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Biodiversity and studies of marine symbiotic siphonostomatoids off South Africa

S.M. Dippenaar


Current knowledge of the biodiversity of the symbiotic marine siphonostomatoids from South African waters (136 species) is sparse compared to that globally (1 388 species). The difference is especially apparent when taking into account the diversity of fish (more than 2 000 species) and invertebrates (approximately 12 914 species) found in South African waters, all of which are all potential hosts of symbiotic siphonostomatoids. Most reports of symbiotic siphonostomatoids from South African waters are from Chondrichthyes and represent 80% of the currently known families and about 66% of the known genera. Taxonomic studies on the siphonostomatoids also provide information about their morphology, biology, habitat preference and host association, as well as the distribution of species and their associated host taxa. Molecular analysis, especially sequencing, provides additional information on the existence of cryptic species and population structure, but has high financial costs and a very low success rate in DNA isolation and PCR amplification. Reported declines in abundance of piscivorous fish species, for example, as a result of fishing pressure, with possible synergistic effects of environmental changes, and also the reported potential effects of anthropogenic and climate change on the broader coastal biota, may result in the loss of siphonostomatoid species before they can be described. Furthermore, in South Africa, there is a lack of professional taxonomists to study poorly known groups and this situation will not improve while research emphasis remains on commercially important groups and while taxonomic studies are not recognised for their value in research programmes.

Keywords: challenges, Copepoda, Siphonostomatoida, taxonomic studies