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The Invertebrate Collections is one of the University Museum’s large collections of scientific zoological material. “Invertebrates” is a traditional grouping for animals without a backbone. At our museum, like in many other scientific collections, invertebrates is the remaining part of the animal kingdom when vertebrates, insects, spiders and millipedes (entomology) have been accounted for. Invertebrates therefore is a diverse group of very different animals with often spectacular ways of life in many types of environments. We still know very little about many species of invertebrates because they are difficult to study and identify. Many species are also still undiscovered. Scientific collections are fundamental sources of knowledge about our zoological diversity. On these pages we want to inform about the contents of the collections and about past and current activities.

Our permanent web pages can be found here

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Guest researchers: Carlo

Untangling the diversity and evolution of Sea Hares

Aplysia parvula; Føllingen, Norway; Photo by Nils Aukan

Aplysia parvula; Føllingen, Norway; Photo by Nils Aukan

Sampling and freezing at Askøy

Sampling and freezing at Askøy

Dr Carlo M. Cunha from the Metropolitan University of Santos in Brazil (Universidade Metropolitana de Santos), a world expert in the diversity and systematics of Anaspidea heterobranch gastropods, visited the Natural History Museum of Bergen for a month during January/February 2017 to study our scientific collection of these molluscs. The visit was funded by the University of Bergen´s Strategic Programme for International Research and Education (SPIRE).

The Museum holds a large amount of material from the Scandinavian region, but also from the Mediterranean, Macaronesia islands, Caribbean, and western Indian Ocean.

These marine molluscs commonly known by sea hares comprise around 90 currently known species and have long been of major interest to biologists because of their large and easily accessible nervous system, which form the basis of numerous neurophysiological works.

Preserved specimen of Aplysia punctata from norway

Preserved specimen of Aplysia punctata from Norway

Dissected specimen of Aplysia punctata from Norway

Dissected specimen of Aplysia punctata from Norway

However, the taxonomy of these molluscs and their evolution are still poorly understood. Dr Cunha is using a combination of molecular and morphological tools to learn more about the worldwide diversity of anaspideans and their phylogenetic relationships.

Dr Cunha visit to Bergen has already resulted in the revision and update of the taxonomy of our Anaspidea collection. The Norwegian species of anaspids were revised and redescribed in detail using electron microscopy and DNA barcoding performed in collaboration with Louise Lindblom (University Museum / Biodiversity Labs).

SEM-image of jaws of Phyllaplysia sp from Florida, USA

SEM-image of jaws of Phyllaplysia sp from Florida, USA

Additionally several other species from around the world were studied and will be integrated in ongoing taxonomic revisions. Keep tuned!

-Manuel

We’ve also had Lloyd visiting recently, you’ll find a post about that on the Marine Invertebrates of Western Africa blog: click here

Plastic: The true junk food of the oceans

A whale recently had to be put down by wildlife management after it had repeatedly beached itself on the island of Sotra outside of Bergen. It was found to be a Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), a species with apparently no official previous records from Norway. The University Museum of Bergen therefore wished to include the whale skeleton in its collections (and future exhibitions, once the remodelling completes).

Arriving at Espegrend

Arriving at Espegrend

The whale was transported to the Marine Biological Station of Espegrend, and a team of five people from the museum set to work collecting measurements of the whale, taking tissue samples for DNA-barcoding though the NorBOL-project, collecting ectoparasites, and doing photo-documentation.

Collecting measurements

Collecting measurements

We then began removing the blubber and muscle tissue off the whale so that the bones can be further treated (they contain a lot of oil which needs to be taken care of once the soft tissue has been removed), before the skeleton can be mounted for display.

Starting the work of removing blubber and muscles

Starting the work of removing blubber and muscles

Little did we know that what had so far been a local news matter would soon go viral…

Sadly, it became clear during the autopsy that the whale had been ingesting massive amounts of plastic – as much as 30 plastic bags, and many smaller pieces of plastic. The whale was emaciated, and we believe that the plastic had gathered in such an amount in its stomach that it had created a plug, stopping the digestive process.

