August 17, 2004 – The shrimp Dr. Arthur Anker studies scarcely resemble their grocery store counterparts and may be more intriguing than tasty.
Anker, a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Alberta Department of Biological Sciences, focuses his research on a family of shrimp known as snapping shrimp--scientifically known as alpheidae--and has recently discovered two new species of the critters.
Shrimp from this family are diverse, ranging from one to nine centimetres in length, and including some rather lobster-like varieties with large claws used for self-defence and killing prey.
Anker's findings--the result of a collaboration with Dr. Tomoyuki Komai of the Natural History Museum & Institute in Japan--were recently published in The Journal of Natural History.
Automate hayashii was collected off the coast of Western Australia. The species is both the northern-most record of the genus in the world and the most northern identification of the Alpheidae family in the Western Pacific Ocean.
The other species identified--Bermudcaris australiensis--was collected near Hokkaido, Japan and is the first time a species of the Bermudcaris genus has been identified in the Indo-Pacific region.
Anker notes that the identification of a genus is more unusual than the naming of a species. He and Texas A & M University colleague Dr. Thomas Iliffe identified the Bermudcaris genus in 2000.
But nevertheless, his discovery of Bermudcaris australiensis is quite significant, as it indicates that Bermudcaris is far more widespread than once thought. It had been believed that the genus was found only in Bermuda caves.
Anker examined the external characteristics of the shrimp, to discover where it falls within the known taxonomy (classification) of a kind of creature. If a specimen cannot be classified within an existing genus, a new genus is created. The process is called description.
The information collected from description can help biologists trace the origins of living things as well as determine the biodiversity, or richness in variety, in an area.
Description is "the basis of all biological, phylogenetic and evolutionary study," Anker said. After description "we can make a lot of hypotheses and assumptions about the evolution of a genus—it's a lot more interesting than species descriptions."
In the course of his career, Anker has already described 15 new species and several new genera of shrimp.
While the marine world contains many different families of shrimp, Anker thinks his group is particularly interesting, as it contains some very unusual varieties. Some species, sometimes known as pistol shrimps, use their claws to shoot imploding bubbles. The fast-moving bubbles create sound waves, stunning prey. In some cases the underwater implosion creates light, a mechanism that intrigues physicists and biologists alike.
Other varieties of alpheid shrimp live in colonies, much like termites; still others have symbiotic relationships with goby fish, which protect the shrimp while they build burrows underwater. They then share the burrow.
But while there are biologists studying other shrimp families, few are currently studying the snapping shrimp.
"I'm the only one in the world probably now (consistently) working on this group," said Anker. "Which is unfortunate, because I need a lot of help, because there are too many species to describe, so I can't do it alone.”
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