Megan Dykman, a 22-year-old Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) Honours student at the University of Tasmania, Australia, has discovered six new species of soft corals, and two new genera of soft corals in Tasmania’s Tamar River, a saline estuary that flows 43 miles through northern Tasmania. Dykman discovered the soft corals while sampling 46 soft corals in rocky reef communities in the river.
Coral Species Discoveries
“It was exciting particularly when we looked at the DNA sequences and saw that they really didn’t match up with what these species have previously been called where we saw there were clearly differences and it definitely was an exciting time for the project but in some ways its not really surprising given that no one’s really looked closely at this community before,” said Megan Dykman, University of Tasmania Honours student.
Dykman not only discovered four new species of coral and two new genera of soft corals, she combined her knowledge of the Tamar River with her technical diving skills in the saltwater river. Due to the strength of the currents in the river during most of the day, Dykman and her colleagues had just a one hour window each day in which they could safely dive the river and conduct their research. While the bulk of her research occurred between Beauty Pt. and Low Head on the river, Dykman’s supervisor, David Maynard says there is more to be discovered. “Really we could have picked any taxa and found new species, there is that much to be found in the Tamar,” Maynard said.
“She really has done some fantastic work on this project – combining challenging technical diving, electron microscopy and DNA sequence analysis. She did a great job,” IMAS Launceston senior lecturer Dr. Jeffrey Wright said in a statement put out by the university.
“Soft corals are quite common in the Tamar River estuary and often photographed by divers. It is amazing that until now no-one has formally identified these species. The next step is for Dykman to formally describe each of the six soft corals that she discovered. Her research was funded by University of Tasmania, The Plomley Foundation and NRM North’s Tamar Estuary and Esk Rivers Program.