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New Zealand polychaetes

Biology and taxonomy

This page on New Zealand polychaete research is in the initial stage of development.

Navigate this page: | History | Biogeography | Taxonomy | Biology |

New Zealand polychaete guides: | Shore polychaetes | Shell polychaetes |

History of polychaete research in New Zealand

[Professor Ernst Ehlers][Professor William B. Benham] New Zealand polychaetes are relatively poorly known as they have been studied only sporadically since first the principal contributors, Ludwig Schmarda and William McIntosh in the late nineteenth century and then Ernst Ehlers and Hermann Augener in the early 1900's, made their pioneering forays into the taxonomy and wrote their not always helpful descriptions in the wordy style of the time. This work was done in Europe on preserved material taken away by visiting naturalists and today the original specimens are often lost or difficult to trace. William Benham, an English immigrant arriving in 1897, was the first resident polychaete expert. George Knox has been the most prominent New Zealand polychaete specialist since the 1950's.

Glasby, C. J.; Read, G. B. (1998)
A chronological review of polychaete taxonomy in New Zealand.
Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 28(3): 347-374.

Abstract: All Polychaeta (Annelida) described from New Zealand in the 19th and early 20th Century are reviewed in an historical sequence from the first species described - the serpulid Vermetus cariniferus Gray, 1843, which was inadvertently classified as a vermetid mollusc - to Dawbinia aucklandica, a species of problematical identity described by W.B. Benham in his last paper. We organise the scattered information on purported New Zealand endemic polychaetes and their type localities, update information on the type repositories, and tabulate all taxonomic references to extralimital species up to 1950. In comparison, taxa named since 1950 are less enigmatic and we briefly summarise taxonomic effort during this period. We also tabulate New Zealand taxa described in the last two decades since the most recent catalogue. Based on this taxonomic review we conservatively estimate the diversity of New Zealand's polychaete fauna as 53 families, 243 genera/subgenera and 471 species/subspecies; however, we recognise that the number of genera and, in particular, species will increase greatly following taxonomic revisions presently underway, or planned.

Polychaete Biogeography and the New Zealand region

Journal of Biogeography 26(3) coverGlasby, C. J.; Alvarez, B. (1999)
Distribution patterns and biogeographic analysis of Austral Polychaeta (Annelida).
Journal of biogeography 26(3): 507-533.

Aim: We investigate the biogeography of Austral Polychaeta (Annelida) using members of the families Eunicidae, Lumbrineridae, Oenonidae, Onuphidae, Serpulidae and Spionidae and Parsimony Analysis of Endemicity (PAE). We determine whether observed polychaete distribution patterns correspond to traditional shallow-water marine areas of endemism, estimate patterns of endemism and relationships between areas of endemism, and infer the biological processes that have caused these patterns.
Location: The study is concerned with extant polychaete taxa occupying shallow-water areas derived from the breakup of the Gondwana landmass (i.e. Austral areas).
Methods: Similarity was assessed using a significance test with Jaccard's indices. Areas not significantly different at 0.99 were combined prior to the PAE. Widespread species and genera (155 taxa) were scored for presence/absence for each area of endemism. PAE was used to derive hypotheses of area relationships. Hierarchical patterns in the PAEtrees were identified by testing for congruence with patterns derived from cladistic biogeographic studies of other Gondwanan taxa and with geological evidence.
areas of endemism and crustal plates]Results: The polychaete faunas of four area-pairs were not significantly different and the areas amalgamated: South-west Africa and South Africa, New Zealand South Island and Chatham Islands, Macquarie Island and Antipodean Islands, and West Antarctica and South Georgia. Areas with the highest levels of species endemism were southern Australia (67.0%), South- east South America (53.2%) and South Africa (40.4%). About 60% of species and 7.5% of genera occupied a single area of endemism. The remainder were informative in the PAE. Under a no long- distance dispersal assumption a single minimal-length PAE tree resulted (l = 367; ci = 0.42); under dispersal allowed, three minimal-length trees resulted (l = 278; ci = 0.56). In relation to the sister grouping of the New Zealand areas and Australia we find congruence between our minimal- length trees and those derived from a biogeographic study of land plants, and with area relationships predicted by the Expanding Earth Model.
Main conclusions: The polychaete distribution patterns in this study differ slightly from the classical areas of endemism, most notably in being broader, thereby bringing into question the value of using single provincial system for marine biogeographic studies. The Greater New Zealand region is found to be 'monophyletic' with respect to polychaetes, that is comprising a genuine biogeographical entity, and most closely related to the polychaete fauna of southern Australia. This finding is consistent with studies of land plants and with the Expanding Earth model, but disagrees with conventional geology and biogeographic hypothesis involving a 'polyphyletic' New Zealand. Both vicariance and concerted range expansion (= biotic dispersion) appear to have played important roles in shaping present-day distribution patterns of Austral polychaetes. Shallow-water ridge systems between the Australian and Greater New Zealand continental landmasses during the Tertiary are thought to have facilitated biotic dispersion.

