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19/03/2019

In the sludge and slime of the strange stromatolites – living “rocks” formed by microscopic algae –along the shorelines near Nelson Mandela University, a research team uncovered a new species last year: the Stromatolite Tanaid (Sinelobus stromatoliticus) which has just received world acclaim.

The discovery of this shrimp-like creature, smaller than a grain of rice, was led by Dr Gavin Rishworth (now a Research Fellow at the University) and Prof Renzo Perissinotto (who was then the DST/NRF SARChI Chair: Shallow Water Ecosystems), in collaboration with Dr Magdalena Błażewicz from the University of Łódź, Poland.

The Stromatolite Tanaid has been named one of the Top Ten Marine Species of 2018 by the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS). This list showcases the most unusual, weird and wonderful sea creatures discovered by scientists from around the world each year – approximately 2,000 new marine species are described each year. Fascinating critters highlighted in the 2018 top-10 list include the Confusing Blanket Hermit Crab, the Hairy-Footed ‘Baggins’ Shrimp, the Southern Though-Guy Worm, and of course, the Stromatolite Tanaid.

This year’s announcement coincides with International Taxonomist Appreciation Day – a day to recognise the tireless and oftentimes thankless dedication of those who spend their lives revealing the wonderful “new” species that we never knew existed. However, a very large proportion of all marine species on Earth are unknown or undescribed, making the conservation of these species near-impossible. This is a critical knowledge gap. Taxonomists are the treasure-hunters of the biological world. And in a time on Earth where unprecedented change is facing many environments, including the sea, scientists who dedicate their lives to knowing and preserving its biological diversity are increasingly important.

The Stromatolite Tanaid lives in a truly unique environment. Stromatolite habitats have only recently been discovered in the past two decades in South Africa. What is remarkable about this is that the stromatolite pools closely resemble the earliest and most extensive ecosystems known from the fossil record, some of which date as far back as 3.5 billion years. Most stromatolites are extinct, with few living examples known globally. The South African stromatolites are therefore a unique glimpse into those habitats that might have existed when life first began. The fact that unusual, new species are living there is really just an exciting bonus.

Scientists are eagerly searching within these stromatolite ecosystems for other unique treasures, but so far the charismatic Stromatolite Tanaid is the “posterchild” of its home and has been an exciting local discovery in South Africa and for the tanaid taxonomy community during 2018. It’s also a proud Nelson Mandela University research achievement.

For more information, read the WoRMS press-release online at: http://lifewatch.be/en/2019.03.19-WoRMS-LifeWatch-press-release

or contact Dr Gavin Rishworth at gavin.rishworth@mandela.ac.za / 041-504-1668

Contact information
Mrs Liza Rishworth
Research Assitant
Tel: 27 41 504 2852
Liza.Rishworth@mandela.ac.za