the cause of many of the 200 to 300 rebreather deaths in the past 20 years." Pyle has a rare talent for poring over data and spotting patterns, Stone says. "It was Rich who went through tens of thousands of [rebreather dive] records, teasing out something from big data that no one has ever caught," he says. Essentially, Pyle developed a lie detector test for the allimportant oxygen sensor, so that the system will adjust for any misread. All of this is merely the price of admission to explore where few others go. Although rebreather divers pay meticulous attention to their gauges and gear, they live for the precious minutes they spend at depth. Pyle and Greene almost always record their dives on video cameras attached to their rebreather rigs, whether documenting the capture of T. obama or swimming through swarms of fish that billow like a murmuration. Divers can get closer to fish on rebreathers because they are quieter than traditional scuba and release no bubbles. When on land, Pyle loves to regale audiences with vivid descriptions of this twilight world. Back in 2008, he was engaged in one of these unbridled bursts of enthusiasm at a dinner in Paris, recounting how a vast school of brilliant blue damselfishes swam by like sparkling jewels at a depth of 120 meters off Palau. At one point, his dinner companion held up a hand to interrupt the flow. "I have to stop you," said evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University. "What an honor it is to be in the presence of a true naturalist."


News Article | September 4, 2016
Site: www.techtimes.com

In honor of his contributions to marine life conservation in Hawaii, a newly discovered fish species will be named after U.S. President Barack Obama. On Thursday, Sept. 1, the Hawaii-born president visited the tiny historical island of Midway Atoll to draw attention to the conservation of the region against climate change. Midway Atoll is a remote coral reef prominent for being a battleground during the Second World War, and is now the home of seabirds, sea turtles and monk seals. "I look forward to knowing that ... 100 years from now, this is a place where people can still come to and see," Obama tells The Guardian. Just days before, the White House announced plans to create the largest marine reserve off the coast of Hawaii. The proposal includes the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea (pronounced "Papa-ha-now-moh-koo-ah-kay-ah") Marine National Monument so that it will cover 582,578 square miles of land and sea. The newly discovered, colorful fish species in the genus Tosanoides was found 300 feet deep in the waters off Kure Atoll by a team of scientists in June. Kure Atoll is the world's northernmost coral atoll and is among the jewels of Papahānaumokuākea because the 17 genera and 22 species residing there only exist in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Kure Atoll also has the highest marine endemism rate ever recorded, according to the National Geographic. During a research dive to Kure, Hawaii-based marine biologist Richard Pyle discovered the tiny 1.5-inch long fish. Pyle says he was underwater when he first caught a glimpse of a group of orange-pink fish he did not recognize. A few minutes later, Pyle collected a male specimen for study. A female fish was collected a few days after by Brian Greene, a Bishop Museum affiliate. Pyle and his team then confirmed that the fish is a new species. It is the first member of the genus Tosanoides located outside of Japan, researchers say. What's more, the maroon and gold fish is considered the only known fish to live within Papahānaumokuākea, making it "very special." When asked why the scientists named the fish after the president, Pyle says, "It just seemed like the perfect fit." Furthermore, Pyle says the male fish's dorsal fin coloration — circular red spot with blue — reminded them of the current president's previous campaign logo. And on Thursday, during Obama's visit to Midway Atoll, he was presented with a framed plaque of his new namesake, given by National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle. In the meantime, Pyle and colleagues plan to publish a formal description of the new species and its official name later this year, but they will not reveal the moniker in print until then. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | December 21, 2016
Site: phys.org

