Red shrimp, unique habitats disappearing

Dec 20, 2010 By Miles O'Brien

"As a child in Hawaii, I grew up exploring. Those experiences shaped my direction and interest in science," recalls molecular biologist Scott Santos. He remembers playing along the shore and swimming in the ponds imbedded in lava rocks.

Santos later learned that these special pools contain organisms found only in that environment. Among the marine life he remembers swimming beneath his feet were hundreds of these tiny red shrimp. Ultimately, Santos grew up and became a , and his life came full circle when he decided to study these unusual shrimp and the extraordinary environment they call home.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Small as they are, the shrimp just might be the perfect pet, Santos says, because they can live in a tank for years and never need food or even a change of water, as long as they get a little sunshine. "Economically, they are being sold as aquarium pets, but culturally, these were organisms used by the native peoples, either in fishing or in stories," explains Santos.

In fact, the shrimp are the stuff of legend. According to Hawaiian folklore, the reddish-colored crustaceans showed up en masse after a jealous Maui prince murdered his young wife. "The waters turned red with these tiny shrimp, known as öpae 'ula," he says.

Already, Santos and his team are discovering there is more to the hardy red shrimp than he realized. "We started looking at one species of shrimp and what we've found is that we can identify eight potential species based on their genetics."

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Santos and his team at Auburn University are studying how the shrimp, along with other organisms, thrive in harsh, brackish pools of water.

Their habitats, known as anchialine environments, occur very close to the shoreline. This ecosystem shares a connection to the ocean as well as groundwater. There are only about 1,000 known in the world; 600 of which are in the Hawaiian Islands.

"The waters in the anchialine pools undergo wide swings in temperature, salinity and exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun," explains Santos. "They are considered extreme environments and there has been a lot of interest in looking at things like microbes from extreme environments because they might hold potential applied value to human welfare."

But, these inland lava depressions are disappearing, along with their unique inhabitants. "They are starting to vanish very, very quickly. Unfortunately, shoreline development is growing uncontrollably in so we're losing a lot of habitat," notes Santos.

So, it's a race against the clock to identify and study the legendary red shrimp and other creatures that manage to survive in this environment before it's gone.

"I love working on this. We're very interested in understanding what's going on with this ecosystem that is characterized by these little shrimp, and there are many things we're starting to discover," Santos adds. "It feels good knowing that my nieces and nephews might benefit from the work I'm doing to help preserve these ecosystems for future generations."

Explore further: Invasive vines swallow up New York's natural areas

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Tiny Shrimp Help to Fine-Tune National Defense

May 10, 2006

Research being conducted by UMaine researcher Peter Jumars of the Darling Marine Center and UMaine School of Marine Sciences has created an unlikely pairing between the U.S. Department of Defense and a tiny ocean-going creature ...

Tiny shrimp species found in Pa. river

Aug 24, 2006

(AP) -- Biologists have discovered a species of shrimp in the Monongahela River for the first time, a discovery the scientists say is evidence that the river's water quality is improving.

Oldest fossil shrimp preserved with muscles

Nov 09, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- One of America’s favorite seafood is shrimp. Did you know that they fossilize as well? Rodney Feldmann and Carrie Schweitzer (both Kent State University) report on the oldest fossil shrimp ...

Shrimp species latest Great Lakes invader

Dec 25, 2006

An invader shrimp, hopping a ride on an overseas freighter, has entered the Great Lakes, fulfilling an 8-year-old prediction by Canadian researchers.

US closes shrimping near oil spill as 'precaution'

Nov 25, 2010

US authorities Wednesday closed to shrimping a section of the Gulf of Mexico near the area of a massive oil spill this year as a precautionary measure after a commercial shrimper found tar balls in his net.

Recommended for you

Invasive vines swallow up New York's natural areas

6 hours ago

(Phys.org) —When Antonio DiTommaso, a Cornell weed ecologist, first spotted pale swallow-wort in 2001, he was puzzled by it. Soon he noticed many Cornell old-field edges were overrun with the weedy vines. ...

Citizen scientists match research tool when counting sharks

21 hours ago

Shark data collected by citizen scientists may be as reliable as data collected using automated tools, according to results published April 23, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Gabriel Vianna from The University of Wes ...

Researchers detail newly discovered deer migration

Apr 23, 2014

A team of researchers including University of Wyoming scientists has documented the longest migration of mule deer ever recorded, the latest development in an initiative to understand and conserve ungulate ...

How Australia got the hump with one million feral camels

Apr 23, 2014

A new study by a University of Exeter researcher has shed light on how an estimated one million-strong population of wild camels thriving in Australia's remote outback have become reviled as pests and culled ...

Former Iron Curtain still barrier for deer

Apr 23, 2014

The Iron Curtain was traced by an electrified barbed-wire fence that isolated the communist world from the West. It was an impenetrable Cold War barrier—and for some inhabitants of the Czech Republic it ...

Humpback protections downgrade clears way for pipeline

Apr 22, 2014

Environmentalist activists on Tuesday decried Canada's downgrading of humpback whale protections, suggesting the decision was fast-tracked to clear a major hurdle to constructing a pipeline to the Pacific ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.

Ocean microbes display remarkable genetic diversity

The smallest, most abundant marine microbe, Prochlorococcus, is a photosynthetic bacteria species essential to the marine ecosystem. An estimated billion billion billion of the single-cell creatures live i ...

Engineered E. coli produces high levels of D-ribose

D-ribose is a commercially important sugar used as a sweetener, a nutritional supplement, and as a starting compound for synthesizing riboflavin and several antiviral drugs. Genetic engineering of Escherichia co ...