Three new genera, 17 new species and records on a further 35 known species, this is not the last word on Maerid Crustaceans

Two papers covering 10 years of research on the Crustacean amphipod family Maeridae, confirm this group of sea creatures are diverse, complicated and still need a lot more work. This study adds new species and new distribution records to a group of commonly collected yet little studied Australian marine invertebrates. Such large increases in diversity are a reoccurring theme for amphipods. Likened to marine insects, knowledge on this group is expanded through scientific names, images and identification keys. In the family Maeridae, some genera contain over 100 species while others have just one or two known species. Recognising a high diversity of species in museum collections that have been developed over the past 70 years, has indicated there is a lot more that remains unknown. Several new species sit outside or between previously establish generic concepts, so rather than confirming previous ideas about the higher classification of the group, they have blurred the lines and even added new ones.

Maeridae Amphipod Crustaceans
Maeridae Amphipod Crustaceans Image: Roger Springthorpe
© Australian Museum

Collections studied as part of this research were from five state and territory museums, covered 12 genera and curiously included material from Christmas to New Year Island, among countless other locations. With so many new species and distribution records the work was split into two manuscripts. The inspiration for the names of the three new genera of Maeridae amphipod is equally curious.

The new genus Leeuwinella is one of the more fitting names I have applied. Named from the Dutch ship Leeuwin – meaning lioness, the genus is known from a single female specimen. I was surprised such a prominent name was not already in circulation. A genus level name can only be used once within the animal kingdom. Similarly the new genus Huonella collected from the recently sampled Huon ‘A’ Seamount, was also without prior use in the animal world. Plants have their own nomenclatural code, and we regularly duplicate between botanical and zoological scientific names. For example, the genus Amaryllis is an amphipod and also a Brazilian lily.

Yul Brynner is the longer bow. Think of the 1956 version of ‘The King and I’ where Yul Brynner, playing the King of Siam, finishes most formal decrees with the Latin “etcetera etcetera etcetera”. The abbreviation more familiarly used is etc, meaning ‘and so on and so forth’. With another Maeridae genus to name in a family of more than 40 known genera, many including the stem word Maera, the idea of Maera etc etc was in my mind and the new genus Maeraceterus seemed to fit.

Antarctic amphipod
An amphipod crustacean collected during an expedition to the Antarctic aboard the Aurora Australis. Image: Keith Martin-Smith
© Australian Antarctic Division, CSIRO

We are still very much in a phase of discovery. Another decade or two and we might just be getting somewhere towards understanding relationships in the family Maeridae. I had hoped these works would be my last research on Maerids, but a few novel species came to my attention last year. A known genus with four eyes, and a large specimen from the floating sea villages of Brunei are on the books to be described.

Talitrids swimming in a pitfall trap
Talitrids swimming in a pitfall trap. We added sea-water to be able to catch them easily, otherwise, even if not able to escape the trap, they would be jumping all around. Image: Lucia Fanini
© Lucia Fanini

While the higher classification of the family remains under study, knowledge of biodiversity and distribution of species generated from this research has provided several thousand data points towards the management and conservation of marine life in Australia and the broader Indo-Pacific. Proliferating in the sea for millions of years, the known diversity of small crustaceans is an ever expanding field of science providing the foundation for further studies in marine biology.

Dr Lauren Hughes
Postdoctoral Researcher, Marine Invertebrates

More information:

  • L.E. Hughes (2015) Maeridae from the Indo-Pacific: Elasmopus, Leeuwinella gen. nov., Maeropsis, Pseudelasmopus and Quadrimaera (Amphipoda: Crustacea). Zootaxa 4059 (2): 201–256 (22 Dec. 2015).
  • L.E. Hughes (2016) New genera, species and records of Maeridae from Australian Waters: Austromaera, Ceradocus, Glossomaera, Hamimaera, Huonella gen. nov., Linguimaera and Maeraceterus gen. nov. (Crustacea: Amphipoda). Zootaxa 4115 (1): 001–081.