The plastic and and from the whale stomach

The plastic in and from the whale stomach (photos: T. Lislevand, H.Glenner/C.Noever)

The images of all the plastic spread out on the ground became a potent reminder of the tragedies that marine pollution is creating, and has sparked a renewed debate on how we can limit the amount of micro- and macro-plastic that end up in nature.

The news of the whale's stomach content became international news

The news of the whale’s stomach content became international news

What should the Cuvier’s beaked whale have been eating?

Occurring as solitary animals or in small pods, and preferring the deeper open waters, the Cuvier’s beaked whale is not an easy animal to study. We do know that the species have a more or less cosmopolitan distribution, and that it holds the world record for longest and deepest dive for any mammal: one was recorded diving down to 3000 meters.

What data we do have on the species diet comes from beached individuals, and suggests that the species may be a fairly omnivorous predator. From the limited number of Cuvier’s beaked whales that have been examined for stomach content, there are regional differences in the diet, but it seems to consist mainly of cephalopods (squid and octopuses), deep sea fish, and medium sized crustaceans (Santos og andre 2001).

Above are the suckers on the arm of a giant squid, Architeuthis. Below are scars on the skin of a sperm whale. Photo: E.Willassen

Above are the suckers on the arm of a giant squid, Architeuthis. Below are scars on the skin of a sperm whale. Photo: E.Willassen

The cephalopods appear to be the dominant food source, but this interpretation may be influenced by the longevity of the hard parts of a cephalopod in the stomach.

The tough beaks of a cephalopod consist of chitin, and is used for tearing prey to pieces. Chitin is also found in the suckers of many cephalopods. The beaks can be used to identify the cephalod groups based on their size and shapes.  Animals such as jellyfish would be much harder to document as part of the diet, as they would be digested much more rapidly and completely.

We don’t know how well resolved the information produced by the animal’s echo-location is, but it is conceivable that the plastic reflects signals in a way similar to the natural food of the whale, and is therefore “caught” and eaten.

Cephalopod beak, drawing by J.H. Emerton from Wikimedia commons

Cephalopod beak, drawing by J.H. Emerton (from Wikimedia commons)

We did find some cephalopod beaks in between the plastic in the whale stomach – so far we have not had the time to attempt to identify these, but we will.

Amngst the plastic there are some cephalopod beaks and a bivalve shell. Photo: C. Noever

Amongst the plastic there are some cephalopod beaks (dark brown) and a bivalve shell (top left). Photo: C. Noever

The University Museum have extensive cephalopod collections, and long traditions for working with this group – from Dr. Jakob Johan Adolf Appellöf who began working here in 1890, to the material collected in the MAR-ECO project.

MAR-ECO workshop on cephalopoda

MAR-ECO workshop on cephalopoda

From the work of  Santos et al 2001 we know that the following species are in the diet of European Curvier’s beaked whales, and are probably amongst the things our whale should have been eating:

Tewuthowenia megalops. Photo: Richard E. Young during MAR-ECO-cruise 2004.

Tewuthowenia megalops. Photo: Richard E. Young during MAR-ECO-cruise 2004.

Teuthowenia megalops is an odd squid that floats around in the open water with a propulsion system based on ammoniumchloride that the animal produces by digesting protein. The name “megalops” hints to the huge eyes, which also contain three light producing organs (chromatophores). The species seems to be common in deep water in the north Atlantic (Vecchione et al. 2008). For more information, see Wikipedia.

 

mastigoteuthis_agassizii1

Mastigoteuthis agassizi

 

Mastigoteuthis agassizii was originally registered in whale stomachs as Mastigoteuthis schmidti, but from the work on the MAR-ECO project, three species of Mastigoteuthis were considered to all be M. agassizii. Some ambiguity remains about the species of this genus of oceanic squid with a broad distribution in the world’s oceans in depths ranging from 500 to 1000 meters. They have diurnal migration, and may be found hunting closer to the surface at night.  

 

 

 

Taonius pavo. Illustration from Wikipedia.

Taonius pavo seen ventrally (above) and dorsally. Illustration from Wikipedia.

