Phylogenetic Systematics and Evolution

Fieldwork in Brazil discovers new species and rare animals

An international group of mollusc specialists recently teamed up to survey Brazilian coasts for sea slugs. They were also able to observe spectacular zoological "by-catch".

Hypselodoris marci, - a spectacular nudibranch from Brazil (São Paulo, Brazil)
Hypselodoris marci, - a spectacular nudibranch from Brazil (São Paulo, Brazil)

Main content

During three weeks a team of about ten scientists from the University Museum of Bergen (Natural History), The Bavarian State Collection of Zoology (Germany), the Museum of Zoology of the University of São Paulo and Federal University of Alagoas (Brazil), and from the Spanish universities of Cadis, Seville, and Granada joined forces during a marine expedition that surveyed the littoral of Brazil for marine opisthobranch gastropods, a group of molluscs commonly known as sea slugs.

Associate Professor Manuel Malaquias from the University Museum of Bergen reports that about 90 species have been collected, a remarkable number bearing the scarcity of these snails in nature and the dimension and timeframe of the expedition. Several of these species were collected for the first time after their original descriptions during the 1960-70s, and about ten percent are new to Science.

Collecting efforts focused on two main areas of Brazil: the State of São Paulo in the southeast – a region of sub-tropical/temperate affinities, and the tropical State of Alagoas in northeast Brazil.

Intertidal and subtidal rocky and sand bottoms, coral reefs, and algal communities were studied by the scientists using snorkelling and scuba diving sampling techniques. Sea slugs can have spectacular colours and thus, be relatively easy to spot but the majority of species have small dimensions and cryptic colour patterns requiring patient and meticulous work to be found. After sampling, specimens and substrates (sand, algae, etc.) were brought to laboratory facilities where they were sorted, studied, photographed, and preserved for later comparative anatomical and DNA studies. The specimens were deposited in the collections of the Museum of Zoology of the University of São Paulo and shall be soon available for study by the international community.

Associate Professor Manuel Malaquias reports that beside the great diversity of species found, scientists have also collected spectacular organisms of rare groups of marine invertebrates such as bizarre benthic ctenophores, a stauromedusan – an unusual group of cnidarians (relatives of jelly-fish, sea-anemones, etc.), and beautiful yellow specimens of an enteropneustan hemichordate, a group of animals previously considered close relatives to humans.

This expedition was part of a larger project lead by Prof.  Juan Lucas Cervera from the University of Cadis that aims to uncover the complexity of patterns and processes driving diversification and speciation in sea slugs.