New species discovered in Antarctica

February 8, 2017, Hokkaido University
Two species of the Flabegraviera genus: Flabegraviera fujiae (left), the new species discovered in the study, and Flabegraviera mundata (right). Scale bar: 1cm.

A team of Japanese scientists has discovered a new species of polychaete, a type of marine annelid worm, 9-meters deep underwater near Japan's Syowa Station in Antarctica, providing a good opportunity to study how animals adapt to extreme environments.

International efforts are currently underway in Antarctica to build long-term monitoring systems for land and coastal organisms from an ecological conservation standpoint. To this end, the accumulation of continent-wide fauna information is essential, but Japan is lagging behind in gathering and analyzing such data around Syowa Station, particularly in regard to coastal .

To address this problem, in 2015 a team of researchers, including Keiichi Kakui, a lecturer at Hokkaido University, and Megumu Tsujimoto, a postdoctoral researcher at Japan's National Institute of Polar Research, started researching marine specimens stored at the institute, as well as newly collected specimens. As a part of this process, they conducted microscopic analyses to examine two annelid worms that scuba divers collected 8-9 meters deep on January 16th, 1981, at Nishinoura near Syowa Station.

The worm found 9 meters deep turned out to be a new, unnamed polychaete - a variety with a thick, gel-like coat and conspicuous, long notochaeta. The team named the Flabegraviera fujiae, taking after the icebreaker ship "Fuji" used in the expedition in 1981. The specimen collected 8 meters deep was recognized as Flabegraviera mundata, and was deemed to have been collected at the shallowest depth ever recorded for the Flabegraviera genus.

Research paper co-author Professor Kentaro Watanabe (in scuba diving gear) and Professor Eiji Takahashi of Yamagata University pictured at Antarctica. Credit: National Institute of Polar Research
"This study is a major step forward in understanding marine life in the coastal region near Syowa Station," says Dr. Keiichi Kakui, "The Flabegraviera genus, to which the three species belong, is unique to the Antarctic and considered a good example for studying how polychaetes adapt to ."

Now that it has become clear that polychaetes inhabit depths reachable by scuba divers, the researchers hope to conduct experiments using living specimens to gain a deeper understanding of marine life in the area, helping to create an information infrastructure vis-à-vis local biodiversity.

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