Taonius pavo 

This little squid is not very well known. It has been recorded from the Atlantic Ocean, but it may have a broader distribution. In this link you will find a video from the Bahamas at 850 m depth where the animal releases bio- luminescent “ink” to confuse a predator and escape.

 

Histioteuthis bonelli Photographed by Richard E.Youngduring the Mar-Eco-cruises in 2004

Histioteuthis bonelli Photographed by Richard E.Young during the Mar-Eco-cruises in 2004

Histioteuthis bonelli by Ernst Haeckel.

Histioteuthis bonelli, drawing by Ernst Haeckel.

 

Histioteuthis bonnellii has several names in English, one of which is “umbrella squid”. The name is due to the skirt-like membrane between the arms – when it splays its arms it resembles an umbrella. We don’t know much about the biology of H. bonellii, except  that it has several close relatives in the world oceans, and that what has hitherto been considered one species (H. bonellii) may well turn out to be several species.

 

 

Todarodes sagittatus

Todarodes sagittatus

 

Todarodes sagittatus, the European flying squid, is one of the ten-armed cephalopods that may irregularly occur in schools along the Norwegian coast. T. sagittatus is subject to fisheries.

 

 

 

 

vampyroteuthis_-etter-chun

Vampyroteuthis infernalis

Vampyroteuthis infernalis  – the vampire squid is a deep-sea squid with eight arms and a skirt-like mantle between its arms. It also has moveable wings on its body that it can use to manoeuvre with. The name “vampire squid” is not quite true – this is no blood sucker, but it traps organic material from the water masses using long, sticky threads. If threatened, it can invert the “skirt” over its head, resembling a hedgehog. It also has light producing organs towards the back of the body, and can create clouds of bioluminescence. Even with all these defences, it may end up in the stomach of a Cuvier’s beaked whale.

Below are a couple of videos of  V. infernalis:

youtube 1 (same as above)
youtube 2
youtube 3
youtube 4

Other prey

Pelagic crustaceans and deep sea fish are also amongst the recorded prey from Cuvier’s beaked whales. Amongst these we find the fairly large and shrimplike Gnathophausia, found within the order Lophogastrida, which has been studied extensively at the University of Bergen. We also found a bivalve shell in the stomach of our whale, which as far as we are aware of has not been recorded as part of their diet previously.

Plastic or food?

It may seem strange that the whale should ingest large amounts of plastic – why would it do that? If the whale primarily finds its pray by echolocation in the pitch black of the deep sea, it may well be that it is unable to differentiate between the reflected signal from a sheet of plastic, and that from one of its usual prey animals.

Unlike the sperm whales that hunt cephalopods in a similar way, the beaked does not have teeth to grab its pray. Instead they use a suction to ingest the food. Perhaps it is this feeding mode that becomes very unfortunate for the whales in a natural environment with an incredible amount of human garbage.

-EW & Katrine

Full house!

Busy workers

Busy workers

The lab is teeming with guest researchers these days, as we have these three lovely polychaetologists visiting to work on the MIWA (Marine Invertebrates of Western Africa)-material.

From the left we have Kate from Wales, Lloyd from Ghana, and Polina from Russia

From the left we have Kate from Wales, Lloyd from Ghana, and Polina from Russia

Kate is working on the polychete family Magelonidae, and has written a blog post about her stay. Lloyd is working on the families Glyceridae and Goniadidae, and Polina is doing her MSc thesis on the Lumbrineridae. You can find short project descriptions of these (and many of our other) polychate projects here.

Makes sure to check by our MIWA-blog for more updates in the time to come!

Door #24: Happy Holidays!

Today is Christmas Eve, and we have reached the end of our #InvertebrateCalendar – thank you so much to all of our contributors, and to you readers!

We hope you have enjoyed it!

To all of you from all of us:

christmas-greeting

Aurora borealis at the field station in Sletvik. How lucky we are who get to see these things!

 

Door #23: How far away can a quill worm get?

Hyalinoecia tubicola from the North Sea (by K. Kongshavn).

Hyalinoecia tubicola from the North Sea (by K. Kongshavn).

