From a fleet of shining beetles to sharks and an alarming bird virus, spanning 5 continents and 3 oceans, these discoveries add to Earth's tree of life
Date: December 21, 2016
of Sciences California Academy
In 2016, researchers at the California Academy of Sciences added 133 new plant and animal species to our family tree, enriching our understanding of Earth's complex web of life and strengthening our ability to make informed conservation decisions. The new species include one bee fly, 43 ants, 36 beetles, one sand wasp, four spiders, six plants, 23 fishes, one eel, one shark, seven nudibranchs, five fossil urchins (and one fossil sand dollar), one coral, one skate, one African lizard, and an alarming new bird virus. More than a dozen Academy scientists -- along with several dozen international collaborators -- described the discoveries.
Proving that our planet contains unexplored places with never-before-recorded plants and animals (with their own set of evolving viruses), the scientists made their finds over five continents and three oceans, ventured into vast deserts, plunged beneath the sea, and scoured thick rainforests and towering mountain ranges. Their results help advance the Academy's mission to explore, explain, and sustain life on Earth.
"Biodiversity scientists estimate that we have discovered less than 10% of the species on our planet," says Dr. Shannon Bennett, Academy Chief of Science. "Academy scientists tirelessly explore the lesser-known regions of Earth -- not only to discover new species, but also to uncover the importance of these species to the health of our natural systems. Each of these species, known and as-yet-unknown, is a wonder unto itself but may also hold the key to ground-breaking innovations in science, technology, or society. Species live together in rich networks that thrive on complexity whether we can see it or not. Even the tiniest organism," she adds, "can be beautiful and important."
Below are a few highlights among the 133 species described by the Academy in 2016.
Flashy "twilight zone" groppo -- deepest fish discovered by human hands
One pink-and-yellow fish has earned its spot in deep reef history. Grammatonotus brianne -- an eye-popping species of groppo -- is the deepest new fish discovery ever made by human hands. The discovery was captured on film at 487 feet beneath the ocean's surface.
Academy scientists are currently diving to twilight zone reefs around the world. In these narrow bands of deep reefs, animals live in partial darkness, well beyond recreational diving limits yet above the deep trenches patrolled by submarines and ROVs. Reaching extreme depths requires Academy divers and their collaborators to push the boundaries of both technology and the human body, using closed-circuit "rebreathers" that extend the amount of time they can spend underwater.