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Global Evolutionary Diversity of Commensal Marine Amphipod Crustaceans

Grant Winner

  • James Darwin Thomas, Ph.D.


  • Richard Dodge, Ph.D.


There is growing consensus among scientists that coral reefs and associated ecosystems are globally threatened and that decades of efforts to protect and manage reefs have largely failed to slow or reverse declines in abundance, diversity, and habitat structure. New emerging research using "model organisms" suggests traditional paradigms do not accurately assess biodiversity levels and that new approaches are warranted. An alternative predictive model based on cladistic biogeography of cryptic, endocommensal coral reef amphipod crustaceans suggests that areas of exceptional diversity result from accumulation of species into "composite" areas rather than dispersal out of supposed "centers of origin" thus contradicting the reigning paradigms commonly invoked in marine conservation efforts.

By analyzing distribution patterns of smaller endosymbiotic reef invertebrates that lack a dispersive larval stage, accurate biogeographic patterns of evolutionary diversity can be developed and analyzed. Subsequent research and conservation efforts can then focus on reef areas where combined geological history and biodiversity data suggest composite biodiversity patterns. While distribution and taxonomic data are available for wide areas of the tropical seas, one the most critical transitional temperate reef areas, the Austral seas of New Zealand and South Australia remain virtually unknown and uncollected. Thus, while leucothoid amphipods offer interesting avenues of investigation their wider use by investigators is constrained by a high level of taxonomic confusion within the group.

This collaborative project requests travel and field support funds for the PI and two NSU students to collect and study amphipod crustaceans from shallow temperate reef systems of northern New Zealand and South Australia. Students will participate actively in this research project and collaborate with established marine researchers thus gaining relevant experience. The project will employ cutting edge digital imaging technology to document amphipod behavior and distinctive color patterns that will be incorporated into peer-reviewed publications of new species.

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