Quill worms belong to the annelid family Onuphidae and are called like that because of their unique tubes. The tubes are secreted by their inhabitants and are very light and rigid, resembling a quill, the basal part of a bird’s feather used for writing. Quill worms are epibenthic creatures capable of crawling on the surface of the sea floor carrying their tubes along. Their anterior feet are modified, strengthened and enlarged, bearing thick and stout bristles. These anterior feet are used for locomotion.

Quill worms are widely distributed in the ocean inhabiting mostly slope depths down to 2000 m. Being large in body size (up to 10-20 cm long), they can be quite abundant in some areas. Meyer et al. (2016) reported Hyalinoecia artifex reaching up to 70 ind./m2 in the Baltimore Canyon at 400 m water depth. Another quill worm, H. tubicola, which is very common in Norwegian waters, reached up to 272 ind./m2 at 365 m offshore of Chesapeake Bay (Wigley & Emery 1967).

Quill worms are believed to be motile scavengers. Baited monster camera experiments performed at 2000 m deep site in Baja California demonstrated that Hyalinoecia worms can accumulate in hundreds of specimens five hours after the bait (rotten fish) has been deployed (Dayton & Hessler 1972). Myer et al. (2016) analyzed the stable isotope content in Hyalinoecia artifex tissues confirming its secondary consumer status. Their results supported earlier observations on the gut content of the same species by Gaston (1987) showing the presence of the remains of various benthic invertebrates.

Video 1. Quill worm Hyalinoecia tubicola moving inside its tube (by K. Kongshavn).

 

Video 2. Quill worm Hyalinoecia tubicola protruding from the tube opening. Three antennae and a pair of palps are seen on the head. The first two pairs of feet are enlarged and strengthened (by K. Kongshavn).

 


Dayton, P.K., Hessler, R.R., 1972. Role of biological disturbance in maintaining diversity in the deep sea. Deep-Sea Research 19: 199–208.

Meyer, K.S., Wagner, J.K.S., Ball, B., Turner, P.J., Young, C.M., Van Dover, C.L. 2016. Hyalinoecia artifex: Field notes on a charismatic and abundant epifaunal polychaete on the US Atlantic continental margin. Invertebrate Biology 135: 211–224. doi:10.1111/ivb.12132

Gaston, G.R. 1987. Benthic polychaeta of the Middle Atlantic Bight: feeding and distribution. Marine Ecology Progress Series 36: 251–262.

Wigley, R.L., Emery, K.O. 1967. Benthic animals, particularly Hyalinoecia (Annelida) and Ophiomusium (Echinodermata), in sea-bottom photographs from the continental slope. In: Deep-Sea Photography. Hersey JB, ed., pp. 235–250. John Hopkins Press, Baltimore.

-Nataliya

Door #22 A jolly, happy family?

Musculus discors hidden in Securiflustra securifrons. Photo: AHS Tandberg

Musculus discors hidden in Securiflustra securifrons. Photo: AHS Tandberg

At first glance, it can look like a seaweed. The depth, however, should start your alarm-bells for flora and point you towards fauna: the plantlike animal Securiflustra securifrons (Pallas, 1766) is a bryozoa – a collection of colonial filterfeeders less than 1 mm in size each. We are at 80-120 m depth in the cold Heleysundet – the sound between the two islands Spitsbergen and Barents Island in the eastern part of the Svalbard Archipelago. This is a sound famous among captains for its fast tidal streams, and the fast-flowing waters give the bryozoans a nice place to live. The colonies branch out to catch the most water-flow and the most food from the water.

Musculus discors. Photo: AHS Tandberg

Musculus discors. Photo: AHS Tandberg

Where the “branches”  form we see what might look like small hairy balls – these are the bivalve Musculus discors (L., 1767). The hairy look comes from their byssus threads – they produce and then use these threads to attach to the Securiflustra (and being packed in the threads they might get some camouflage from them).

