New species discovered in Little Cayman
(CNS): Scientists on the hunt for tiny, complex and elusive worms that live in well- oxygenated sands struck gold recently in Little Cayman. Dr. Rick Hochberg and his team of biologists from the University of Massachusetts who are studying the biodiversity of marine gastrotrichs in the Caribbean, chose to complete part of their research at the Little Cayman Research Centre (LCRC) because of its pristine environment the facilities at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI). Not only did they find what they were looking for but were astonished and excited by how much gastrotrich biodiversity they saw in Little Cayman. In one week they discovered 15 new species of gastrotrich worms which they hope will be confirmed through DNA tests.
There are about 800 known gastrotrich species, Dr Hochberg said but there could be as many as 10,000 and his mission is to discover and describe as many of them as he can.
In Little Cayman he has found enough of these complex species to warrant expanding his work and plans to develop a manual about these little worms and intends to host a workshop at the Little Cayman Research Centre, placing Cayman firmly on the map of serious scientific research.
The clock is ticking on the scientists working in the field of gastrotrichs as a result of climate change and habitat degradation which threaten to wipe out species before they are even discovered. “Many of these microscopic worms will be lost before they are even discovered,” the CCMI said in a release issued about Dr. Hochberg’s project.
The CCMI said that this kind of research is vital for understanding the extent of biodiversity on earth and the genetic methods that Dr. Hochberg is using to determine which species are new and how they are related will help shed more light on how speciation and evolution happen.
One gastrotrich which the team has discovered (Urodasys viviparous) has a very curious trait -- it is a worm that gives birth to live young. This is seen in many other creatures including sea horses, sharks, and mammals (including humans) but worms and related organisms are generally known to lay eggs. This proves that there is still so much to be learned about how animals live and why similar traits are found in so many different, and apparently unrelated, groups of animals.
The Central Caribbean Marine Institute was incorporated in 1998 as a non-profit 501c3 organization. CCMI was established as an international charitable organization after becoming incorporated in the Cayman Islands in 2002 and in the UK in 2004. Since its first years, CCMI has proven a valuable asset to the effort of understanding changing coral reef and tropical marine environments, and its research and education programs have established a solid foundation for future reef education and awareness in the Caribbean and for students and researchers from around the world.
A key component of the organization's strategy was realized in May 2006 with the opening of the Little Cayman Research Center. Equipped with wet and dry laboratories, a classroom, library, dormitory-style and private rooms and a sustainable off-the-grid bathhouse as well as easy access to the reefs the Station is an important new research and education centre for all of the Cayman Islands and enables programmes like Ocean Literacy to be taught in optimum surroundings for learning.
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