Author Archives: mma098

Sampling for sea slugs in northern Mozambique (East Africa)

The "tree house", headquarters of the Conservation and Research project of Vamizi Island

The “tree house”, headquarters of the Conservation and Research project of Vamizi Island

An undescribed species of an aeolid. Vamizi Island.

An undescribed species of an aeolid. Vamizi Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tropical waters of the Indian Ocean are part of the world’s richest biogeographical region – the Indo-West Pacific (IWP), where diversity picks its high in the “Coral Triangle” an area confined by the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.

Within this vast realm, the east coast of Africa is probably the least studied area and Moçambique with one of the largest coastlines in the region and pristine mangrove, seagrass, and coral habitats hides a high and still largely unknown diversity of opisthobranch gastropods (sea slugs).

Phyllidia ocellata. Vamizi Island

Phyllidia ocellata. Vamizi Island

During January–February of 2014 I had the opportunity to sample in southern Moçambique together with local colleagues from the Zavora Marine Lab. The results have been so promising that we decided to organize a new fieldtrip but, this time to explore the fauna in the northern tropical latitudes of the country. In collaboration with the University Lúrio in Pemba and the Vamizi Conservation and Research Station managed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), we setup during May 2015 a two weeks fieldtrip to Vamizi Island, a remote pristine sanctuary located in the northern range of the Quirimbas archipelago. The goals were to continue the inventory of the sea slug fauna of Mozambique and Indian Ocean but also to collect specific material for several ongoing projects at the University Museum of Bergen (Natural History) related to the systematics, biogeography, and speciation of these molluscs.

Cerberilla ambonensis. Vamizi island

Cerberilla ambonensis. Vamizi island

The first challenge was to reach Vamizi! Four flights, a five hours 4-wheels drive, and at last a boat trip – all of it during four days! But, the sight over the turquoise, calm, and warm waters of Vamizi was breathtaking and well worth the effort! We were very well welcomed by the team of the Conservation and Research Project of Vamizi and the management of Vamizi Island, which have provided all the necessary conditions for a successful and pleasant work.

The white sandy beaches and turquoise waters of Vamizi Island

The white sandy beaches and turquoise waters of Vamizi Island

The pristine coastline of Palma in northern Mozambique.

The pristine coastline of Palma in northern Mozambique.

As the following days would unravel the pristine coral reefs, seagrass meadows and mangroves would not disappoint with their incredible diversity of sea slugs and all kinds of colourful marine live. Yet, and contrary to the experience of the previous year where we have collected in several southern sub-tropical areas of Moçambique (Vilankulo, Barra, Paindane, Zavora), this time was not so easy to find sea slugs and often each of us would not collect more than 4 to 10 specimens per dive; but steadily over the 2-weeks of fieldwork we reached the exciting number of about 85 species, with approximately 60 new records for Mozambique and around 14 new to Science. This seems to be a pattern on many pristine tropical areas; low abundances but high diversity of sea slugs.

Photographing the daily catch

Photographing the daily catch

The "crew". Left to right: Erwan Sola (University of KwaZulu-Natal), Isabel Silva (University Lúrio, Pemba / Vamizi Conservation and Research Project), Yara Tibiriçá (Zavora Marine Lab), Manuel Malaquias (University Museum of Bergen), and Joana Trindade (Vamizi Conservation and Research Project)

The “crew”. Left to right: Erwan Sola (University of KwaZulu-Natal), Isabel Silva (University Lúrio, Pemba / Vamizi Conservation and Research Project), Yara Tibiriçá (Zavora Marine Lab), Manuel Malaquias (University Museum of Bergen), and Joana Trindade (Vamizi Conservation and Research Project)

Transferring specimens to ethanol at Palma beach (Palma village not far from the border with Tanzania), under the puzzled eyes of a group of locals.

Transferring specimens to ethanol at Palma beach (Palma village not far from the border with Tanzania), under the puzzled eyes of a group of locals.

University Lurio. Newly graduated students with supervisors and opponents.

University Lurio. Newly graduated students with supervisors and opponents.

