Madagascar RAP: New Species?

As part of a CI-organized Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) off the northeastern coast of Madagascar, an international team of marine scientists is spending three weeks exploring ecosystems, documenting species – and reporting back to us about what they’ve found. Read all of the team’s posts from the field here.

We have 10 days left aboard the Antsiva. We know each other better now than at the start – the camaraderie has risen in direct opposition to our levels of hygiene. We have been limited to 1.5 liters of water a day for bathing since the start of the expedition, when we found out that the boat doesn’t have a functioning freshwater system. Everyone could use a nice long shower. And a pizza.

The science, however, continues to be interesting. I study the symbionts of corals – the parasites and other organisms that live in intimate association with the reef building corals. Most coral species have several obligate associates that are found only with that one particular host- much like many herbivorous insects on tropical trees. And like insects, the coral symbionts as a group make up a large and seldom-noticed component of reef diversity. You don’t see them unless you are looking for them, but once you start looking, they are everywhere.

Several of the groups I have been studying on this expedition seem to have interesting patterns going on – either new species, new color forms, or showing characteristics in-between two species I know well from other areas. For Cryptochirid crabs alone, I have found some 20 species, out of a total of 40 described worldwide. Either this area is uniquely blessed when it comes to the biogeography of this group, or many of the crabs I’m finding are new to science.

In either case, the numbers speak of a rich, biodiverse fauna in need of more thorough study. Upon my return, I will head straight to my laboratory to confirm whether we have found some new species. Stay tuned!

Seabird McKeon is the specialist on crustaceans and other organisms associated with corals aboard the Antsiva. He is currently conducting research at the Florida Museum of Natural History in the U.S.

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