"We decided to name this fish after President Obama to recognize his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment, including the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea," said Richard Pyle, Bishop Museum scientist and lead author of the study. "This expansion adds a layer of protection to one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth." The Museum is currently showcasing the exhibit Journeys: Heritage of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, featuring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Monument. On August 26 of this year, at the urging of Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), conservationists, and many marine scientists, President Obama expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. At 582,578 square miles, it is the largest permanent marine protected area on Earth. On September 1, during his trip to Midway Atoll within the Monument, legendary scientist, conservationist and deep ocean explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle gave the President a photograph of the fish that now bears his name. The exchange will be featured in the National Geographic global broadcast special, "Sea Of Hope" scheduled to be released on January 15, 2017. The small pink and yellow fish is a kind of basslet, a group that includes many colorful reef fishes popular in the marine aquarium fish trade. There are two other species in the genus Tosanoides, both from the tropical northwestern Pacific Ocean. Males of the new species have a distinctive spot on the dorsal fin near the tail, which is blue around the edge and red with yellow stripes in the center. "The spot on the males is reminiscent of President Obama's campaign logo," said Pyle. "It seemed especially appropriate for a fish named in honor of the president." "The new fish is special because it is the only known species of coral-reef fish endemic to the Monument (meaning that the species is found nowhere else on Earth). Our research has documented the highest rate of fish endemism in the world—100%—living on the deep reefs where we found this new species," said NOAA scientist Randall Kosaki, chief scientist of the research cruise, and co-author on the paper. However, unlike all the other Hawaiian endemic species, which also occur in the main Hawaiian Islands, this new species is special because it is the only one that is limited to within the Monument itself. "Endemic species are unique contributions to global biodiversity," Kosaki added. "With the onslaught of climate change, we are at risk of losing some of these undiscovered species before we even know they exist." The new fish was first discovered and collected on a dive to 300 feet at Kure Atoll, 1200 miles northwest of Honolulu. Kure is the northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands, and is the highest latitude coral atoll in the world. Deep coral reefs at depths of 150 to 500 feet, in the so-called "Twilight Zone" (also known as mesophotic coral ecosystems), are among the most poorly explored of all marine ecosystems. Located deeper than divers using conventional scuba gear can safely venture, these reefs represent a new frontier for coral-reef research. Pyle and co-authors Brian Greene and Randall Kosaki pioneered the use of advanced mixed-gas diving systems known as closed-circuit rebreathers for Twilight Zone research, and have been documenting the previously unexplored deep reefs throughout Hawai'i and the broader Pacific for the past three decades. "These deep coral reefs are home to an incredible diversity of fishes, corals, and other marine invertebrates," said Brian Greene, an experienced deep diver and researcher with the Association for Marine Exploration, and co-author of the paper. "There are many new species still waiting to be discovered down there." This is the second new species of fish from Papahānaumokuākea named this year. In August, Pyle and Kosaki published the description of a new species of butterflyfish (Prognathodes basabei) based on specimens collected on deep reefs at Pearl and Hermes Atoll earlier this year. President Obama also has several species from other locales named after him: a trapdoor spider, a speckled freshwater darter (fish), a parasitic hairworm, and an extinct lizard. Explore further: Scientists discover a new deep-reef Butterflyfish species in Papahanaumokuakea Monument More information: Richard L. Pyle et al, Tosanoides obama, a new basslet (Perciformes, Percoidei, Serranidae) from deep coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, ZooKeys (2016). DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.641.11500


News Article | December 22, 2016
Site: www.treehugger.com

The new species endemic to the marine protected area expanded by Obama was named in honor of his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment. Sure, presidents get bridges and libraries and highways named after them – but how many get an animal named in their honor? Now that's a legacy. And that's what just happened for President Obama when scientists named a new fish in honor of the president. In the summer of 2016 Obama expanded Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to a whopping 582,578 square miles, making it the largest permanent marine protected area on Earth. The new fish, Tosanoides Obama, is from the area. "We decided to name this fish after President Obama to recognize his efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment, including the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea," says Richard Pyle, Bishop Museum scientist and lead author of the study. "This expansion adds a layer of protection to one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth." The description of the new species was published by scientists from the Bishop Museum, NOAA, and the Association for Marine Exploration. The small pink and yellow fish is a kind of basslet and was discovered during a June 2016 NOAA expedition to Papahānaumokuākea. It was collected at 300 feet below the surface at Kure Atoll, the northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands – it is the highest latitude coral atoll on the planet. "The new fish is special because it is the only known species of coral-reef fish endemic to the Monument (meaning that the species is found nowhere else on Earth). Our research has documented the highest rate of fish endemism in the world – 100% – living on the deep reefs where we found this new species," says NOAA scientist Randall Kosaki, chief scientist of the research cruise, and co-author on the paper. Yet unlike the other endemic species in the Hawaiian Islands, this new species stands out because it is the only one that lives exclusively within the Monument itself. "Endemic species are unique contributions to global biodiversity," Kosaki adds. "With the onslaught of climate change, we are at risk of losing some of these undiscovered species before we even know they exist." And while this is such a wonderful honor, it isn’t a first for Obama. As it stands now, there is also a trapdoor spider, a speckled freshwater darter fish, a parasitic hairworm, and an extinct lizard all bearing the name of Obama – a president whose legacy will transcend history books as it sneaks into biology books as well.