The farewell to Vamizi was not easy; the beauty, warm, and peaceful atmosphere of Vamizi together with its incredible underwater diversity and colours will last surely forever in our memories. Yet, the journey was not over! We headed to the town of Pemba for the last three nights where some formalities were still on the agenda.

Professor Isabel Silva from the University Lúrio in Pemba and member of the Vamizi Island Conservation and Research Project and a join-organizer of our expedition, have invited each member of the team to give a seminar at the university and to act as opponents on the defence of several theses of “licenciatura”. While my colleagues have talked about the sea slugs of Moçambique and the coral reefs of Vamizi Island, I decided to get a away from my field of research (but not of interest!) and discourse about “wired animals” such as loriciferans, xenoturbellids, kinorhynchs, and others… Biological diversity is definitely much more than turtles, sharks, whales, and manta-rays…, even goes beyond colourful sea slugs!

 

Melibe sp. Vamizi Island

Melibe sp. Vamizi Island.

Is this a slug? Yes it is! Marionia arborescens. Vamizi Island

Is this a slug? Yes it is! Marionia arborescens. Vamizi Island.

Chromodoris cf. quadricolor. Vamizi Island

Chromodoris cf. quadricolor. Vamizi Island.

Chromodoris boucheti. Vamizi Island

Chromodoris boucheti. Vamizi Island

Chelidonura punctata. Vamizi Island

Chelidonura punctata. Vamizi Island.

Chelidonura mandroroa. Vamizi Island

Chelidonura mandroroa. Vamizi Island.

Chelidonura electra. Vamizi Island

Chelidonura electra. Vamizi Island.

Phyllodesmium cf. magnum. Vamizi Island.

Phyllodesmium cf. magnum. Vamizi Island.

Cadlinella ornatissima. Vamizi island.

Cadlinella ornatissima. Vamizi island.

Baby green turtles recovered from a damaged nest, with a rare case of albinism in this group of reptiles.

Baby green turtles recovered from a damaged nest, with a rare case of albinism in this group of reptiles.

Conservation on the move; Release of green baby turtles on the beach at Vamizi Island.

Conservation “on the move”; Release of green baby turtles on the beach at Vamizi Island.

Philinopsis pilsbryi. Vamizi Island

Philinopsis pilsbryi. Vamizi Island.

Coconut crab. Extinct to nearly extinct in many islands of the Indo-Pacific. Vamizi Island.

Coconut crab. Extinct to nearly extinct in many islands of the Indo-Pacific. Vamizi Island.

Another resident of Vamizi Island locally named "jibóia".

A “slimy” resident of Vamizi Island locally named “jibóia”.

A kingfisher bird. Vamizi Island.

A kingfisher bird. Vamizi Island.

A surprising guest found in my bedroom.

An uninvited guest in my bedroom.

A weaver bird. Vamizi Island.

A weaver bird. Vamizi Island.

-Manuel

Uncovering the origin of species in the Caribbean region – fieldwork in the Florida Keys

The lab building at Mote (summerland Key)

The lab building at Mote (summerland Key)

The tropical western Atlantic and in particular the Caribbean is the second most diverse marine region in the World only outnumbered in species by the Indo-West Pacific. The processes that lead to this richness are not fully understood, but the diversity of habitats, the network of islands and cays, the uplift of the Isthmus of Panama, and the various periods of transient allopatry caused by sea level changes during the Plio-Pleistocene epochs have most likely played a role.

