MV species in Top 10

25 May, 2009

tiny seahorse
At just 13.8mm long, Satomi's Pygmy Seahorse Hippocampus satomiae is the world's smallest. The holotype (original) specimen is held in Museum Victoria's collection.
Image: Rudie Kuiter
Source: Museum Victoria

Two Museum Victoria species have been placed on the list of Top 10 species new to science in 2008 - the ‘mother fish’ Materpiscis attenboroughi discovered by Head of Sciences, Dr John Long, and the world's smallest known seahorse Hippocampus satomiae, described by Research Associate Rudie Kuiter.

Each year, the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) at Arizona State University compiles the Top 10 list in consultation with an international committee of scientists. The list draws attention to the incredible biodiversity on our planet, and the importance of distinguishing species to aid their study and preservation.

Taxonomy – the scientific discipline of discovering, describing and classifying species – is an ongoing research area for the Sciences Department at Museum Victoria.  Every year, museum researchers publish dozens of articles that discuss and analyse the taxonomy of numerous species. So far, this year’s batch of papers describe tyrant flycatchers (birds), New Zealand frogs and reptiles, pygmy seahorses, ancient fish, marine worms and sea spiders. Current projects are discovering new species in a range of habitats, including on coral reefs, the Western Australian continental shelf and inland deserts.

Classifying species is a lengthy process that often involves comparison of hundreds of specimens, detailed observation, and molecular analysis. Although 18,516 species were described in 2007 alone, the IISE estimate that only about 10% of the millions of species on Earth have been categorized. This is especially so in Australia where numbers of species seem to be higher than in many other parts of the world.

“The first step in understanding and protecting biodiversity is being able to recognise and name a species correctly every time we see it – this is what taxonomists do, and they are still hard at it,” says Dr Robin Wilson, a Senior Curator of Marine Invertebrates. “Increasing pressures to describe and monitor biodiversity mean that taxonomists throughout Australia are constantly being consulted to help describe our own flora and fauna.”

Amazing organisms on the IISE Top 10 list illustrate that unnamed species are still all around us. The 2008 list features a surprising number of large and conspicuous species that have been overlooked until now – among them a 56.7cm long stick insect, a tall and spectacular flowering palm, and a white ghost slug from a highly populated area in Wales.

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