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Catching up to the Ruby Seadragon: new species raises new questions

20 / 03 / 2017, Mongabaycom News

In April 2016 at the Recherche Archipelago, just south of Western Australia’s coast, the ruby seadragon’s time as a science fugitive was about to end. There, Greg Rouse, a professor of marine biology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, his PhD Student Josefin Stiller, also conducting research at Scripps, and Nerida Wilson, a senior research scientist from the Western Australian Museum were taking a few days’ respite from scuba diving for their usual syngnathid subjects, the weedy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) and the leafy seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). Instead, the trio was hoping the swell might subside enough for a remotely operated underwater vehicle, or ROV, to descend. And, if the place and time was right, to capture the first images of a species never before seen alive. “It was a very exciting moment,” Stiller told Mongabay, describing the anticipation that day. “We were all very agitated. It had been over a year of imagining what the species may look like.” The existence of this third seadragon species, Phyllopteryx dewysea, wasn’t known until 2014 when Stiller serendipitously discovered that the DNA from a tissue clipping she was analyzing didn’t match the profile of the two known seadragons. [caption id="attachment_194198" align="alignnone" width="796"] In 2007, a biodiversity survey trawled a ruby seadragon with a brood of eggs attached to his tail. The Western Australian Museum sent Stiller a clipping of this male’s tail, which unexpectedly lead to the discovery of Phyllopteryx dewysea. Photo copyright: Western Australian Museum.[/caption] The DNA ended up belonging to a…

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