Uroptychus cartesi. Credit: K. Baba / E. Macpherson
The LIFE project Indemares (LIFE07 NAT/E/000732) has made the exciting discovery of a previously unknown species of deep-sea squat lobster in the Atlantic Ocean off the Spanish Galician coast. The find of this new species highlights the secrets that Europe’s oceans still hold and the value of improved investigation and understanding of marine ecosystems.
The species was found at more than 1 400 metres depth on the Galicia Bank – an underwater mountain in the Atlantic Ocean facing the Galician coast - during the August 2011 research expedition of the ocean survey vessel ‘Miguel Oliver’. It was undertaken under the Indemares project, which aims to study and characterise marine ecosystems off the Spanish coast with the overall aim of developing the Spanish marine Natura 2000 network.
The species is a 5-7 cm orange crustacean - including the claws – that usually lives around deep corals and gorgonians. Called a squat lobster it is not actually a lobster, but a member of the family Chirostylidae and belongs to the group of hermit crabs. It has been given the official name Uroptychus cartesi after researcher Joan Cartes from Barcelona's Institute of Marine Sciences, who was the first to recognise that this was a new species, amongst other contributions to knowledge of deep-sea fauna.
The new species was confirmed after study by the researchers Keiji Baba (Kumamoto University, Japan) and Enrique Macpherson (Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes, Spain). Of particular interest to the researchers involved was that the species is only the fifth from the genus Uroptychus to be found in European Atlantic waters and furthermore is actually most closely related to species only previously found in the Caribbean. "All North Atlantic species have common features and are likely to have a shared ancestry, with the ancestral stock invading the Atlantic from the Pacific and Indian Oceans a few million years ago," explains Enrique Macpherson.
Threats to the species have already been identified as the destruction of coral and gorgonian habitats – particularly from trawling activities and the low dispersal area of the young, which only spend a very short time in the planktonic stage and remain close to where they hatch.
The LIFE project Indemares expects to announce the official recognition of further new species discovered in Spanish waters in the near future.
For more information, please visit the project website.