Tuesday, March 10, 2015

New Deep-sea Starfishes honor Hawaiian Scientists!

This week I talk about 2 new species of deep-sea starfishes from Hawaii described in my new paper published by Zootaxa

courtesy of Wikipedia! 
The paper has a very special meaning to me because it honors a scientist who was instrumental in getting my career started: Dr. Lu Eldredge, who passed away in 2013. 

Lu was a scientist at the Bishop Museum's Invertebrate Zoology department and was also the Executive Secretary of the Pacific Science Association

Lu had roots in the study of crustaceans but over the years had become sort of a polymath, studying everything from coral reefs to invasive species. A full pdf article of his scientific contributions can be found for download here.

Lu took a chance on me, early in my career and funded a visit for me to study the Bishop Museum echinoderm collections back in 1997 (or thereabouts). The funding was basic. I stayed at the YMCA and worked at the museum for about a month. No air conditioning. I ate at Zippys every day. Got lost on the bus pretty regularly, but swam in the pool every day. A difficult but fond time in my life.  

This was one of my first "real" museum visits and I learned a lot about being a research scientist and got my feet wet doing basic field work (we did some collecting) and studying museum collections.

While I was working, I found this specimen which I initially misidentified but later discovered was a species previously undescribed from Hawaiian waters.. A genus known as Astroceramus
The genus name is very descriptive. In the latin, "Astro" refers to the star shape and "ceramo" (or -ceramus) refers to "tile" So "Star shaped tile". This probably alludes to the very tile-shaped plates that comprise the animal's surface
And so, I have named this handsome starfish species for Lu : Astroceramus eldredgei which loosely translates to "Eldredge's ceramic star."

But there's MORE to this species than just a specimen!! The Hawaiian Undersea Research Laboratory has observed this species alive!! 
and more than that! they have observed it feeding on some of the deep-sea corals in the area.. Here is one image showing it feeding on the distinctive blue-colored deep-sea plexaurid octocoral, Astromuricea theophilasi
So, not only is it a cool looking beast but it is also likely an ecologically important one! and joins the ranks of the many other deep-sea corallivores I have written about...

A footnote about how new species often await "discovery" for YEARS before being found? The specimens described in my paper?  Date back to 1966! that's 4 years before I was born!

Lu Eldredge was a well-known and beloved personality within the context of biodiversity in the Hawaiian scene. There was a FULL volume of papers published in his honor published by the Bishop Museum which is summarized here. 

Among the other species named in Lu's name? SIX different types of crabs as well as an isopod and a coral...
  • Porcellanopagurus eldredgei, a bivalve-carrying Hermit Crab from Guam
  • Leptomithrax eldredgei, a new species of majid crab from Hong Kong
  • Forestiana lucius, a xanthid crab
  • Pseudomiccipe eldredgei, a majid crab
  • Petrolisthes eldredgeian Indo-west Pacific porcellanid crab 
  • Homola eldredgei, a homolid crab
  • Psammocora eldredgei, a scleractinian coral
  • Avada eldredgei, a parasitic isopod
Lu will be missed but through his work and his legacy he will be remembered.

Apollonaster kelleyi! 

I also honor another Hawaiian colleague, who remains very active with the Hawaiian Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) and has been a great supporter of my work! Dr. Christopher Kelley, who is one of the primary scientists at HURL!!   Another bio of Chris can be found here.
from Nat Geo!
Chris does a lot. In addition to managing their video database, he runs any number of deep-sea and submersible projects and has done a LOT to further our understanding of marine resources (including fisheries) in the Hawaiian region.
From the University of Manoa page
You may recall that Chris has helped me with a few of my prior posts showing in situ images of various Hawaiian deep-sea echinoderms.  Such as this one with the asteroids and this one with deep-sea sea urchins

He's worked hard to provide everyone with a guide to Hawaiian deep-sea animals (here)! 

Apollonaster is genus in the same family as Astroceramus, the Goniasteridae. The name has an interesting history.. as it was named in honor of the Apollo 11 voyage which landed the first men on the moon. An apt genus to honor a deep-sea scientist!
Prior to this species being discovered, Apollonaster was known only from the tropical Atlantic! Could this be evidence that this was a species which occurred in both oceans before the closure of the Panamanian ishtmus??
A shallow water example of connectivity via a species occurring between these two oceans was detailed by one of my earlier posts on another sea star called Heliaster.

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