An amazing 91 new species of seaworms from coral reefs off Lizard Island have just been described!

An international scientific team led by scientists at the Australian Museum Research Institute have dramatically increased our knowledge of the seaworm diversity at Lizard Island, the location of the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station.

Following on from the 11th International Polychaete Conference held in Sydney at the Australian Museum in August 2013, a group of researchers went off to Lizard Island Research Station for two weeks. During this time seaworms from many habitats around Lizard and the Outer Barrier were collected and sorted in the lab. The team came from six countries and ranged from senior academics to PhD students interested in particular families of worms and also included a professional photographer. 121 sites were sampled and 1640 lots of scientific specimens were registered. The researchers then left Lizard Island and returned to their home institution to wait for the arrival of their worms.

Over the next 18 months the researchers worked up the material and prepared taxonomic papers. We then co-ordinated the reviewing of these papers and published them as a monograph in a special volume of the journal Zootaxa with open access. The resulting monograph is remarkable in its contents- describing 91 new species, along with 67 new records for Lizard Island and the Great Barrier Reef. In total 285 taxa (species and unresolved species complexes) are recorded! As a bonus, many papers have wonderful photos of their animals in life.

We encourage you to browse through this issue (link below) and marvel at the beauty of these animals that play a critical role in the coral reef ecosystem, but have often been somewhat neglected in coral reef studies. Many live in the intereefal sediments, others bore into either live or dead coral and while so-called "nestlers" occupy the empty burrows of boring organisms. A few are even pelagic or parasitic. They can live freely in the sediment or in tubes made of mud, sand, or even self-secreted calcium carbonate. Seaworms exhibit an amazing diversity of feeding strategies encompassing filter-feeders, surface deposit-feeders, herbivores or carnivores. They also show a tremendous range in reproductive strategies and life cycles.

While this volume describes a large number of new species, it also collates previously published material for selected families, and it highlight how much more still needs to be done to describe the worm fauna of Lizard Island. Many families remain virtually unknown. We hope this will act as a catalyst for more work on Lizard Island polychaetes!

Pat Hutchings and Elena Kupriyanova
Australian Museum Research Institute, Australian Museum, Sydney

More information:
Hutchings, P. & Kupriyanova, E. (eds.) 2015. Coral reef-associated fauna of Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef: polychaetes and allies. Zootaxa Special Volume 4019 (1): 001–801

Pat and Elena would like to acknowledge the support of the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation who enabled this workshop and made the publication possible. We thank Anne Hoggett and Lyle Vail – Co-Directors of the Research Station, who helped us tremendously before, during, and after the workshop which ensured its success.

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