A fish previously unknown to science has been identified in the ‘twilight zone’ off the coast of the Maldives; the first to be formally described by a Maldivian scientist. The new rose-veiled fairy wrasse (Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa), is also the first to have its name derived from the local Dhivehi language. ‘Finifenmaa’ – which means rose – refers to both the wrasse’s bright colouring, and is also the national flower of the Maldives.
The fish was previously thought to be an adult from of a different species, Cirrhilabrus rubrisquamis – the red velvet fairy wrasse – which was described after a single specimen was found in the Chagos Archipelago in the 1990s, some 1,000km south of the Maldives. The new study examined the fish in much greater detail and the new information, together with the results a genetic analysis, found that the rainbow-coloured fish was of a distinct, previously undescribed species.
‘It has always been foreign scientists who have described species found in the Maldives without much involvement from local scientists, even those that are endemic to the Maldives,’ Ahmed Najeeb, a biologist at the Maldives Marine Research Institute, and one of the study’s co-authors. ‘This time it is different and getting to be part of something for the first time has been really exciting, especially having the opportunity to work alongside top ichthyologists on such an elegant and beautiful species.’
The study is the result of a collaboration between scientists from the California Academy of Sciences, University of Sydney, and the Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI), and forms part of the California Academy’s ‘Hope for Reefs’ initiative, a project to develop better protections for the world’s coral reefs by understanding how fish species are distributed among them. Knowing that what was previously thought to be a single species of fish is actually split into distinct species with different ranges may affect the way protections are determined for different reefs.
‘What we previously thought was one widespread species of fish, is actually two different species, each with a potentially much more restricted distribution,’ said Yi-Kai Tea, of the University of Sydney, one of the study’s lead authors. ‘This exemplifies why describing new species, and taxonomy in general, is important for conservation and biodiversity management.’
The Hope for Reefs collaboration is set to continue, with a further eight species from recent surveys yet to be identified – potentially adding more new species to the taxonomical diversity of the Maldives’ twilight zone.
‘Nobody knows these waters better than the Maldivian people,’ said Luiz Rocha, director of the Hope for Reefs programme and another of the study’s co-authors. ‘Our research is stronger when it’s done in collaboration with local researchers and divers. I’m excited to continue our relationship with MMRI and the Ministry of Fisheries to learn about and protect the island nation’s reefs together.’
The complete study, ‘Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa, a new species of fairy wrasse from the Maldives, with comments on the taxonomic identity of C. rubrisquamis and C. wakanda, by Yi-Kai Tea, Ahmed Najeeb, Joseph Rowlett and Luiz A. Rocha is published in ZooKeys at www.zookeys.pensoft.net/article/78139/