New Crab Diversity Discovered In Coral Reefs

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The scientists discovered that Chlorodielline crabs, which are common and look very similar to other species within a group, are very difficult to tell apart by appearance alone.

Researchers discovered that crabs without overlapping ranges are essentially the same. The Gonopods will have a special function for those that do overlap, however. These are specialized reproductive appendages seen on various arthropods, such as moths, millipedes, and crustaceans.

reef swimming crab - Photo by Budak at Flickr
reef swimming crab – Photo by Budak at Flickr

Robert Lasley, the study’s principal author and the current curator of crustacea at the Biorepository at the University of Guam:

“They all look the same, until you compare their gonopods, which are structurally complex and very species specific. They’re among the most abundant coral reef crustaceans, which makes them very important. They live in what are essentially apartment buildings made out of dead coral, and there are so many of them that any time you pick up a piece of reef rubble, they spill out.” Although Lasley found that the species were connected via DNA, explaining the wild variability in gonopods is challenging. Future research will focus on solving the mystery of why precisely this divergence occurs.

“What we can say is these crabs start genetically diverging in different geographic areas, and then the divergence of gonopods is an important piece of the speciation process that happens at the tail end of things.”

The original study is available here.

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