I recently participated in a biodiversity survey of the Farasan Islands with Robert Lasley, a former Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellow, as part of an effort to document and catalog the biodiversity of the Red Sea.
The project is led by Dr. Michael Berumen at the Red Sea Research Center at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. An international team of taxonomic experts on corals, other marine invertebrates, and fish returned to the Red Sea for the third time to sample the coral reef biodiversity of the Farasan Islands in the southern Red Sea near the border of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Previous expeditions were aimed at coral reef surveys in the Gulf of Aqaba in the northern Red Sea, and the central Red Sea coral reefs near the KAUST campus in Thuwal.
The Red Sea lies at the westernmost boundary of the largest and most diverse marine habitat on the planet – the Indo-Pacific. It has a connection to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal, and some invertebrate species may cross the canal barrier, through a process called Lessepsian migration. Documenting the biodiversity of this largely unexplored marine region is key to understanding connectivity in populations of marine species.
As the marine invertebrate team, we were focused on collecting as many of the coral reef invertebrate species as possible by turning rocks, breaking dead coral colonies, and sifting through sand and rubble. While the diversity of the Red Sea fauna is lower than in the famous coral triangle of the west Pacific, it is extremely unique. Chaetopteridae, also called parchment tube worms, are particularly diverse in the Red Sea and form the focus of my Smithsonian research project on their systematics and phylogeny. The specimens collected during this expedition will be included in a phylogeny of the family to help understand how the species in this globally distributed family are related to one another.
by Jenna Moore (Predoctoral Fellow at NMNH)