Revision of the shallow-water marine families of the Asellota (Crustacea: Isopoda) of tropical and sub-tropical Australia

Isopods crustaceans, also known as pill bugs, sow bugs, scuds, sea- or fish 'lice', sea centipedes and tongue biters, are important members of our marine biota, but as yet less than 30% of Australia’s species are named. They are potential indicators of habitat quality, many species being highly sensitive to habitat disturbance such as pollution, siltation, sea temperature changes or physical disruption (e.g. fishing). They are also a significant component of the diet of small and juvenile fishes.

This project will primarily focus on shallow-water Asellota (Crustacea: Isopoda) from northern Australia, describing new species and genera, and revising genera and families, based on museum and field research. The project will result in the description of more than 60 new species with a strong likelihood of new genera being found. Taxonomic resolution of all Asellota material from the CReefs project will be a major component of the research.

Biogeographically informative as they occur in most habitats, and have high local and regional endemism. Keys to the families, genera and species of Asellota of Australian coral reefs and tropical coastal waters will be produced. Asellota Isopoda are important on Queensland coastal habitats and yet the Queensland Museum’s collections hold very few representatives. This project will develop a major representative collection and enhance Queensland’s capacity to use these animals as indicators of habitat diversity, health and change.

The project will focus on shallow-water (0–100 m) Asellota (Crustacea: Isopoda) from northern Australia, describing new species and genera, together with generic and family revisions based on museum and field research. This diverse and common group is one of the least studied of Australian Crustacea. Asellota are abundant and common in coral-reef habitats, but are effectively undocumented from tropical Australia and poorly known elsewhere in Australia. Asellota constitute approximately 34% of all marine isopods world-wide, while for Queensland that figure is 2% of 302 species, with only two named species.

Recent CReefs collecting indicates that there will be about 10 families (some of which are not yet recorded from Australia), 20 genera and approximately 100 species; of these species only one appears to be named (i.e. described) and probably 80% or more will be new to science. The aim of the project will be, using modern methods, to revise specific families and genera for Australia and describe the CReefs species. It is anticipated that the project would result in the description of more than 60 new species with a strong likelihood of new genera also being described. Keys to the families, genera and species of Asellota of Australian coral reefs and tropical coastal waters will be produced.

Funding

Funded by: the Australian Biological Resources Study grants scheme as part of a collaboration with: the Census of Marine Life’s Australian Census of Coral Reef Ecosystems (CReefs) expeditions, under the auspices of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Investigators

Dr Niel L. Bruce

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