A new fully illustrated electronic identification guide, Bountiful Bryozoans, has just been released to help people identify this group of marine creatures in the wild.
Bryozoans—also known as moss animals or sea mats—are colonial animals that are abundant around New Zealand, but not widely recognised. Divers encounter them on underwater rock faces and they are common under rocks on the lower seashore or on wharf piles. Importantly, vessel owners who do not clean their boat hulls very often may discover them to be fouled by encrusting and turfing bryozoans. In fact, bryozoans are in the top five groups of hull-fouling marine invertebrates, hitchhiking around the world into alien environments. Some species foul cooling-water intake pipes of coastal, estuarine and freshwater power stations.
New Zealand is one of the world’s hotspots for bryozoans and there are over 1000 species in our Exclusive Economic Zone, more than 300 of which have yet to be formally named. About 120 species are reasonably common in shallow-water environments and the goal of the e-guide is to include all of them eventually. The most important of the common species are those that 1) foul human structures, 2) form bottom habitat for other organisms, including juveniles of commercial fish, and 3) contain biochemicals, like potential anticancer, antibiotic and antifouling substances of interest to biotechnologists.
The e-guide starts with a simple introduction to the group, followed by a morphology (shape) index, species index, detailed individual species pages, and finally, icon explanations and a glossary of terms. The species pages have high-quality images and describe features that enable the user to tell them apart. As far as possible, characters are used that can be seen by eye or hand lens, and language that is non-technical. Bryozoans also have a lot of very small characteristics that can only be seen by microscope so we a ‘microscopic characters’ box has been included for users that wish to take their identification further in a laboratory.
Bountiful Bryozoans is just one of a series of e-guides on New Zealand marine invertebrates and seaweeds that NIWA’s Coasts and Oceans group is presently developing. Awesome Ascidians version 2.0 has also just been released and Extraordinary Echinoderms, Splendid Sponges, Coastal Crabs, Beautiful Browns (seaweeds) and Amazing Antarctic Asteroids are already available for download now and more e-guides are being developed.
The guides are designed for New Zealanders who live near the sea, dive and snorkel, explore our coasts, make a living from it, and for those who educate and are charged with kaitiakitanga, conservation and management of our marine realm.
NIWA will be updating the existing e-guides online as new species are discovered and described.
Users can download Bountiful Bryozoans and the other e-guides for free.