News Article | March 28, 2016
Site: news.yahoo.com

Skeleton of Synemporion keana in situ on the floor near the lower end of Ma?hiehie Cave. More Hawaii just doubled the number of known land mammal species that are native to the islands, thanks to the discovery of a number of fossils representing a tiny bat named Synemporion keana. Found in 13 cave sites over five islands — Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui and Hawaii —the fossils described in a new study represent at least 110 individuals and reveal a bat that was notably different from the only other land mammal species that is endemic to Hawaii — the Hawaiian hoary bat. In fact, combinations of the new bat's physical features were so unique that the scientists determined it was a new genus in the bat family tree, as well as a new species. [Photos: The Creatures That Call Lava-Tube Caves Home] S. keana probably measured about 2 inches (5 centimeters) long, with a skull length of about 0.4 inches (1 cm), the scientists reported. Many of S. keana's bones were found in the same locations as hoary bat fossils, suggesting to scientists that the bats shared habitats. But the new bat came to the islands much earlier than the hoary bat, arriving about 320,000 years ago, the researchers found, while the hoary bat's arrival dates back no more than 10,000 years. The bats coexisted for thousands of years until S. keana went extinct about 1,100 years ago, likely because of human colonization and the introduction of invasive species, the study authors suggested. It was 1981 when entomologist Francis Howarth, one of the study's co-authors, discovered near-complete skeletons of the bat on Maui. A distinguished research associate in natural sciences at Hawaii's Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Howarth told Live Science that he was investigating the fauna, evolution and ecology of Hawaiian lava tubes — expansive, cavelike channels formed by flowing lava beneath hardened lava crusts. [Photos of a Rising Lava Lake in Hawaii] In one cave, he noticed something unusual — a small skeleton embedded in the wall. The tiny bones were overgrown with mineral crystals, "So I knew it was very, very old," Howarth said. He gathered several more accessible specimens from the cave floor, including a near-complete skeleton, and brought them to the late Alan Ziegler, a mammalogist colleague at the Bishop Museum and co-author of the new study. Howarth recalled that Ziegler already suspected the existence of a "mystery species" that had once lived on the islands, based on assorted individual bones that were discovered over time. Scientists were able to tell that — whatever this animal was — it was smaller than the hoary bat. But no skulls had been found, and there weren't enough of any other bones for scientists to identify the animal they belonged to. All of that changed with Howarth's discovery. Now that Ziegler had a near-complete skeleton as a frame of reference, individual bones found in other locations began to fall into place. Ziegler's death in 2003 temporarily suspended work on the project, which resumed with the participation of Nancy Simmons, curator-in-charge in the mammalogy department at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who joined the investigation in 2006. Simmons, who studies living and fossil bats, told Live Science that S. keana's skull shape — with "a distinct forehead" — told them right away that they were looking at a different species from the hoary bat, which doesn't have a well-defined forehead. But no single feature placed S. keana in a new genus. Rather, it was a mosaic of features that don't appear together in any other known bat species: a particular number of teeth, a certain shape in the molars and skull, and specific proportions of bones in their wings. "Compared across all other genera of known bats, this particular combination doesn't appear in any of them," Simmons said. While the isolated Hawaiian Islands are known to host a diverse array of birds and invertebrates, until now, the number of its native mammalian land fauna could be counted not just with one hand, but on one finger. The discovery of S. keana, which doubles the number of endemic Hawaiian land animals, is a surprise that carries an important lesson about diversity, Simmons said. "It just goes to show that you may think that you know what the diversity of something like an island fauna was like," she said. "Fossils can provide new information, which can be really interesting. And the fossil record of all mammals is always full of surprises." The findings were published online March 21 in the journal American Museum Novitates. Follow Mindy Weisberger on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