New Zealand Polychaete Taxonomy

Schmarda (1861) NZ speciesSchmarda was the first significant investigator of New Zealand polychaetes, visiting the Auckland area in 1854, later describing 21 new species. Here is a composite image of three of his colour paintings of New Zealand polychaetes: Glycera ovigera, Platynereis australis, and Terebella plagiostoma. The nereidid is a female epitoke Schmarda placed in the now disused genus Heteronereis.

Schmarda, L. K. (1861) Neue wirbellose Thiere beobachtet und gesammelt auf einer Reise un die Erdr 1853 bis 1857. Vol. I Turbellarian, Rotatorien un Anneliden. Part 2. Leipzig, Wilhelm Engelmann.

Literature of New Zealand Polychaeta : Annotated list of all references on taxonomy of New Zealand polychaeta.

New Zealand Polychaete Biology

The biology of New Zealand polychaetes is important for many reasons, not least because they are everywhere in the marine environment, and have some interesting life history characteristics. They have a major role in marine food webs, and in nutrient recycling in sediments, they might be considered pests in some places (e.g., fouling species, habitat modifying species, shellfish boring species), or they could be a resource (as food and as waste-processors in aquaculture), and they can also be bioindicators of ecosystem health.

There are quite a number of scientific publications in which information on New Zealand polychaetes is presented as part of understanding how ecosytems function. But much less research has been done on understanding the biology or lifecycle of common species . Here are a few such papers:

Daly, J.M. (1975). Reversible epitoky in the life history of the polychaete Odontosyllis polycera (Schmarda, 1861). Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 55(2): 327-344.
Estcourt, I.N. (1966). The life history and breeding biology of Nicon aestuariensis Knox (Annelida, Polychaeta). Transactions Royal Society of New Zealand. Zoology 7: 179-194.
Estcourt, I.N. (1974). Population study of Pectinaria australis (Polychaeta) in Tasman Bay. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 8(2): 283-289.
Estcourt, I.N. (1975). Population structure of Aglaophamus verrilli (Polychaeta: Nephtyidae) from Tasman Bay. NZOI Records 2(13): 149-154.
Gibson, G.D.; Paterson, I.G. (2003). Morphogenesis during sexual and asexual reproduction in Amphipolydora vestalis (Polychaeta: Spionidae). New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 37(4): 741-752.
Handley, S.J. (1995). Spionid polychaetes in Pacific Oysters, Crassostrea gigas (Thunberg) from Admiralty Bay, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 29(3): 305-309.
Handley, S.J. (2000). Larval development of Boccardia knoxi, a shell-infesting spionid polychaete. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 34(4): 681-687.
Read, G.B. (1974). Egg masses and larvae of the polychaete Nereis falcaria. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 8(3): 557-561.
Read, G.B. (1984). Recruitment and population dynamics of Axiothella serrata (Polychaeta: Maldanidae) on an intertidal sand flat. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 11: 399-411.
Wear, R.G. (1966). Physiological and Ecological Studies on the Bivalve Mollusk Arthritica bifurca (Webster, 1908) Living Commensally with the Tubicolous Polychaete Pectinaria australis (Ehlers, 1905). Biological Bulletin 130(1): 141-149.

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Online January 2000. Last update 24 July 2004 by Geoff Read

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