 

Moving inside the molluscs we might find not only one, but two species of amphipods. In our samples from Heleysundet 14% of the Musculus had the carnivorous amphipod Anonyx nugax Ohlin, 1895 inside, and an astonishing 3 out of 4 Musculus had amphipods of the species Metopa glacialis (Krøyer, 1842) inside.  The system resembles a Russian doll – one species living inside another living inside yet another…

Anonyx affinis (large amphipod, upper left) and Metopa glacialis (small amphipod lower half og mussel) innside a Musculus discors. Photo: AHS Tandberg

Anonyx affinis (large amphipod, upper left) and Metopa glacialis (small amphipod lower half og mussel) innside a Musculus discors. Photo: AHS Tandberg

What reason can a small crustacean have to live inside the quite closed off world of a bivalve? The bivalve filters water actively – it pumps water over its gills, and then transports food-particles such as phytoplankton down the gills towards its mouth. Non-desirable particles are normally packed into mucus and transported out of the bivalve. Now imagine liking to eat some of those particles the bivalve finds non-desirable, and being placed on the gills of said bivalve. No need to hunt for the food – it will be coming on the conveyor-belt the gills are – and all you need to do is to eat. The bivalve does not seem to be troubled by this co-habitant – it does not eat the same food as the bivalve.

Not only does Musculus discors provide Metopa glacialis with food, the mantle cavity provides a luxury-shelter where the amphipod can raise a family! Amphipods, together with isopods, cumaceans, tanaidaeans and quite a few mysicadeans keep their offspring in a brood-pouch from the fertilisation of the eggs to the medium sized juveniles crawl out into the real world. Living inside a bivalve allows Metopa glacials to extend its child-care to young life outside the brood-pouch. Our examinations of the bivalves from Heleysundet showed us adult Metopa in the middle of the bivalve, with several juveniles “strategically placed” inbetween the two layers of gills in each shell-half. Surrounded by food, safe from most predators! (Predation of Metopa glacialis might be the main objective for Anonyx affinis, the food-source of the lysianassid needs to be established. It might also be the nice and fatty mollusk.)

 

Metopa glacialis innside a Musculus discors. Small arrows point to juveniles, large arrow to adult female. Photo: AHS Tandberg

Metopa glacialis innside a Musculus discors. Small arrows point to juveniles, large arrow to adult female. Photo: AHS Tandberg

Comparing with amphipods of the same size-range from the same areas, Metopa glacialis seems to have a safe life. Safe enough that they can manage to have several sets of offspring. We see that they don´t wait until´the first batch of kids are out of the “house” – we found one adult female with two size-groups of offspring and a fresh egg-filled brood-pouch!  Each batch can be 20 offspring, so that would mean one pregnant mom and 40 kids in one small house!

 

Many people travel to visit family during the holidays. Even when we cherish the time with our loved ones, filling the house with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins might cramp everybodys style slightly. Not so with Metopa glacialis. Measuring the size of all inhabitants show us that the kids stay home until they are adult and can move out to their own home. So when you can´t sleep because your younger cousin plays on her gamer all night, or because your old aunt snores when you come into your shared room, think how much more difficult life could have been if you were an amphipod. Happy holidays!

Anne Helene

PS: A slightly extended version in Norwegian (part of the TangloppeTorsdag blog) can be read here)


Literature:

Just J (1983) Anonyx affinis (Crust., Amphipoda: Lysianassidae), commensal in the bivalve Musculus laevigatus, with notes on Metopa glacialis (Amphipoda: Stenothoidae). Astarte 12, 69-74

Tandberg AHS, Schander C, Pleijel F (2010) First record of the association between the amphipod Metopa alderii and the bivalve Musculus. Marine Biodiversity Records 3:e5 doi:10.1017/S1755267209991102

Tandberg AHS, Vader W, Berge J (2010) Studies on the association of Metopa glacialis (Amphipoda, Crustacea) and Musculus discors (Mollusca, Mytilidae). Polar Biology 33, 1407-1418

Vader W, Beehler CL (1983) Metopa glacialis (Amphipoda, Stenothoidae) in the Barents and Beaufort Seas, and its association with the lamellibranchs Musculus niger and M. discors s. l. Astarte 12:57–61

Door # 21: A tale of three fading buck-goats

“Julebukken” – the Yule Goat. 

