Published On: Wed, May 11th, 2016

Nine new species of Goby Fish are discovered

GobyWILLEMSTAD - Coral reefs are diverse ecosystems that provide home to millions of species of marine organisms worldwide. Reefs support important commercial and artisanal fisheries, and eco-tourism activities related to coral reefs provide major sources of revenue for many nations in and around tropical seas. Scientific knowledge of coral reefs is almost entirely based on shallow reefs less 50 m deep, due to the limits of SCUBA technology and human physiology. As a result, very little is known about deep reefs from 50 to 300 m and beyond – a region of the ocean known as the ‘Twilight Zone’.

The ‘Twlight Zone’, the upper reaches of which are also known as the mesophotic zone, refers to the reduced levels of sunlight that reach deep reefs. As a whole, the diversity of fishes that occupies these deeper, cooler, and slightly darker reefs is typically quite different than that commonly visited by snorkelers or SCUBA divers on shallow reefs, and in many cases, species are completely new to science.

Goby 2A recent study by a team of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution’s Deep Reef Observation Project revealed a cache of new species from deep reefs in the Caribbean. The study, which was led by Smithsonian scientists Luke Tornabene and Carole Baldwin, utilized fish samples captured from the Twilight Zone by three different manned submersibles. These included the Johnson Sea-Link I and II submersibles, which operated out of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, Florida, from 1971-2011, and the Curasub, a 5-person submersible currently operating out of Substation Curaçao on the island of Curaçao.

The new study was published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, where the authors name and describe nine new species of fishes belonging to a group known as gobies (Gobiidae) – the most diverse family of marine fishes in the world. In addition to being one of the largest discoveries of new mesophotic fishes to date, the study also changed our understanding of how fishes in this group should be classified. Specifically, many of the shallow water species were so distantly related to their deep-water relatives that they had to be placed in entirely new genera in order to make the scientific classification consistent with our knowledge the evolutionary history of the group. Four new genera were described in the study.

Goby 1Three of the new species were named for friends and colleagues that contributed in various ways to the study. The thin-barred goby, Psilotris laurae, was named after Laura Albini, wife of Substation Curacao owner Adrian ‘Dutch’ Schrier, who hosted Smithsonian Scientists on many occasions during research expeditions. Psilotris laetarii was named in honor of Heath Jens Laetari, a talented SCUBA diver and local expert on fishes of the Florida Keys, who was lost at sea in 2006 at the age of 28. Pinnichthys aimoriensis, Thiony’s goby, was named in honor of Thiony Simon, a young and promising Brazilian ichthyologist who discovered the species in 2015, and sadly passed away in a diving accident in January 2016 at the age of 31.

Through the continued use of manned submersibles, remotely operated vehicles, and new advances in diving technology, marine scientists will continue to fill large gaps in our knowledge of coral reef ecosystems. This research is both critical and timely, as climate change, over fishing, pollution, and coastal development threaten coral reef ecosystems worldwide.

Click here for the scientific paper.

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