The canal just off the Mote Lab

The canal just off the Mote Lab

Anne's beach (Islamorada); a sandy flat with patches of seagrass and coral

Anne’s beach (Islamorada); a sandy flat with patches of seagrass and coral

A mooring area with lined by mangroves with the bottom covered by seagrass and algae (Key Largo)

A mooring area with lined by mangroves with the bottom covered by seagrass and algae (Key Largo)

Mangroves at Summerland Key

Mangroves at Summerland Key

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium). An endemic subspecies of the American white-tailed deer

A Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium). An endemic subspecies of the American white-tailed deer

The iguana is an exotic species very common in the Keys

The iguana is an exotic species very common in the Keys

Pelicans, a daily presence in the Keys

Pelicans, a daily presence in the Keys

At the Section for Natural History at the University Museum of Bergen we are investigating the causes and timing of marine diversification in the Caribbean using as model a cryptic species complex of a gastropod (the Bulla occidentalis species-complex). This project led us previously to sample in places like Brazil, Venezuela, Guadeloupe, Panama, the Bahamas, and Bermuda and benefited from samples from many other places collected and kindly provided by several colleagues.

The Most Wanted! Bulla occidentalis (Key Largo)

The Most Wanted! Bulla occidentalis (Key Largo)

At night sorting through the daily catch

At night sorting through the daily catch

A preliminary molecular phylogenetic analysis of the data have yielded intriguing results with specimens from the Florida Keys depicting an unexpected level of isolation hardly sharing any haplotypes with “conspecifics” from close by neighboring areas like the Florida Peninsula and Cuba. Nevertheless, the reduced number of specimens that we had available from the Florida Keys hampered any sound testing of this trend. Therefore, a fieldtrip to the Keys was organized between the 7–16 January 2015 in order to collect additional specimens from the local representative of the Bulla occidentalis species-complex.

Spurilla braziliana (Key Largo)

Spurilla braziliana (Key Largo)

Phylaplysia engeli blending with its preferred habitat - seagrass leaves

Phylaplysia engeli blending with its preferred habitat – seagrass leaves

Hermaea cruciata (Key Largo)

Hermaea cruciata (Key Largo)

Haminoea sp. (Key Largo)

Haminoea sp. (Key Largo)

The Florida Keys are an arc-shaped coral archipelago located off the southern coast of Florida, dividing the Atlantic Ocean to the east from the Gulf of Mexico to the west. The Keys form the southernmost portion of the continental United States; they begin at the southeastern coast of the Florida peninsula, about 24 km south of Miami, and extend in a arc to Key West, the southernmost of the inhabited islands, and on to the uninhabited Dry Tortugas, just 140 km from Cuba.

The base for the all operation was set at Mote Marine Tropical Laboratory in Summerland Key near the southern tip of the Keys. Pleasant accommodation with sea views, a lab equipped with microscopes and seawater on the tap, plus my little red Mazda rented at the Miami airport (by the way… for a week it became the smallest car to ride the roads of the Keys!) were the ingredients to what turn into a very successful fieldtrip.

The Keys stretch over 150 km and a great amount of time was spent finding and exploring good sampling sites. Those varied from mangrove areas with seagrass beds, sandy beaches with patches of seagrass and clumps of coral, to areas densely vegetated by mangroves, algae and seagrass. At the end two populations of Bulla occidentalis were found plus many other spectacular sea slugs. This material is now housed in our systematic collections and will help unraveling the “entrails” that underlie marine speciation and biogeography in the tropical western Atlantic.

 

 

Haminoea antillarum (Key Largo)

Haminoea antillarum (Key Largo)

Elysia subornata (Key Largo)

Elysia subornata (Key Largo)

Elysia papillosa (Key Largo)

Elysia papillosa (Key Largo)

Elysia crispata (Key Largo)

Elysia crispata (Key Largo)

Elysia cornigera (Key Largo)

Elysia cornigera (Key Largo)

Dondice occidentalis (Key Largo)

Dondice occidentalis (Key Largo)

Cratena cf. piuatensis (Key Largo)

Cratena cf. piuatensis (Key Largo)

Costasiella ocellifera (Key Largo)

Costasiella ocellifera (Key Largo)

Chelidonura berolina (Key Largo)

Chelidonura berolina (Key Largo)

A red form of ?Dondice occidentalis (Key Largo)

A red form of ?Dondice occidentalis (Key Largo)

More about… Fieldtrip to Mozambique – hunting for seaslugs

Chromodoris africana (Zavora, Inhambane). This species is part of a complex in need of revision where other "species" imaged here are also part of (e.g. Chromodoris hamiltoni, Hypselodoris regina, Chromodoris elisabethina)

