Members of the phylum Ctenophora, also known as sea-gooseberries or comb jellies, are a startlingly beautiful group of marine invertebrates. They are often misidentified as cnidarian jellyfish, but belong to their own group that is totally unrelated to Cnidaria. Gelatinous zooplankton, including ctenophores, has attracted attention during the last decade, mainly as a result of the enigma around their potentially increased abundances around the world. Despite the increased attention, they remain neglected in most zooplankton studies and monitoring programs, and are defined as one of the most difficult groups of pelagic animals to study. Working with these gelatinous predators is challenging, as they are fragile and difficult to sample in good condition. Also, many fixatives used for preserving zooplankton cause distortion and shrinkage of their gelatinous bodies, rendering the animals difficult or impossible to identify morphologically. Consequently, their diversity and ecological role are grossly oversimplified and misunderstood, leading to biased views of ecosystem functioning. GooseAlien aims to chart the currently insufficiently understood diversity of ctenophores in Norwegian waters, and to document it in a manner that facilitates easier future identification by both scientists and non-specialists. We will study the species composition of pelagic ctenophores in several environments along the Norwegian coast, including the Svalbard region. Our approach combines documentation of live specimens with in situ photography (scuba diving, snorkeling and ROV), gentle sampling followed by a careful morphological examination and with novel molecular methods including barcoding and population genetics. This will allow us to resolve diversity even in cases where species are superficially very similar, as is often the case with pelagic ctenophores. The project will produce an up-to-date list of ctenophores found in Norwegian seas, with several new species records for Norway expected. The work will result in both scientific and popular publications describing this Norwegian diversity of ctenophores, a scientific population genetic study of the most commonly found ctenophore species, and an increased number of pelagic ctenophore species with publicly available DNA barcodes. As such, it will lay a solid foundation for future work on ctenophores and zooplankton in general.
Beroe abyssicola. Photo: Aino Hosia
The primary goal of the project is to describe and document the biodiversity of marine ctenophores in Norway – from Kattegat-Skagerrak area to High Arctic.
Secondary objectives and outcomes achieved in pursuing this aim include the following:
- Existing (unidentified) and new material from Svalbard, the Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea will be examined and identified morphologically and molecularly.
- Collection of new material in the Arctic, the Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea will allow for live examination and documentation of the ctenophores from these different environments. In addition, live specimens will be collected from the Baltic Sea and Kattegat-Skagerrak area in collaboration with Swedish ctenophore experts. These collections will further be used for genetic barcoding, population genetics and as photographic voucher specimens.
- Genetic sequences together with careful morphological analysis will help infer species within morphologically cryptic groups of pelagic ctenophores, helping to clarify the taxonomy as well as understand their diversity and species distributions now and in the future.
- By engaging the public audience to collecting samples will increase the geographical area coverage and, in return, the laymen involved will come to appreciate completely new aspects of their own environment.