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Copepod diversity

Copepods are aquatic crustaceans, smaller relatives of the crabs and lobsters. In terms of their size, abundance and diversity of way of life, they can be regarded as the insects of the seas.

A British Copepod

Ergasilus sieboldi attached to the gill of its fish host.

Copepods have colonised virtually every habitat from 10,000 metres down in the deep sea to lakes 5,000 metres up in the Himalayas, and every temperature regime from subzero polar waters to hot springs. They are by far the most dominant animal group in the marine plankton (on which the oceanic food chains depend) and often in freshwater plankton. These minute arthropods inhabit all types of marine sediments - from sand to fine mud and ooze - and can even be found on land in damp moss and in subterranean habitats, such as caves and groundwater. This variety of free-living forms is only part of the copepod success story, since they have also become parasites of almost every major animal group from sponges and corals to fish and< mammals. Copepods that parasitise fish skin and gills, for example, are serious pests of commercial importance in both marine and freshwater fish farms.

Museum scientists Geoff Boxshall and Sheila Halsey have just completed a book entitled “An Introduction to Copepod Diversity” published in January, 2004 by The Ray Society. It comprises a synthesis of all 210 family-level groups and lists over 1,600 genera of copepods. For each family it provides: a modern illustrated diagnosis, a list of included genera, an outline of any taxonomic problems, a key to genera (except for three families) and a brief introduction to the biology of the family. The work is designed to facilitate the initial identification, at least to genus, of any species of copepod from any habitat anywhere in the world.

For further information contact:

E-mail: Geoff Boxshall