Chromodoris africana (Zavora, Inhambane). This species is part of a complex in need of revision where other “species” imaged here are also part of (e.g. Chromodoris hamiltoni, Hypselodoris regina, Chromodoris elisabethina)

Chromodoris cf. elisabethina (Zavora, Inhambane)

Chromodoris cf. elisabethina (Zavora, Inhambane)

On the 27th January we left the subtropical latitudes and moved into the tropics where we established our base-camp in the town of Vilanculos overlooking the Bazaruto Archipelago Natural Park – a string of six islands surrounded by coral reefs. Regrettably a spiral of bureaucracy and administrative complications made impossible to obtain the necessary collecting permit to sample in the pristine reefs of the Natural Park. Alternative good sampling sites were not that easy to find and the weather conditions also didn’t help much with strong winds and some rain, resulting in a very choppy sea. We decided to move back south one day before scheduled and spend two days in the village of Paindane with great tidal and inshore reefs housing an extraordinary diversity of slugs. Here we sampled both at night- and day-time and was impressive to see the faunal differences between these two periods of the day.

Heading for snorkeling during spring tide in a tidal reef in Zavora.

Heading for snorkeling during spring tide in a tidal reef in Zavora.

On the 2nd February we travelled back to the village of Zavora where we had meet for the beginning of the campaign. We spend the last three days sampling in Zavora a truly hot spot for marine slugs; the diversity in the tidal and subtidal reefs exceeds anything I have experienced before. My colleagues from the Zavora Marine Lab have already registered the occurrence of nearly 200 species in these reefs and even so we managed to add to the list a few more!

Sorting the catch on the beach in Vilanculos with the Bazaruto Natural Park on the back scene

Overall, about 80 species were collected during our fieldtrip but the identification of several of them requires now detailed study and will integrate ongoing projects at the Natural History Museum of Bergen.

Chromodoris tennentana (Zavora, Inhambane)

Chromodoris tennentana (Zavora).

Hypselodoris nigrolineata (Zavora, Inhambane)

Hypselodoris nigrolineata (Zavora, Inhambane)

Hypselodoris nigrostriata (Zavora, Inhambane)

Hypselodoris nigrostriata (Zavora, Inhambane)

Goniobranchus cf. tinctorius (Vilanculos). This is part of another complex of species in need of systematic study

Goniobranchus cf. tinctorius (Vilanculos). This is part of another complex of species in need of systematic study

 

Nembrotha purpureolineata (Zavora).

Nembrotha purpureolineata (Zavora).

Flabellina rubrolineata (off Benguerra I, Bazaruto archipelago).

Flabellina rubrolineata (off Benguerra I, Bazaruto archipelago).

Protaeolidia cf. juliae, a cryptic nudibranch on its prey species of sea-fan coral.

Protaeolidia cf. juliae, a cryptic nudibranch on its prey species of sea-fan coral.

Micromelo undatus (Zavora). Presently at the University Museum we are revising the systematics of this species regarded as cosmopolitan but likely made up of three or four morphologically very similar lineages.

Micromelo undatus (Zavora). Presently at the University Museum we are revising the systematics of this species regarded as cosmopolitan but likely made up of three or four morphologically very similar lineages.

On the road

On the road between Vilanculos and Paindane at 90km/h…!

Fieldtrip to Mozambique – collecting sea slugs in the most diverse marine biota of the World

Chromodoris hamiltoni (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Chromodoris hamiltoni (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

A sand flat lined with mangroves and coconut trees (Barra estuary, Inhambane, Mozambique)

A sand flat lined with mangroves and coconut trees (Barra estuary, Inhambane, Mozambique)

The tropical Indo-West Pacific harbours the highest diversity of marine life in the World with many species still undescribed. In the region, the eastern coast of Africa is one of the less studied areas and few opisthobranchs gastropods have been recorded in Mozambique with a coastline of 2,700 km stretching across sub-tropical and tropical latitudes.

