A newborn in science Fairy Wrasse is described for the first time by a Maldivian scientist

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Although there are hundreds of species of fish off the coast of the Maldives, a fascinating new addition is the very first to be formally described – the scientific process by which an organism goes through to be recognized as a new species – by a Maldivian researcher. Napoleon veiled in rose (Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa), described in the newspaper Zoo Keys, is also one of the first species to have its name derived from the local Dhivehi language, “finifenmaa” meaning “pink”, a nod to its pink hues and the island nation’s national flower. Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences, the University of Sydney, the Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI) and the Field Museum collaborated on the discovery as part of the Academy’s Hope for Reefs . initiative to better understand and protect coral reefs around the world.

“It is always foreign scientists who have described the species found in the Maldives without much involvement of local scientists, even those that are endemic to the Maldives,” says Ahmed Najeeb, co-author of the study and biologist from the Research Institute. Maldivian Navy. “This time is different and being part of something for the first time has been really exciting, especially having the opportunity to work alongside top ichthyologists on such an elegant and beautiful species.”

First collected by researchers in the 1990s, C.finifenmaa was originally thought to be the adult version of a different species, Cirrhilabrus rubrisquamiswhich had been described based on a single juvenile specimen from the Chagos Archipelago, a chain of islands 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of the Maldives.

In this new study, however, researchers took a closer look at adults and juveniles of the multicolored wonder, measuring and counting various characteristics, such as the color of adult males, the height of each spine supporting the fin on the back of the fish. and the number of scales found on different regions of the body. These data, together with genetic analyses, were then compared to C. rubrisquamis specimen to confirm that C.finifenmaa is indeed a unique species.

Importantly, this revelation drastically reduces the known range of each wrasse, a crucial consideration when setting conservation priorities.

“What we previously thought was one widespread species of fish, is actually two different species, each with potentially much more restricted distributions,” says lead author and University of Sydney PhD student Yi-Kai Tea. “It illustrates why the description of new species, and taxonomy in general, is important for the conservation and management of biodiversity.”

Although barely described, researchers claim that the rose-veiled wrasse is already exploited by the aquarist trade.

“Although the species is quite abundant and therefore not currently at high risk of overexploitation, it is still troubling when a fish is already in trade before it even has a scientific name,” says the lead author and curator. Academy of Ichthyology Luiz Rocha, PhD, who co-directs Hope for Reefs initiative. “It shows how much biodiversity there is yet to be described in coral reef ecosystems.”

Last month, Hope for Reefs researchers continued their collaboration with the MMRI by conducting the first studies of reefs in the Maldives’ “twilight zone”, the virtually unexplored coral ecosystems found between 50 and 150 meters (160 and 500 feet). ) below the surface of the ocean – where they found new records of C.finifenmaa as well as at least eight species potentially new to science that have yet to be described.

For researchers, this type of international partnership is essential to better understand and ensure a regenerative future for the coral reefs of the Maldives.

“No one knows these waters better than the people of the Maldivian people,” says Rocha. “Our research is stronger when done in collaboration with local researchers and divers. I am excited to continue our relationship with MMRI and the Department of Fisheries to learn more about the island nation’s reefs and protect them together.

“Collaborating with organizations like the Academy helps us build our local capacity to expand knowledge in this area. This is just the beginning and we are already working together on future projects,” says Najeeb. “Our partnership will help us better understand the uncharted depths of our marine ecosystems and their inhabitants. The more we understand and the more compelling scientific evidence we can gather, the better we can protect it. »

– This press release was originally published on the California Academy of Sciences website

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