A goat made of straw has commonly been observed among the paraphernalia that people put on display around Christmas times in the Nordic countries. Ask people what they symbolize and I bet that the majority would say just “Christmas” without having a further explanation at hand. It is very likely that the Yule Goat is a remnant from the pagan celebrations of the December solstice. The mythological origin of the Yule Goat is unclear (see Gunnell 1995).  It is probably of mixed origin because cultural evolution is often syncretic, – a blend of beliefs, mythologies, and practices from different sources and “ethno-folkloristic schools of thought”.  It has been speculated that the straw figure of the Yule Goat reflects some sort of pagan vegetation god ruling over grain growth and who required particular human attention around the winter solstice.

"Julebukk" - a common Christmas decoration.

“Julebukk” – a common Christmas decoration.

Others have associated Yule Goat with the Germanic thunder-god Thor, because he used two bucks to pull his chariot over the sky. Thor must have been an environmentally friendly god because these bucks were used as a food resource in Valhalla and if only he took great care to keep the bones and the skin, he could revive fully reincarnated goats the next day. The idea of a resurrected goat was dramatized in folk rituals of Nordic small communities by people who reenacted the death and revival of the Yule Buck in songs and theater performed on house visits by a ragged assembly of masked people. The central character in these folkloristic plays was a person either wrapped in straw or hides and carrying a goat head, sometimes also a hammer (like Thor). Right up to the mid nineteenth century, plays like these were practiced in Scandinavia. The traditions have several characteristics in common with Halloween and the Yule Buck masquerade apparently is a tradition that now seems to be fading and to be replaced by Halloween celebrations. In both cases there is an underlying theme of temporary breakdown and restoration of cosmological and moral order when cyclic time has gone the full circle. A small scale version of this idea is also at work around midnight, – the ghost hour. The Cristian tradition has tended to associate goats with naughty behaviours of all sorts, particularly in terms of sexuality. Goats were also at times associated with mythological creatures like Pan and with the Devil.

The Star Buck

The Babylonians divided the sky in 360 parts, but ancient astronomers also used twelve 30 degrees sectors of the sky to reference the positions of celestial bodies on the ecliptic, – the track that the sun appears to follow through the year.  Like the classic analogous clock with twelve sectors marking divisions of the day and night the zodiac is a clock for the earth’s revolution around the sun.  Because the rotation axis of the earth is tilted, the sun appears to draw an S-shaped path around the Earth.  From a northern perspective the maximum of the path is the summer solstice. The minimum is the winter solstice, when the zenith of the sun is farthest away from the Arctic and the days are shortest on the Northern hemisphere. The exact time for the solstice is not easy to determine, but ancient astronomers found that the winter solstice took place when the sun was in the sector of the star constellation called Capricornus. Claudius Ptolemy, who is known as the prime authority of  pre-Copernican cosmological texts, wrote in Book 1 chapter 11 of his very influential Tetrabiblos :

“For the sun turns when he is at the beginning of these signs and reverses his latitudinal progress, causing summer in Cancer and winter in Capricorn.”

Capricornus is Latin for “goat horn” and Capricorn is sometimes depicted as a goat, sometimes as half goat, half fish. Because the “turning point” of the sun at winter solstice was once at an imaginary latitude circle drawn through Capricornus, we say that the sun is turning at the Tropic of Capricorn. However, due to the swaying of the Earth’s rotation axis, winter solstice is no longer in Capricorn and the Tropic of Capricorn has also moved away so that, paradoxically, the Tropic of Capricorn is now passing through Sagittarius . When the Julian calendar took effect 45 years BC the solstice was celebrated on 25th of December, but apparently winter solstice was already about to leave Capricornus in the direction of Sagittarius.  Historians of astronomy think that Capricornus was already a marker of seasonal time about 2000 years BC.

The sun in Capricornus seen from Rome 45 years BP according to Stellarium.

The sun in Capricornus seen from Rome 45 years BP according to Stellarium.

 

The sum at winter solstice in 2016 seen from Rome according to Stellarium.

The sun at winter solstice in 2016 seen from Rome according to Stellarium.

