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First census of Australian coral reef polychaetes

By: Rebecca Hancock, Category: Science, Date: 03 Sep 2009

To learn more about the types and distributions of polychaete species inhabiting Australia’s coral reefs, Museum scientists are conducting a census, using specimens from museum collections and new material to be collected during expeditions in 2009.

Polychaete Bispira manicata

Gary Cranitch © Gary Cranitch

Talk to a scientist working with polychaetes and you will be regaled with stories of their beauty. It may seem surprising, given that these creatures are humble marine worms, until you see them, their delicate tendrils weaving an array of colourful patterns and surprising forms. But beyond their appearance these abundant and diverse marine invertebrates play an important role in coral reef ecology.

To learn more about the types and distributions of polychaete species inhabiting Australia’s coral reefs, Museum scientists are conducting a census, using specimens from museum collections and new material to be collected during expeditions in 2009.

‘The polychaete census will provide important baseline information for tracking future changes to populations on the reefs’, said project leader Dr Pat Hutchings, a senior marine invertebrate researcher at the Australian Museum.

A Museum postdoctoral research fellow on the project team, Dr Maria Capa, added: ‘This sort of biodiversity data is critical for managing Australian coral reefs, which are increasingly threatened by climate change and other anthropogenic factors’.

In May this year, Drs Hutchings and Capa joined a group of more than 30 researchers, photographers and others on an expedition to Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia, as part of the project field work. They sampled polychaete species and recorded data about their range extensions, distribution patterns and habitat preferences.

Using morphological and molecular techniques, the researchers will identify new species and describe selected families. They will also compare specimens from Ningaloo with those from sites on the Great Barrier Reef to study population connectivity between the east and west coasts of Australia.

The project will result in a checklist and updated interactive keys of the polychaete species from Australian coral reefs. These resources will become available through the Atlas of Living Australia website and other online portals once the census is complete.

Funding

This project is funded through the Australian Government’s National Taxonomy Research Grant Program and Australian node of the CReefs Project, part of the Census of Marine Life.

Project Team

Australian Museum

  • Dr Pat Hutchings
  • Dr Maria Capa

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

  • Dr Chris Glasby
  • Ms Charlotte Watson

Charles Darwin University

  • Dr Vivian Wei
  • Dr Karen Gibb

 

Tags Polychaete census, Polychaetes, biodiversity, Australian coral reefs, Pat Hutchings, Maria Capa, CReefs, Census of Marine Life,