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USFSM students discover marine species among mangroves

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: March 08, 2018

SARASOTA, Fla. (March 8, 2018)USF Sarasota-Manatee Assistant Biology Professor Carlos Santamaria is thanking his students for finding a previously unknown species of isopods in Sarasota Bay’s mangroves, a discovery that came after his students second-guessed him on where to collect the specimens.

USFSM students discover marine species among mangroves

A Ligia isopod

Instead of searching piers and rocky areas as instructed, they explored mangroves and returned with a type not known to occur on Florida’s Gulf coast.

“I grabbed a male and looked at the reproductive structure and when I saw this really unique shape I said, ‘Where did you find this? This is not supposed to be here.’ And they said right across the bay in the mangroves,” he said. “Immediately we went out to collect some more.”

Dr. Santamaria, an expert on the creatures, known as Ligia, a cousin to the “roly-poly” isopods common in backyards, said initial examinations indicated a species different from those usually found in the Gulf of Mexico, Ligia exotica, which was recently confirmed by genetic testing.

As a result, his students, now all graduated – Edgar T. Bischoff, Moe Aye, Keith W. Phillips and Victoria Overmeyer – can lay claim to discovering an isopod species native to local mangroves – a rare feat for students. Their work is detailed in the peer-reviewed journal F1000Research, published in November.

Dr. Carlos Santamaria

“I think it’s exciting that they got to be a part of this process,” Dr. Santamaria said.

So far, researchers have identified about 40 isopod species worldwide with 33 shore dwellers. Ligia make ideal specimens for evolutionary studies because they tend to live in the same proximate areas and change only slightly over time, Dr. Santamaria said.

In October, writing for the journal PeerJ, the professor said that Ligia on the Seychelles Islands seem to have originated from Africa or Madagascar and Asia or India, possibly the result of storms that transported the creatures. Dr. Santamaria also has studied Ligia from Mexico, the South Pacific and Hawaii.

Outside academia the creatures hold a less-prized position, known colloquially as “wharf roaches.” Playing off that, Dr. Santamaria said he might name the new species, “L. Cucaracha.

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