The Barramundi (Lates calcarifer), known also as Asian Seabass, occurs in rivers and coastal waters not just in Queensland and the Northern Territory, but also throughout tropical Asia and all the way to the Persian Gulf.

In a casual conversation in 1996, Rohan Pethiyagoda and Anthony Gill, both now Research Associates of the Australian Museum, thought it strange that a species that spends much of its life in freshwater could have so wide a range. Why hadn’t its separate populations diverged over time to form distinct species? They decided to collaborate to investigate this question and over the next 16 years examined specimens of Lates in more than a dozen museums worldwide. As luck would have it, the two new species they discovered among these, from Burma and Sri Lanka, were preserved in Australian collections, at CSIRO and the Australian Museum.

In a paper published in Zootaxa in May 2012, they named the new species Lates uwisara (after the Burmese patriot–monk U Wisara) and Lates lakdiva (a classical name for Sri Lanka). The Australian Barramundi remains Lates calcarifer.

In their paper they warn against the widespread translocation and stocking of Barramundi in the Indian-Ocean countries as these could threaten the genetic integrity of local populations. Indeed, translocations have been so widespread in Asia that the Lates populations of many countries are already contaminated, which underlines the extraordinary value to science of specimens collected decades ago and preserved in collections such as the Australian Museum’s.

Download the full paper.