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"Tiny Five of Africa"
"Unknown inhabitants of the West Africa"

Aleksandra Jakiel, Magdalena Błażewicz-Paszkowycz, Anna Stępień, Piotr Jóźwiakup
University of Lodz, Department of Polar Biology and Oceanobiolog'y,
ul. Banacha 12/16, 90-237 Łódź

Crustacean Decapod collected at the coral reef. (Gulf of Guinea, November of 2012)

Appendages of shrimp Nematocarcinus. (Gulf of Guinea, November of 2012)

Four new to science species of Tanaidacea from the Gulf of Guinea: Bananella n. sp., Bathyleptochelia n. sp., Cryptocopoides n. sp., Pseudotanais n. sp. (Łódź, May of 2014)

Description popularizing the research project

The Big Five of Africa are the African lion, Cape buffalo, African elephant, Black rhinoceros, and African leopard. These are the animals which, due to their size, weight, speed and strength, stand out from the rest of mammals inhabiting the continent. They used to be the highlight of all the safaris and they were the most valuable trophies in the times when hunting the wildest and the most dangerous game of great plains and tropical forests between Ras Nouadhibou (Cap Blanc) and Cape Agulhas was considered to be decorous. It is the same today, the Big Five are still coveted by scores of daredevils on their African quests, although the rifles were replaced with photo cameras and thousands of trophies fit in a memory card the size of a fingernail. Safari guides are well aware of the fact and do not even try to create the 'Not-So-Big Five of Africa'.
Meanwhile, as if in defiance of tourist brochures, all the corners of the exotic continent are inhabited by tiny six-, eight- and ten-legged creatures. Among the African invertebrates there are still some yet unknown to the scientists. We do not know their names and systematics. We do not know what they eat and what natural enemies they have. They are absent in display boxes and photographic documentation. Many of them, hard to reach as their hiding places are caves, swamps, tree crowns or coastal reefs, are still waiting for their big break when they are splayed all over the front pages of newspapers with a headline: 'New species discovered!'.
The depths of waters washing the shores of Africa also hide a plethora of unknown creatures. Tourists enjoy watching spectacular shows by whales around the Cape of Good Hope, safari daredevils go underwater to dive with sharks, and scientists search the bottom of the Gulf of Guinea, undiscouraged by the minute size of their prey and its advantage in the hide-and-seek game. Every now and then they do find and describe hitherto unknown species. A-few-millimetre-long tanaids and polychaetes of dull coloration, often occur solely in the places where they were discovered as only there they have the best conditions to live. These are the tiny candidates that should join the prestigious club of the 'Not-So-Big Five of Africa'..


Three PhD students (Anna, Aleksandra, Piotr) under supervision of Magdalena Błażewicz-Paszkowycz, a professor at Laboratory of Polar Biology and Oceanobiology, University of Lodz, participated in marine expedition to the Gulf of Guinea (West Africa) in 2012. The expedition on 'Dr Fridtjof Nansen' research vessel was organized by the Institute of Marine Research (Bergen, Norway). During the expedition we collected samples from the bottom of the ocean using special sampling gear - Van Veen grab. This type of equipment works like an excavator and collects bottom sediments and organisms dwelling there. On board the samples were washed on sieves and preserved in formalin or ethanol. The aim of the expedition was to asses diversity of benthic communities in the Gulf of Guinea including poorly known ecosystem of deep-sea (400 m depth) coral reef of Lophelia pertusa. Among diverse inhabitants of the coral reef we found four species of crustaceans which were apparently new to science. All of them belong to crustacean order Tanaidacea. We also collected numerous representatives of other taxa e.g. crustaceans (Amphipoda and Decapoda) and worms (Polychaeta). Samples from the coral reef were preserved for further genetic studies. A DNA analysis (barcoding) supplements traditional taxonomy which is based on the morphological characters. That interdisciplinary analysis is very helpful for identification of small (a few millimeters long) crustaceans like tanaidaceans. It allows to identify species that are morphologically almost identical. Results of our studies will be submitted for publication in the international scientific journal.


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