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