FY2022 JSPS Invitational Fellowship for Research in Japan

Professor Andrew Baird from James Cook University has been awarded a Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Long-Term Invitation Fellowship. The purpose of the programme is to invite overseas researchers with excellent track records to collaborate with Japanese colleagues. Andrew will spend four months with his host, Dr Saki Harii, at the Tropical Biosphere Research Center of the University of the Ryukyus on Sesoko Island in Okinawa.

The aim of Andrew and Saki’s research is to revisit the taxonomic status of the nominal species that have been described in Japanese waters. In particular, the numerous synonymies of these nominal species will be tested by comparison to the type material and with molecular approaches via the collection of topotypes (specimens that match the morphology of the type material from the location where the type was original collected). Andrew’s visit will assist efforts to develop a robust coral taxonomy to serve the pressing needs of researchers, management and conservationists in Japan and beyond.

Approximately 64 nominal species of extant stony corals have a type location in Japanese waters. According to the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), 26 of these species have been synonymised, 11 are taxon inquirendum (i.e. status uncertain), and 2 are not listed at WoRMS leaving 21 currently accepted. 24 of the synonymies date to the late 1990’s, well before the use of a modern integrated approach. Clearly, these synonymies need to be revisited using multiple lines of evidence. Furthermore, no new coral species have been described from Japanese waters since 1990. This is in contrast to numerous novel species being described in other parts of the world, in particular, the Red Sea. All these lines of evidence suggest that there are likely to be many undescribed species waiting to be discovered in Japan. Indeed, a recent examination of species boundaries in the table corals of Sesoko Island in Okinawa suggests that two of the three table species examined are undescribed species (Ramirez-Portilla et al 2022).

Japan has many flourishing coral reefs, including this diverse coral assemblage on Sesoko Island in Okinawa. However, the correct taxonomic identity of most of these species has yet to be established.

Literature cited

Catalina Ramírez-Portilla, Andrew H Baird, Peter F Cowman, Andrea M Quattrini, Saki Harii, Frederic Sinniger, Jean-François Flot. Solving the Coral Species Delimitation Conundrum, Systematic Biology, 2021;, syab077. DOI: 10.1093/sysbio/syab077.

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