AAAS, Pacific Division
2015 San Francisco
Symposium Abstracts
15 Biodiversity of the Coral Triangle
It’s Not Just About the Critters: Embedding Partnerships, Education and Conservation in Biodiversity
Expeditions, MEG BURKE (Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability, California Academy of
Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118; [email protected]).
In the face of Earth’s sixth major extinction event, the race is on to document as much biodiversity as
possible. But it is not enough to merely document the diversity of species and which ones are most
threatened. To decrease anthropogenic threats and stem biodiversity losses, it is essential to help all
stakeholders understand the dynamics of the situation and seek creative solutions. The California Academy
of Sciences has been documenting the diversity of Philippine coral reef ecosystems since 1992, and since
2006 has been employing an integrated, multidisciplinary, authentic partnership approach in its research
expeditions to the Verde Island Passage, the global center of the center of marine biodiversity. Not only is
the taxonomic scope multidisciplinary, but educational outreach, media coverage, and engagement with
government officials and policy makers are embedded in the planning, the field work itself, and follow-up
work. Workshops, along with teacher and other professional development sessions, are conducted in local
communities where the scientists are conducting their fieldwork and in Manila. Discussion points include
basic coral reef biology and importance, why the expedition is occurring, threats to coral reefs, and what
individuals can do to help decrease those threats. Outreach sessions include live specimens and US and
Filipino scientists, as well as educators, hands-on interactions, and sharing of resources. Digital outreach
brings the expedition to CAS and global audiences. These integrated efforts have resulted in sustained
partnerships with Philippine government agencies, informal and formal science education practitioners, and
NGOs, and actions being taken for conservation.
Ascidian Diversity in the Verde Island Passage, Philippines, C. SARAH COHEN* and D. CLANCY
(Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies, Biology, San Francisco State University, 3150
Paradise Drive, Tiburon, CA 94920; [email protected]).
Basal chordates are sources of remarkable biological novelty, with features like whole body
regeneration, molecular kin recognition systems, and chimeric body organization found to varying degrees.
These features are currently better understood at molecular and cellular levels and less studied as
evolutionary puzzles approachable with the tools of comparative phylogenetics. While it is of great interest
to trace the evolutionary pathways promoting these unusual attributes, this has been problematic without
biogeographic and phylogenetic information to anchor comparative research. Research on invasive
populations of many ascidian species has progressed significantly while knowledge of native populations
with these remarkable attributes is limited. Recent expeditions led by the California Academy of Sciences
to the Coral Triangle, in collaboration with partners in the Philippines, are providing samples that enrich
our knowledge of the evolutionary history of these clades. Ascidian biodiversity is morphologically rich in
this region, including within the botryllid and didemnid clades best known for regeneration, chimerism, and
invasive populations. Molecular analysis using material from expeditions in 2008, the Hearst Philippine
Biodiversity Expedition in 2011, and the current NSF Biotic Survey is revealing additional cryptic diversity
including new species and deep clades within colonial ascidian families. Early analysis of these speciesrich areas has not established the presence of widely known global invasives in this region to date. Thus,
the region is promising for studies on the biogeographic setting for the evolutionary origins of ascidian
Night and Day and Sea Pen Diversity in the Coral Triangle, GARY WILLIAMS (Department of
Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, San
Francisco, CA 94118; [email protected]).
Pennatulacean octocorals, commonly known as sea pens, inhabit all oceans of the world from polar to
temperate regions and throughout the tropics, ranging in depth from sea level to at least 6300 meters. In
shallow-water coral reef regions of the Coral Triangle, sea pens are common constituents of benthic
communities. Many species of the genus Pteroeides from the Malay Archipelago were first described by
Dutch zoologists during the nineteenth century. Most pennatulacean species can be observed in areas of
soft sediment during nighttime hours, whereas they withdraw into the sediment during the day since the
majority of species are active only nocturnally. A few species are zooxanthellate and are thus visible in
sunlit hours of the day. Species diversity is relatively high throughout the Coral Triangle of the Philippines,
Indonesia, and New Guinea. The most common genera observed in the region include Veretillum,
Cavernulina, Scytalium, Virgularia, and Pteroeides. A morphologically distinct kind of polyp known as an
acrozooid has recently been described in two species of Pteroeides, recorded thus far only from the
Philippines and Indonesia. The ecological importance of pennatulaceans has been increasingly recognized.
Many other marine organisms have been found to be associated with sea pens, including nudibranchs,
crustaceans, and fish larvae. Conservation and marine protection efforts in such regions as the Verde Island
Passage off the southern shore of Luzon in the the Philippines is directed at protecting the biodiversity and
marine habitats of the region, which includes pennatulaceans as part of the overall biotic community
A Great Urchin Sea: Documenting and Protecting Unsurpassed Echinoid Diversity in the Philippines,
RICH MOOI (Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, California Academy of Sciences, 55
Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118; [email protected]).