News Article | December 21, 2016
Site: phys.org

Proving that our planet contains unexplored places with never-before-recorded plants and animals (with their own set of evolving viruses), the scientists made their finds over five continents and three oceans, ventured into vast deserts, plunged beneath the sea, and scoured thick rainforests and towering mountain ranges. Their results help advance the Academy's mission to explore, explain, and sustain life on Earth. "Biodiversity scientists estimate that we have discovered less than 10% of the species on our planet," says Dr. Shannon Bennett, Academy Chief of Science. "Academy scientists tirelessly explore the lesser-known regions of Earth—not only to discover new species, but also to uncover the importance of these species to the health of our natural systems. Each of these species, known and as-yet-unknown, is a wonder unto itself but may also hold the key to ground-breaking innovations in science, technology, or society. Species live together in rich networks that thrive on complexity whether we can see it or not. Even the tiniest organism," she adds, "can be beautiful and important." Below are a few highlights among the 133 species described by the Academy in 2016. One pink-and-yellow fish has earned its spot in deep reef history. Grammatonotus brianne—an eye-popping species of groppo—is the deepest new fish discovery ever made by human hands. The discovery was captured on film at 487 feet beneath the ocean's surface. Academy scientists are currently diving to twilight zone reefs around the world. In these narrow bands of deep reefs, animals live in partial darkness, well beyond recreational diving limits yet above the deep trenches patrolled by submarines and ROVs. Reaching extreme depths requires Academy divers and their collaborators to push the boundaries of both technology and the human body, using closed-circuit "rebreathers" that extend the amount of time they can spend underwater. The new groppo is one of several new species discoveries made during an Academy expedition (along with research partners from Hawaii's Bishop Museum) to the Philippines in 2014—part of an ongoing, multi-year exploration of the Coral Triangle's biological treasures from the shallows to deep mesophotic "twilight zone" reefs 200 to 500 feet beneath the ocean surface. Deep-diving Academy ichthyologist Dr. Luiz Rocha and Bishop Museum research associate Brian Greene spotted the neon groppo (later named G. brianne for Greene's wife) during a murky, cold dive in the Philippine Verde Island Passage, a region known as the "center of the center" of Earth's marine biodiversity. "This groppo is the most beautiful fish I've ever seen," says Rocha, a co-leader of the Academy's monumental push to explore, explain, and sustain coral reefs around the world. "But beyond its looks, it's a reminder that we know very little about the mysterious half-lit reefs we call the twilight zone. We need to understand the life inside these largely-unexplored deeper reefs because they may help us understand how the oceans respond to great change." G. brianne joins 24 new species of fishes—from camouflaging gobies to lanternsharks of the Indian Ocean—described by Academy scientists in 2016 alone. 43 new ants (and a crowd of blood-sucking "Draculas") Dr. Brian Fisher, Academy curator of entomology and real-life "Ant Man," recently added a whopping 43 new species to the tree of life. Fisher is a fierce advocate for the importance of small animals that support all terrestrial communities, and has devoted his life to the study of ants and biodiversity. Since 1996, he has conducted fieldwork in Madagascar—where only 10% of natural habitat remains—to explore regional biodiversity and generate data to drive conservation priorities in the country. "Our work in Madagascar focuses on determining which ants live where as we develop new field guides as tools for diagnosing and understanding conservation problems," Fisher says. "It's not just about generating data—we are trying to create a culture of interest in the natural world, from the smallest ant to the tallest tree." Several of this year's finds belong to a group called Stigmatomma—"Dracula ants" that build tiny, few-chambered colonies (generally no larger than a dime) beneath the soil. In a bizarre but fascinating means of distributing nutrients throughout the colony, ants from this group are known to wound their colonies' babies before drinking their blood—a substance called "hemolymph" in insects. An elongated jaw with two large pincers also allows the ants to grasp prey mostly comprised of centipedes, but also beetle larvae. "Because these ants are so rarely collected, finding them is like uncovering buried treasure," says Flavia Esteves, a postdoctoral researcher at the Academy who has joined Fisher in the field since 2010. Most Stigmatomma species spend the entirety of their lives beneath the soil or inside rotten logs. Esteves cuts through Madagascar's clay-like soil with a machete, and then uses a pocket knife—and finally, forceps—to carefully expose the ants. "In an island like Madagascar where human activities are destroying sensitive habitats, understanding specialized species such as Stigmatomma is even more important. We fear that the unique environmental niche they occupy will go unfilled once these ants are gone," says Esteves. "We still have so much to learn from these specialized soil dwellers," adds Fisher. Fisher recently returned from a nine-month expedition to Mozambique, accompanied by Esteves, as part of a Fulbright Scholar Grant to study ants and climate. His work in Madagascar (including founding the country's first and only biodiversity research center) and Mozambique continue to provide conservation partners with a wealth of new biodiversity data and monitoring aids to inform future land-use planning. All around us, insects flit, hover, and buzz about, but one family—the bee flies (Bombyliidae sp.)