This blog contains spoilers for cult classic movie, Fight Club. You have been warned.
People are always asking us if we know of any newly named marine species.
Indeed we do!
Perhaps surprisingly, naming new species shares several similarities with the movie Fight Club: there are important rules to follow, they both involve name tags, and you want to keep an eye out for a twist at the end.
It’s getting exciting now.
We give you front row seats to this theatre of newly named species. Welcome to Biodiversity Club!
The rules of Biodiversity Club
The first rule of Biodiversity Club is: you do talk about Biodiversity Club.
The second rule of Biodiversity Club is: you DO talk about Biodiversity Club!
Third rule of Biodiversity Club: if someone yells "it’s not a new species", the fight to name it is over.
Fourth rule: only two parts to a scientific name.
Fifth rule: one species at a time taxonomists!
Sixth rule: the fights are bare science. No guesses, no maybes, no unverified results.
Seventh rule: naming species will go on as long as it has to.
And the eighth and final rule: if this is the first time you’ve been collected, you have to have a name!
Unlike the unnamed Narrator in Fight Club, having a name is very important in Biodiversity Club. A name is the first step in protecting a species.
Without a name, a species doesn’t exist. It’s Tyler Durden.
But, unlike Tyler, if an unnamed species disappears, it leaves a physical hole in the world. Every species has a place, in food webs and in a wider ecosystem, and its loss has ripples.
We need to know what lives in our oceans if we are to protect our oceans. Therefore, scientists conduct biodiversity surveys to uncover what life dwells in the deep.
Discovering your power animal
Our research vessel (RV) Investigator has impressive deep-water capabilities and the capacity to work in the remotest parts of our oceans. This has enabled collaborative teams of scientists to conduct important biodiversity surveys across Australia’s vast marine estate.
Our oceans, and the deep ocean in particular, are largely unexplored. As a result, researchers regularly collect new species from these surveys. Incredibly, an estimated 91 per cent of Australia’s marine species remain undescribed.
However, we’re on a recruiting drive!
Right now, they’re doing a biodiversity survey in the Gascoyne Marine Park off WA.
Putting a name tag on new species
Its name is Scorpaena sororreginae. Also known as the Western Queen Scorpionfish.
Definitely not a fish to pick a fight with.
Researchers on RV Investigator collected this Queen off the coast of Western Australia in 2017.
The species name, sororreginae, is formed from a combination of Latin soror (sister) and regina (queen). It was given its name due to its similarity to the eastern Australian species, Eastern Queen Scorpionfish, Scorpaena regina.
The Western Queen Scorpionfish joins Biodiversity Club with several other new species collected on our voyages and announced recently. These are not copies of copies of copies. These are all unique.
- A wood boring bivalve, Abditoconus investigatoris, the first member of this family described from Australia in 60 years and named for RV Investigator.
- Another scorpion fish, the Long-ridged Scorpionfish Scorpaena longaecrista, collected off Shark Bay, WA by our previous research vessel, RV Southern Surveyor in 2005.
- A new species of reef fish, the Silverspot Weedfish Heteroclinus argyrospilos, also collected by RV Southern Surveyor.
- A new species of carnivorous sponge, Lycopodina coralseaensis, found in 2019 on the side of a seamount in the Coral Sea at a depth of 2000 m.
- A small, shrimp-like crustacean from the seafloor, Agathotanais oharai, named for the collecting voyage Chief Scientist, Dr Tim O’Hara.
- A new deep-water coral, the White Whip Coral Aurogorgia tasmaniensis, found on seamounts off the coast of Tasmania.
These species join a growing catalogue of biodiversity discovered by collaborative teams using RV Investigator and its predecessors.
You are a beautiful and unique snowflake
It’s important that a species has only one name. Unlike the Narrator and Marla in Fight Club, we can’t give one species different name tags.
This would create mayhem.
As a result, scientists must take their time when checking that a species hasn’t been described before. They don’t want a twist in their species naming story!
Once scientists identify that a species hasn’t been described before, they give it a name.
As per the fourth rule of Biodiversity Club, each species name – or, more correctly, 'scientific name' – has two parts: a genus name and species name. A scientific name is unique to each unique animal or plant.
Then, as per the first (and second!) rule of Biodiversity Club, the scientists tell everyone about the newly named species. That is, they publish a paper, memoir or note.
Mapping members of Biodiversity Club
The Australian marine environment is epic. It's home to some of the most diverse marine life in the world. Knowing what lives in the ocean, and where, is vital. It helps us protect the prosperity of our marine environment and everything that lives in it.
To date, 33,000 marine species have been recorded in Australia’s oceans. A further 17,000 have been collected but not yet catalogued. As such, many new species are still being discovered.
In fact, it's estimated there may be as many as 250,000-500,000 Australian marine species. Not including microscopic plants and animals. That’s a lot of new members to recruit into Biodiversity Club!
Without a doubt, there are a lot more voyages of discovery ahead for our collaborative research teams on RV Investigator.