Dr Mark Erdmann chanced earlier this year on what has since been named a Lady Elliot shrimp goby, a species previously unknown to science. He had been scuba diving in the hope of seeing manta rays off Lady Elliot Island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef at the time.
Erdmann’s find was just one of 153 new animal, plant and fungi species discovered by researchers from the San Francisco-based California Academy of Sciences (CAS) and their collaborators across six continents and four oceans in 2023, according to the institution’s annual report.
Among the sea-dwelling species, their discoveries included 20 sea slugs, 13 sea stars (mostly deep-sea species from Antarctica), five fish (including three gobies described by Erdmann and David Greenfield) and a sea snail.
Shrimp gobies, shallow-water reef fish that live on sandy seabeds near coral reefs, have a symbiotic relationship with alpheid snapping shrimp, which excavate burrows in the sand while the gobies act as look-outs for predators.
“Describing a new species is truly a collaborative process, and we often involve a geneticist to test fin-ray clips – that’s enough to do DNA ‘barcoding’, which helps us place animals on the tree of life,” says Erdmann of the modern process of describing new species.
Barcoding is the process of analysing tiny snippets of a specimen’s genes. “It’s not always accurate, but it helps confirm the differences and unique traits that we can observe with our eyes, such as colour or iridescence,” says Erdmann. The Lady Elliot goby (Tomiyamichthys elliotensis) is described in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation.
“These fishes live fast, breed fast and die fast,” says Erdmann of the shrimp goby, “but the same stressors that affect more charismatic species – climate change, habitat degradation, and pollution – are likely affecting these smaller fishes too.”
Although the researcher says that animals such as shrimp gobies are less of a conservation concern than larger, more iconic species, for the first time ichthyologists are convening to formally assess such fishes’ conservation status next spring.
“This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, which has been directly responsible for saving hundreds of species,” says CAS executive director Dr Scott Sampson. “Yet a million more species remain imperilled due to human-driven activities like habitat destruction, climate change, and pollution.
“We must document the Earth’s living diversity so that we can work to protect it, and the California Academy of Sciences is honoured to take part in this critical global effort.
“Additionally, we must aim beyond protection toward regeneration, boosting the health and resilience of ecosystems for future generations of humans and non-humans alike.”
The California Academy of Sciences has a public aquarium, planetarium and natural history museum alongside its Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability research and environmental education facility all under one roof in Golden Gate Park.
Also on Divernet: Sea-slug supremo tags 14 new nudis, Coral-survival project offers hope in Roatan, Ghost-fishing means plastics infest deep coral, CCR divers surface with deep-reef discovery, Coral DNA reveals who's the daddy