—may cause passersby to look twice. The nearly 5,000 species that make up this fly group imitate a wide range of relatives, from delicate honey bees to menacing wasps and spiders. "Don't be deceived by stripes or fuzzy adornments," says fly-expert Dr. Michelle Trautwein, Academy curator of entomology: insects from this group are all flies. A new species from Madagascar was recently discovered as part of a collaborative project between the Academy and the Schlinger Foundation to document the country's diversity of insects and their close relatives. Named Thevenetimyia spinosavus (which translates to "thorny grandfather"), this gray-haired bee fly was discovered by Natalia Maass, who worked with Trautwein for two summers as an undergraduate intern. While examining specimens under the microscope, Maass noticed one quite unlike the rest. "He was longer and more slender than other bee flies, with big spikes on his thorax and longer, gray bristly hairs," says Trautwein, describing why Natalia granted it its grandparent moniker. What's more, this stubbled bee fly was completely isolated from any other species within the same relative group. Similar species of bee fly are found in Northern Africa and North America—both a long way from Madagascar—meaning this "thorny grandfather" is part of a group with an incredibly wide distribution. No matter where they're found, adult bee flies spend their time pollinating nearby plants. But as larvae, they prey viciously upon the larvae of other species. Adult bee flies will deposit their larvae in an aerial raid: dropping them from above to land in strategic locations where they can hatch, invade a nearby nest, and consume larvae of other insect colonies before growing up to be gentler, flower-visiting—rather than larvae-poaching—adults. "An important piece of this project was being able to support a young woman in science so devoted to learning the language of species anatomy and descriptions," says Trautwein. "Watching Natalia grow and become a graduate student gives me great confidence in the young scientists who will continue to contribute to natural history collections—our best snapshots of biodiversity in the face of great change." This year, scientists uncovered a fascinating new clue in the global mystery surrounding wild birds with grossly deformed beaks. Dr. Jack Dumbacher, Academy curator of ornithology and mammalogy—alongside a team of researchers from UCSF and USGS—identified a new virus that has been linked to Avian Keratin Disorder (AKD), a disease responsible for debilitating beak overgrowth and whose cause has remained elusive despite more than a decade of research. This new virus—identified from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest—is being investigated as a potential cause of AKD and represents a critical step in understanding the emergence of this disease in wild bird populations around the world. "Take one look at a bird suffering from Avian Keratin Disorder, and you'll understand the importance of stopping its spread," says Dumbacher. "Birds must be able to feed themselves and preen their plumage by carefully spreading waterproofing oils on their feathers. When deformed beaks restrict them from these life-giving activities, birds become cold, hungry, and often die. We're trying to understand the causes, origins, and distribution of this disorder." After sifting through hundreds of thousands of DNA fragments (and comparing them to known virus groups among birds), scientists identified a new virus suspect belonging to the picornavirus family—a large and diverse group that includes well-known human offenders like polio, hepatitis A, and the common cold. The team named their discovery Poecivirus after the genus of black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) from which the sequences originated, and in which AKD was first documented. Though more research is necessary to establish Poecivirus definitively as the main cause of AKD, it remains the strongest lead yet. As part of the new virus description, the team generated a detailed map of Poecivirus' genetic material—a tool that will enable scientists all over the world to aid in its identification among birds exhibiting clinical signs of AKD. A fleet of beetles from Africa and China After more than a dozen combined expeditions to the damp rainforests of Madagascar and cloud-kissed mountains of southwestern China, Dr. Dave Kavanaugh—Academy emeritus curator of entomology—is sharing 36 exciting new discoveries. Ground beetles are a wildly diverse group of winged and wingless predators that feast on other insects, and some are known to survive in extreme environments around the world. Twenty-six of Kavanaugh's recent species discoveries hail from Madagascar's Ranomafana National Park—an area of lush tropical rainforest stretching nearly 160 square miles across the southwestern portion of the island. During one 5-week expedition, Kavanaugh's daughter Kathryn (for whom he later named a beetle Chlaenius kathrynae) assisted him in the field by searching for species of ground beetles in the leaf litter. "The first few days of one Madagascar expedition were dry as a bone, making the rainforest insects very hard to find," says Kavanaugh. "And then the rains came. It poured day and night for the next month. We worked through the storms with jungle rot on our feet from the constant damp." The rain led to the successful collection of many new beetle species, including flat-backed, fungi- and log-dwelling Eurydera oracle, named in honor of generous expedition support provided by Oracle. Several additional new species (including three new genera) are described from the Gaoligong Mountains of China's Yunnan Province, a region where extreme physical geography has caused a jaw-dropping array of species to evolve over millennia. Since 1998, Kavanaugh and his colleagues have trekked mountains packed with endemic species—those found nowhere else in the world. Scientists view the