A recent study, funded by the National Science Foundation, has resulted in the discovery of a new coral reef species which was given the name Gnathia marleyi as a tribute to the late reggae legend, Bob Marley.
Paul Sikkel, an assistant professor of marine ecology and a field marine biologist at Arkansas State University initially discovered the species 10 years ago in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but they were so common, Sikkel assumed the species had been named already. It turns out he had a hunch and decided to consult fellow researchers and the next thing you know, he’s naming a brand new species. Gnathia marleyi is a gnathiid isopod and is a parasitic blood feeder in its juvenile stages. It infests certain fish that inhabit the coral reef and is the first new species to be named out of the Caribbean for years.
Sikkel’s research is primarily focused on the health of the reef. Recent reports say the reef is degrading in the Caribbean. According to the NSF press release, Sikkel says,”we are currently researching the relationships between the health of coral reef communities and gnathiid populations”. It appears that as the reef degrades the parasites that infest them gain ground. Sikkel likens the gnathiids to mosquitoes, which are known to carry blood born diseases. ”Our current work is focused on how changes in coral reef environments, such as coral bleaching, influences interactions between hosts and parasites,” said Sikkel. “We’re including in our studies any effects on cleaning organisms that remove parasites from hosts.” As it turns out, there are “cleaner fish” that rely heavily on these parasites as food. Sikkel believes these little guys may be playing a large role in transmitting disease in the reef.
As to why these little guys were named for Marley, Sikkel said,”I named this species, which is truly a natural wonder, after Marley because of my respect and admiration for Marley’s music. Plus, this species is as uniquely Caribbean as was Marley”. The study was published in the June 6th issue of Zootaxia.