Smithsonian scientists had a great start to the week on the RV Chapman. DROP Principal Investigator, Dr. Carole Baldwin, thinks her team has already discovered a new species of basslet, a small and colorful reef fish about an inch and a half (3.8 cm) long.
You may be asking yourself: Why does she think this might be a new species? Dr. Baldwin has studied Caribbean reef fishes her entire career, and as a taxonomist, she carefully studies the morphological (or physical) features of each species to better understand their evolution and biology. Scientists use characters like fin shape, color pattern, bone structure, and scale counts to differentiate between species.
In the image below you can see two species of basslet, the Bicolor Basslet (Lipogramma klayi) and the potentially new species from Dominica.
You can clearly see differences in color patterns and fin shape, but these could represent geographical or population differences. DROP researchers take a small sample of tissue from every specimen they collect, and back at the Smithsonian, DNA will be analyzed. Many biodiversity scientists now use genetic information to help identify species, and in this case, the new genetic sample from the bicolor basslet from Dominica will be compared to samples previously obtained from the southern Caribbean.
Coral reefs represent some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and deeper reefs are underexplored globally. Knowing how these deeper communities are connected to shallower reefs and one another is critical to the understanding of the health and resilience of our oceans.