Scottish Government scientists, collaborating with a Spanish university, have uncovered a new family and species of deepwater soft coral, from seas to the west of Scotland.
Scientists say the discovery of the coral, or seapen demonstrates there is still much to learn about the deep sea around our coasts and highlights the importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as a key tool in conservation efforts.
Specimens were recovered from the continental slopes and plains of the Rockall Trough at depths of up to 2000 meters over a period of almost a decade up to 2019.
These were studied in collaboration with the internationally renowned coral expert Dr Pablo Lopez-Gonzalez from the University of Seville, using a combination of traditional methods and cutting-edge genetic analysis.
Due to their appearance, the specimens were initially thought to be part of a family of seapens known as Umbellula. However, genetic results, backed by microscopic study of minute skeletal structures, revealed them to be not only a new species but belonging to a seapen family completely new to science.
The discovery may lead academics to revise older ideas of deep-sea animal diversity.
The new species has been formally named Pseudumbellula scotiae – the first part due to its overall physical similarity to Umbellula and the second part in honour of the huge contributions to science and conservation in our deep waters made by the Scottish Government’s Marine Research Vessel Scotia.
Environment and Land Reform Minister Mairi McAllan said: “This is an important and exciting discovery made by combining traditional and modern scientific techniques and I would like to congratulate the teams involved.
“This work suggests that sub-sea biodiversity is far more diverse than previously believed and demonstrates that international co-operation is vital to increasing our understanding of the natural world. I am delighted that Scottish Government marine scientists are playing a key role in this across the global arena.
“Scotland has some of the most beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems on the planet and we are committed to protecting and safeguarding them for future generations.
“Marine Protected Area (MPA) status is an important way to ensure protection of some of the most vulnerable species and habitats. Our MPA network includes sites for the protection of biodiversity and demonstrates sustainable management and covers around 37% of our seas – exceeding the new global target of 30% by 2030”.