The Philippines is home to more species of sea urchin (Echinoidea: Echinodermata) than any other
place on Earth, with more than 3 times the number of species occurring in the entire Gulf of Mexico, and
more than 4 times the richness of the Red Sea. Over 210 species of echinoids have been recorded from
Philippine waters using data from the literature, worldwide museum collections including those at the
California Academy of Sciences, the 2011 Hearst Philippine Biodiversity Expedition, and CAS Verde
Island Passage expeditions in 2014 and 2015. Taxonomically updated using the World Echinoidea
Database, the ongoing documentation assesses systematics, distribution, habitat, and bathymetry ranging
from shallow reef environments to depths >2000 meters. Ongoing discovery of new Philippine records and
species previously unknown to science indicate that species richness estimates are conservative. This will
become even more evident as molecular analyses reveal cryptic taxa. Highlights include discovery of deepsea wood-eaters, new sand dollar species, and bizarre "living fossil" heart urchins. Unsurpassed Philippine
echinoid diversity is best explained by the center of overlap hypothesis, in conjunction with local
biogeographic and habitat-related factors. Several of the echinoid species encountered during the
Expeditions will dramatically increase our understanding of their evolution, behavior, and ecological
significance. With such data in hand, we can inform new approaches to conservation efforts aimed at
retaining not only biodiversity of this remarkable echinoid biota, but all Coral Triangle biodiversity
threatened by global change and other anthropogenic factors.
DNA Analysis and Morphological Comparisons among Damselfish (Labroidei: Pomacentridae) from Deep
Coral Reefs in the Philippines Suggest New Species, GABRIELA ALFARO1, LUIZ ROCHA2*, RICH
MOOI3, and JOSH HALLAS3 (1Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA 94928; 2Department of
Ichthyology and 3Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, California Academy of Sciences, 55
Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118; [email protected]).
The lack of knowledge concerning reef biodiversity of the marine mesophotic zone (also known as the
"Twilight Zone") is caused by the past absence of deeper diving techniques. Development of such
techniques now allows exploration below depths at which conventional SCUBA diving is safe. As
technology improves and diving techniques are perfected, new frontiers can, and will be explored. An NSF
grant to the California Academy of Sciences funded an expedition to study marine biodiversity in the Verde
Island Passage of the Philippines during 2014 and 2015. Exploration of the seldom-studied mesophotic
zone (60-150 m depth) was integrated with this expedition. Several species of Chromis were observed and
collected during both field seasons at about 120 m deep. The aim of this study was to investigate possible
cryptic diversity in deep reef species of Chromis. To test this hypothesis, morphological characters were
scored and the mitochondrial fragment cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) was sequenced to estimate
relationships within these Twilight Zone Chromis. Bayesian inference analysis of COI strongly supports
the existence of at least two new species of Chromis from mesophotic depths, permitting description of new
species of damselfish from this poorly explored region. Further collection and analyses of deep reef
specimens is leading to development of a more comprehensive phylogenetic tree and a better picture of the
evolutionary biology of fishes from the mesophotic zone.
Initial Assessment of Cryptic Leucothoid Amphipods from the Mabini-Tingloy Region, Philippines: Things
Should Not Be As They Are, JAMES DARWIN THOMAS (National Coral Reef Institute, 8000 N. Ocean
Drive, Dania, FL 33004; 954-262-3661; [email protected]).
Diversity of coral reef associated amphipods can exceed 300+ species per site. They represent a major
mesograzer guild and are important prey items for fish. Additionally, gammaridean amphipods are accurate
surrogates of evolutionary diversity. Amphipods lack a dispersive larval stage and distribution patterns can
help elucidate both ancient and recent evolutionary lineages. Leucothoid amphipods are endosymbionts in
sponges, ascidians, and bivalves. This cryptic lifestyle further restricts dispersal capabilities leading to high
rates of endemicity. Species of leucothoid amphipods were assessed in the Mabini-Tingloy region of the
Philippines in 2014. A stratified collecting effort produced lower than expected species and generic
diversity compared to efforts from Raja Ampat, Papua New Guinea, Sulawesi, Okinawa, and Palau. Nine
morphotypes of Leucothoe, with several new species, and two undescribed species of Anamixis were
documented. The Anamixis taxa are pleisiomrophic endemics related to widespread Pacific Plate species.
Surprisingly no species of Paranamixis were collected. This represents the first instance where this
common tropical genus has not been documented from the Indo Pacific region. Reasons for this low
diversity are not known but could include limited localized collecting, effects of land-based toxicants and
pollutants, or habitat diminution from storm or climatic events. As leucothoids are endosymbionts
reduction in potential host diversity could also be a factor. The Philippines is one of the last remaining
regions where representative amphipod collections are lacking. The Cape Verde region shares a similar
geotectonic history with other highly diverse reef systems and amphipod diversity was assumed to be
What Seaslugs Tell Us About Marine Diversity in the Richest Part of the Ocean, TERRENCE
GOSLINER (Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, California Academy of Sciences, 55
Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118; [email protected]).
The Coral Triangle is home to more species of sea slugs (Heterobranchia: Gastropoda) than any other
in the world’s oceans. One of the fundamental questions is the determination of which parts of the region
support the greatest diversity. The Verde Island Passage (VIP) of the northern Philippines has been
identified ast the Center of the Center of Marine Biodiversity (Springer and Carpenter, 2005). This center
of diversity is also found in sea slugs, where more than 1000 different species have been found, including
52% of these species are undescribed. Within the Verde Island Passage, diversity patterns differ and the
central region of the VIP supports greater diversity than regions to the west. Habitats closer to large islands
are significantly more diverse that islands situated in the central part of the VIP. Examination of the
phylogenetic relationships of varied taxa that occur in the region indicates that the diversity is derived from
the presence of diverse lineages within clades rather than being represented by one of few diverse
subclades. These patterns indicate long-term historical divergences in addition to the accumulation of
species with overlapping ranges. The geological and oceanographic history and stability of the region has
also provided a backdrop that has likely contributed to remarkable diversity.