Friday 22 July 2022

Swiftia phaeton: A new species of deepwater Octocoral from the coast of Mauritania.

Despite being relatively close to the numerous oceanological research institutes of western Europe, the deep waters off northwest coast of Africa have been relatively underexplored compared to those of many other regions of the world. The coast of Mauritania is known to be home to home to the world's largest Coral mound barrier, and their are extensive Coral colonies occupying the marine canyons off the Mauritanian coast, both fuelled by nutrient-rich upwellings from the deep Atlantic ocean along this section of coast.

In a paper published in the journal ZooKeys on 17 June 2022, Íris Sampaio of the Marine Research Department at Senckenberg am Meer, and the University of the Azores, and Lydia Beuck and André Freiwald, also of the Marine Research Department at Senckenberg am Meer, describe a new species of deepwater Octocoral from the coast of Mauritania.

The new species is placed in the genus Swiftia, and given the specific name phaeton, in reference to the PHAETON mission of the Research Vessel Maria S. Merian, which visited the coast of Mauritania, and recovered the first specimens of the species. The Greek Demigod Phaeton (or Phaëthon), is also linked to the region. A son of the Sun-god Apollo, he is supposed to have crashed his father's chariot into the Sahara Desert, burning the Earth and making the area uninhabitable. 

Swiftia phaeton forms simple colonies, either unbranching or with one or two divisions. The colonies are bright red in colour, with polyps densely packed on the branches. Tentacles are yellowish white.

Swiftia phaeton from Mauritania. (A) In situ colony with expanded polyps on coral framework. (B) Colony after ethanol preservation with expanded polyps (holotype SMF 13112). (C) In situ colony with retracted polyps on coral framework. (D) Part of a branch (paratype SMF 13113). (E) Fragment of specimen with anthocodiae slightly expanded (paratype SaM-ID 1566). (F) Polyp and coenenchyme details (paratype SaM-ID 1352). Scale bars are 1 cm (A)–(C) or 300 µm (D)–(F). (A) & (C) Tomas Lundälv/Sven Lovén Center for Marine Infrastructure in Sampaio et al. (2022), (B), (D)-(F) Sampaio et al. (2022).

Swiftia phaeton was found living in Tanoûdêrt Canyon at a depth of 595 m, on the Timiris Mounds at depths of 446-602 m, in the Tioulit Canyon at a depth of 618 m, in the Southern Tamxat Mound Complex at a depth of 450 m, and on the Central Tamxat Mound Complex at a depth of 486 m.

Map showing MSM 16/3 ‘PHAETON’ ROV dive locations along the Mauritanian slope. Location names and GeoB 14 stations (sta.): grey, canyons; black, Coral mounds; orange, Scleractinian distributions. Sampaio et al. (2022).

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