Although much speculation has been put forward about the origins of Yule Buck, I suspect that the role of the goat in the sky has been undervalued when trying to understand the conducts and traditions of people in the Nordic countries around the winter solstice. Surely, the teaching of Ptolemy must have diffused somehow to ordinary people during the Medieval Ages. After all, Capricorn was the messenger of a better existence to come, if one could only sustain over the winter.

Resurrecting a goat
Goats that stood model for the Capricorn have been part of the human environments since long before they were painted on cave walls in Ardeche at the foot of the Pyrenees about 30000 years BC. Archaeological material from Jordan indicates that goats were domesticated already 7000 BC as one of the first of the ruminant species. Wild goats are members of the genus Capra and are distributed with several species over the Eurasian and African continents. Most of the wild goats are now regarded as more or less threatened species due to hunting pressure and habitat loss. In Spain the so-called bucardo goat was declared extinct in year 2000, when the last individual was hit by a falling tree in Oresa National Park.

The extinct subspecies of the Pyrenean Ibex. (Source Wikipedia)

The extinct subspecies of the Pyrenean Ibex. (Source Wikipedia)

An international group of biotechnologists set up experiments to resurrect the bucardo, which is considered as a subspecies of the Pyrenean Ibex, Capra pyrenaica. It is perhaps not likely that these scientists were inspired by the Nordic myth about Thor and his perpetual buck-goats. Nevertheless, they had already taken skin samples from the last living female the year before she died. With the frozen cells from the skin they had cellular nuclei with goat genome and also a plasma membrane with small amounts of cytoplasma. With a technique similar to the one that was pioneered by the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh to clone the sheep Dolly, they replaced the cell contents of domestic goat eggs with somatic cell material from the dead ibex. Then they implanted the manipulated eggs into many substitute mothers of both domesticated goats and of females of the Spanish ibex. Only one of the embryos survived long enough to be released by cesarean section and it died only a few minutes after birth. Despite this and similar failed efforts to reconstruct extinct evolutionary lineages, it is still claimed by scientists who are involved in this business that such methods hold promise for rescuing rare and endangered species. But without making claims of being a specialist in conservation genetics I ask myself: how is it possible to save a species when all of the genetic variability in the population is lost. This may have been a problem already before the population went extinct because the sets of genes that run the immune system and code for the proteins that protect the body from foreign molecules, the so-called major histocompatibility complex, had already been observed to lack variability. Then of course, in the case of the extinct Pyrenean ibex there is also another problem that would be a major impediment in the reconstruction of a natural population. It is a problem of the missing Y-chromosome. Goat Y-chromosomes would be necessary to have functional males of reconstructed goats. Basically this is a problem that has also puzzled thinkers with respect to the child that allegedly was born by a virgin on the solstice 2000 years ago. Did he have a chromosome set from the father?

Merry solstice, Christmas, and Happy New Year!

EW


More reading

Folch, J. et al. (2009) First birth of an animal from an extinct subspecies (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) by cloning. Theriogenology 71:1026–1034.

Gunnell, T. (1995) The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia. Boydell & Brewer Ltd.

Hinson, R. (2015) Goat. Reaction Books, London.

Lee, K. (2001) Can cloning save endangered species? Current Biology 11 (7): R245-R246

 

Door #20: Pretty Phyllodocidae

Today we present two more of Arne Nygrens gorgeous photos, that he made during our week in the field in Sletvik (central Norway). The subjects in both of these are polychaetes from the family Phyllodocidae, the paddleworms.

First up is a stunning Phyllodoce citrina collected from shell sand at about 60 m depth. The animal is approximately 6 cm long.

Phyllodoce citrina, Photo by Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

Phyllodoce citrina, Photo by Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

The next one, Paranaitis sp. n.  is actually a new species for science, which came as a pleasant surprise. This is a fairly well-studied group, and the locality Galgenes is one that has been sampled regularly – yet there it was! It is rather unusual to find species where one can so immediately recognize that they are something new; usually we need many specimens, and a combination of detailed studies of morphology and genetic work – but this one is possible to distinguish straight from morphology, as it was lacking eyes.  The specimen is about 1.5 cm long.