Heading for sampling on a sand flat with seagrass (Barra estuary, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Heading for sampling on a sand flat with seagrass (Barra estuary, Inhambane, Mozambique)

 

Together with colleagues from the Zavora Marine Lab (Mozambique) I will be surveying the southern part of Mozambique between the village of Zavora – approximately 500 km north of the border with South Africa – and the tropical archipelago of Bazaruto. This 3-weeks fieldtrip (16 Jan–6 Feb) is part of an effort to document the diversity of opisthobranchs at a global scale and to understand the biogeography and speciation patterns of these molluscs.

After a couple of initial days in Zavora we headed north to the region of Inhambane, famous for its aggregations of manta rays and whale sharks where we spent about a week sampling for the far most spectacular sea slugs!

Roboastra gracilis (Paindane, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Roboastra gracilis (Paindane, Inhambane, Mozambique)

A species of sacoglossan (Placida sp.) found inside the "bubble" algae Valonia sp where it lives and feeds from.

A species of sacoglossan (Placida sp.) found inside the “bubble” algae Valonia sp where it lives and feeds from.

Pupa solidula (Barra estuary, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Pupa solidula (Barra estuary, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Phyllidia marindica (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Phyllidia marindica (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Philine aperta (Barra estuary, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Philine aperta (Barra estuary, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Hypselodoris rudmani (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Hypselodoris rudmani (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Hypselodoris regina (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Hypselodoris regina (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Hypselodoris maridadilus (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Hypselodoris maridadilus (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

The flamboyant cephalaspidean species Hydatina physis (Zavora, Inharrime, Mozambique)

The flamboyant cephalaspidean species Hydatina physis (Zavora, Inharrime, Mozambique)

Halgerda wasinensis (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Halgerda wasinensis (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Glossodoris cf. plumbea (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Glossodoris cf. plumbea (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

An undescribed species of Doris nudibranch (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

An undescribed species of Doris nudibranch (Barra reefs, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Costasiella kuroshimae

Costasiella kuroshimae, a sacoglossan that lives on the green algae Avrainvillea sp. (Barra estuary, Inhambane, Mozambique)

Traditional Mozambican family housing with huts arranged in a circle around a communal central area

Traditional Mozambican family housing with huts arranged in a circle around a communal central area

Hunting Slugs in The Bahamas

A sand flat lined by mangroves; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

A sand flat lined by mangroves; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

Recent research has showed that something is going on in the Bahamas! Even when specimens from these islands look pretty much alike its “con-specifics” from other parts of the Caribbean region, they show considerable genetic divergence. Likely ecological and/or oceanographic processes are limiting gene-flow between the Bahamas and nearby islands accelerating the rate of speciation.

Rocky shore; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

Rocky shore; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

At the University Museum we want to understand the “entrails” of these processes and therefore we headed to sunny Bahamas for a two-weeks fieldtrip in Eulethera I. Seventeen specimens of opisthobranchs gastropods have been collected and two populations of our model-species, the cephalaspidean Bulla occidentalis, were found inside closed ponds lined by mangroves and limestone. These ponds are very special habitats completely enclosed and only communicating with the ocean by submarine outlets or through the porosity of the limestone rock and can be considered “islands inside islands”.

Turtle Pond; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

Turtle Pond; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

DNA will be soon extracted from specimens of the two populations of Bulla occidentalis and compared with that of other populations throughout the tropical West Atlantic from Brazil to Bermuda. This will help understanding processes of historical biogeography and speciation in the highly complex Caribbean region.

Black morph of Bulla occidentals; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

Black morph of Bulla occidentals; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

The nudibranch Phidiana lynceus; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

The nudibranch Phidiana lynceus; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

The aglajid Chelidonura normani; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

The aglajid Chelidonura normani; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

The aglajid Chelidonura hirundinina; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

The aglajid Chelidonura hirundinina; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

The sacoglossan Ascobulla ulla; Eulethera I., The Bahamas

The sacoglossan Ascobulla ulla; Eulethera I., The Bahamas