New shrimp immortalises scientist
4 March 2011, by Tom Marshall
A new species of shrimp has been named after the Scottish scientist who discovered it, almost four decades after the last new member of its family was found.
The newly-discovered Princaxelia jamiesoni
Dr Alan Jamieson of the University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab first discovered the new species – part of the amphipod family – nearly eight kilometres deep in the Japan Trench while on a 2008 research cruise in the northwest Pacific.
He found the same shrimps - around six centimetres long and with a distinctive white shell – in the nearby Izu-Bonin Trench the following year, this time more than nine kilometres down.
'We caught lots of the usual animals on both research cruises,' Jamieson explains. 'However, in amongst our haul were these long white creatures which no one knew anything about.'
The samples and footage came back to Aberdeen and sat on Jamieson's desk for a couple of years, until yet another research voyage took him to New Zealand, where he met Dr Anne-Nina Loerz – an expert on the amphipod family.
He sent her the samples for identification, and was delighted when she told him that not only were they a new species, but that she'd also named them Princaxelia jamiesoni after him, saying his 'dedication to trench research is greatly advancing scientific knowledge about deep-sea biology.'
'It is an extraordinary creature with an elongated body thought to facilitate swimming over great distances,' Jamieson comments. 'Yet it is extremely manoeuvrable at short ranges, capable of fast predatory attacks. It is another example of the amazing creatures that inhabit the most extreme depths of the ocean, and to have this one named after me is a great honour, both for me and my family.'
Footage of Princaxelia jamiesoni in the wild
The last new amphipod species was discovered in 1977. This one is part of the genus Princaxelia, named in 1959 after Prince Axel of Denmark; it joins a select group as it's only the fourth member of this particular shrimp family. Loerz's description of the new shrimp has been published in the journal Zoologica Baetica, while the specimens themselves are now being held in the National Science Museum of Tokyo.
Both cruises were part of the Hadeep project, a collaboration between Aberdeen and the University of Tokyo which uses custom-built landers to investigate the living things found in the Hadal zone.
This is the deepest part of the ocean, stretching from six kilometres below the surface to the lowest places on Earth's surface, the deep ocean trenches. Jamieson designed and built the landers, and is the project's research manager.
The landers are dropped off a ship and sink to the seabed under their own weight. Once on the bottom, they take photographs and sometimes video footage of any locals that turn up to investigate the tasty dead fish the scientists attached before launch. They also catch live specimens in specially-designed traps.
A few hours later, the researchers send down a pulse of sound, which tells the lander to drop its ballast weights, sending it rocketing back up to the surface.
Scientists once thought little or nothing could live at such extreme depths, enduring crushing pressures, extreme cold and perpetual darkness. But a series of Hadeep cruises has shown that each ocean trench contains a rich, complex and unique ecosystem with a different mix of animals from those around it. Among Hadeep's other highlights include filming swarms of fish deeper than anyone had ever done before.
Jamieson has written regular (and often hilarious) blogs from the field, giving Planet Earth Online readers an insight into the triumphs and disasters, the boredom and excitement that make up an ocean-going research cruise. You can read past blogs using the links to the right.
Alan is shortly returning to the Japan trench, and again he'll be blogging here to tell readers what happens. Apart from anything else, he hopes the team will be able to catch further examples of his eponymous amphipod. Watch this space!
The Hadeep project is funded by the Nippon Foundation in Japan and by NERC.
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