Helena Wiklund and Adrian Glover, together with collaborators from the USA and Sweden, have described six new species in the polychaete worm genus Ophryotrocha. The six new species were discovered on five whale-falls and two wood-falls in deep-sea water off the Californian coast.
Worms in the genus Ophryotrocha were until recently only known from shallow seas rich in nutrients, but as deep sea exploration has progressed, they have been found to be common in organically-enriched habitats such as hydrothermal vents, cold seeps, whale-falls and in areas impacted by human pollution (such as underneath fish farms), and may well play an important ecosystem function role in the biodegradation and decomposition of organic-rich materials. The new data also highlight the poorly known biodiversity of the deep sea, and how deep-sea species evolved.
The scientists have examined both the morphology and DNA of the worms. Identification of one of the species is only possible by looking at differences in their DNA - its physical form is otherwise identical to another species found in the Atlantic. This is of additional interest because some marine species are found in all oceans but others will be found in only one. The difference in DNA suggests the evolution of different species as a result of geographical separation. It is suggested that there will be significantly more diversity in this and other groups in deep sea habitats with implications for understanding of these mysterious ecosystems.
Wiklund H, Altamira I, Glover AG, Smith CR, Baco A, Dahlgren TG. (2012) Systematics and biodiversity of Ophryotrocha (Annelida, Dorvilleidae) with descriptions of six new species from deep-sea whale-fall and wood-fall habitats in the north-east Pacific. Systematics and Biodiversity 10(2): 243-259.