Paranaitis n sp Photo by Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

Paranaitis n sp Photo by Arne Nygren CC-BY-SA

-Arne & Katrine

Door #19: Going back to the roots

Last year we had a calendar post about the Heart of the Museum – our type collections.

To recap, a species’ type is “…the objective standard of reference for the application of zoological names. When a new species or subspecies is described, the specimen(s) on which the author based his/her description become the type(s) (Article 72.1). In this way names are linked to type specimens, which can be referred to later if there is doubt over the interpretation of that name.

Consequently types are sometimes referred to as “onomatophores” which means name bearers.”

International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (IZN)

The location – sampling site – from which the type specimen is described is known as the type locality.

Michael Sars (image from Wikimedia)

Michael Sars (image from Wikimedia)

As you have probably noticed, polychaetes (bristle worms) are a focus group in our lab, and several species have type localities close by.

The biologist and theologian Michael Sars (1805-1869) lived in the Bergen region for many years.  He was a prolific taxonomist, naming 277 species of marine taxa according to the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS).

 

Consequently there are quite a few species that have their type locality within easy daytrip-distance by ship for us.

On the hunt with R/V "Hans Brattstrøm"

On the hunt with R/V “Hans Brattstrøm”

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One such locality is Glesvær, where Michael Sars described several new species in his work of 1835:  Beskrivelser og Iagttagelser over nogle mærkelige eller nye i Havet ved den Bergenske Kyst levende Dyr af Polypernes, Acalephernes, Radiaternes, Annelidernes og Molluskernes Classer* (“Descriptions and Observations of some strange or new animals found off the coast of Bergen, belonging to the Classes …”).

The polychaete Amphicteis gunneri (Ampharetidae) is one of these species. It was first described by Michael Sars as Amphitrite gunneri (the species name is an homage to Johan Ernst Gunnerus (1718-1773) who was an active scientist within botany and zoology,  as well as the bishop in Trondheim, and one of the founders of Det Kongelige Norske Videnskapers Selskap) in the publication above. Here are his original illustrations of the species:

gunneri

Amphicteis gunneri by M. Sars (1835)

We have previously submitted several specimens of Amphicteis gunneri for DNA-barcoding through the NorBOL-project – and found that specimens that according to the keys in the literature should all come out nicely as A. gunneri in fact end up in several barcode-based groupings (BINs), meaning that they genetically different from each other. Then we need to unravel which one is the true A. gunneri, and decide what to do with the others. In such cases, material from type localities is invaluable. By sending in specimens identified by resident taxonomists as A. gunneri from the type locality, we hope to figure out which BIN represent A. gunneri, and which represent potentially new species.

We were also able to photograph live specimens showing the nice coloration of this worm. Fixed specimens loose this colour and become uniformly yellow/white (no dots).

Amphicteis gunneri collected at type locality. Photo: K.Kongshavn

Amphicteis gunneri collected at type locality. Photo: K.Kongshavn

*Thanks to the excellent Biodiversity Heritage Library, this publication can be found in full text online, accessible for everyone – go here to see it. The Flickr stream of BHL is also an excellent source of amazing illustrations, you can find that here.

-Tom & Katrine

Door # 18: MSc completed

Congratulations to Jenni, our (former!) master student, who presented her MSc project last Friday!

She has been working on the phylogenetic systematics and evolution of a genus of small marine gastropods called Phanerophthalmus, and she’s done an impressive amount of work.

Phanerophthalmus crawling on seagrass. Photo: M. Malaquias

Phanerophthalmus crawling on seagrass. Photo: M. Malaquias

 

The project was titled
Systematics, biogeography, and trophic ecology of the genus
Phanerophthalmus A. Adams, 1850 (Mollusca, Cephalaspidea, Haminoeidae) in
the Indo-West Pacific, and was supervised by Manuel Malaquias.

Celebrating our freshly minted MSC with coffee, cakes and bubbles

Celebrating our freshly minted MSC (second from the left in top photo) with coffee, cake and bubbles!

We wish you all the best, Jenni!