region as an isolated paleoenvironment, or an area that (due to its location) has remained relatively unchanged for millions of years. In less than two decades, the team has grown the list of the area's known ground beetles from 50 to 550 species. Kavanaugh collaborates with local Chinese colleagues on the China Natural History Project to document the vast array of ground beetles and other animals and plants still being discovered in this isolated region. "Due to the restricted range and specialization of these insects, they are often some of the first to indicate significant changes to regional climate and biodiversity," says Kavanaugh, "which is why it's so important that we learn all about the life around us. You never know what clues even the smallest insects underfoot may hold to the rhythms of life on this planet." Amid outcroppings of granite in the arid, sloping lowlands of southern Angola, a newly discovered species of lizard wedges itself into particularly tight crevices, head-first. Only threatening spines are left exposed along its body and tail to deter approaching predators. Despite this clever maneuver, there was no escaping discovery by Dr. Edward Stanley, Academy herpetology research associate, who suspected this particular lizard might differ from known species in the area. Stanley formally described this new species of armored lizard with the aid of CT scans, a type of imaging technology that combines a series of x-rays to reveal information about the lizard's uniquely armored body. Scans revealed that the tiny, bony spikes of Cordylus namakuiyus are actually embedded in the lizard's skin rather than attached to the skeleton itself. "CT technology allowed us to visualize and measure the armoring structure in this new lizard species," says Stanley. "This is also the first time a 3D digital representation of a newly described species is freely available to download as part of a species description." The species discovery—the result of a joint expedition between the Academy and partner institutions in Angola—represents a strong collaborative step towards exploring the region's extreme natural landscape. "Not much is known about Angolan species of armored lizards," says Stanley, "particularly in remote or inaccessible parts of the country, so we are excited to be exploring this biologically rich area." Just north of San Francisco off California's coastline, countless species thrive in the deep, chilly waters that make up the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary—one of the most biologically productive regions on the planet. Here, scientists use remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, to explore life beneath the surface. On a 2012 expedition with NOAA, octocoral expert and Academy curator of invertebrate zoology Gary Williams set off aboard the R/V Fulmar to investigate vibrant offshore life down to 1,400 feet deep. Among the sea stars, sea worms, snails, sponges, and crabs, Williams saw a single, whip-like stalk—only 15 inches in length—of a snow-white coral gently swaying in the ocean currents. Unlike the hard coral relatives that compose the famous tropical reefs closer to the ocean's surface, this soft-bodied coral species stands alone at depth and feeds on microscopic plankton floating through the water column. Even before its formal description, the new species—now named Swiftia farallonesica after its sanctuary home—served as a brilliant symbol of the region's ecological importance, and helped strengthen the case for sanctuary expansion. In March 2015, NOAA ensured these sanctuaries would be protected for years to come by more than doubling their size and adding strict industry regulations on commercial fishing as well as a ban on all drilling, mining, and ship discharges. The expansion added 2,700 square miles of protected territory, reaching up to Point Arena in Mendocino County. "Discovery is always an exciting thing," says Williams. "It's crucial to continue exploring the unknown so we can properly manage and protect these priceless marine ecosystems in our own backyard." Other new invertebrate species highlights include: five fossil species of ancient urchins and one fossil sand dollar described by invertebrate zoology curator Dr. Rich Mooi, and seven colorful new nudibranchs (sea slugs) described from the world's shallow reefs—including one from California—by longtime invertebrate zoology curator Dr. Terry Gosliner. Explore further: Tiny Dracula ants hunting underground in Madagascar and the Seychelles More information: WILLIAM D., JR. ANDERSON et al, Grammatonotus brianne, a new callanthiid fish from Philippine waters, with short accounts of two other Grammatonotus from the Coral Triangle, Zootaxa (2016). DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.4173.3.7


Evenhuis N.L.,Bishop Museum
ZooKeys | Year: 2016

The first few words of the title of this symposium are “Anchoring Biodiversity Information”. In order to properly anchor anything for a long-lasting future, a solid foundation needs to have been laid. For the zoological portion of biodiversity information, that firm foundation is best exemplified in the works of Charles Davies Sherborn. This man, like others of his ilk, was intimately focused on indexing names. This incredible focus was a life-long passion for him and culminated in his 9500-page Index Animalium of over 400,000 names of animals. This Index represents not only one of the most prodigious efforts in publication by a single man and the single most important reference to names in zoology, but a permanent legacy to the efforts of an indexer that proved to be an inspiration to many. © Neal L. Evenhuis.


Scientists from NOAA and the Bishop Museum have published a description of a new species of butterflyfish from deep reefs of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The study was published today in the scientific journal ZooKeys.

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