Home Sciences They discover a new crustacean that lives exclusively in Asturias

They discover a new crustacean that lives exclusively in Asturias

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“A jewel that only Asturians around the world have”. This is how the biologist from Oviedo defines Jairo Robla to “Buchnerillo atlanticus”, a cochineal that was discovered in 2020 in the pedrero de Conejera, on the coast of Villaviciosa, and whose description has just been published in the European Journal Taxonomy (something like the “bible” of scientific publications in zoology, botany and paleontology).

“It is a tiny mealybug that lives confined to the area immediately adjacent to the sea, under stones that store great humidity as they are strongly anchored in the sand. It feeds on algae and other decaying particles, and is extraordinarily sensitive to desiccation. However, although we have tried to find other populations on other beaches or coasts of Asturias, so far it has been impossible. At the moment, the only specimens known worldwide live in the Conejera quarry”, explains the biologist, who is currently preparing his doctoral thesis at the Doñana Biological Station (Seville), although he maintains his activity as an active member of a team of specialists in Asturias who are dedicated to studying the regional fauna and flora.

Robla assures that the discovery of this tiny species was a real “serendipity”. It happened just two years ago, when one morning he approached Conejera, a rock quarry that is difficult to access, through a steep vertical wall with ropes. “We were studying what terrestrial organisms linked to marine environments could be found along the coastline. It is a very complicated ecosystem, because finding arthropods is like looking for a needle in a haystack. But that day luck smiled on us.

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There, under some stones, was that tiny bug, attached to the bottom of one of them. “In great detail, it was a sow bug, also called a ball bug, of which there was no record on the Asturian coast, but neither in the rest of the Cantabrian Sea”, describes the biologist, who left Conejera with many doubts as to what that little crustacean really was. “I collaborate with an expert scientist on the subject, Lluc Garcia, who lives on the island of Mallorca. We spent more than a year discussing his possible identity. Only three species remotely resembled it, but all three occupy different seacoasts in the Mediterranean, Pacific and Indian Oceans.”

Thus, and after many studies, the conclusion, already with scientific endorsement, is that the Conejera cochineal is a new species for science that Robla and Garcia have just described. “It had probably gone completely unnoticed due to its small size,” explains the man from Oviedo. “We do not rule out that in the future populations may end up appearing throughout the entire European region bathed by the Atlantic Ocean. However, at the moment, it is a jewel that only Asturians have. It is nice to think that we have in Asturias something unique in the world. Like all jewels, whether they are ours alone or not, we must take care of them, because the climatic emergency that is looming over us could cause devastation in the world of arthropods, ”he warns.

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Jairo Robla, who studied biology at the University of Oviedo and is developing his doctoral thesis in Doñana on forest restoration linked to the sadly famous ecological disaster of Aznalcóllar, highlights the work carried out by the Asturian team of biologists and naturalists to which he belongs. “We collaborate to study the fauna and flora of the region, to value it and emphasize how special it is. We have already published several things, and we continue to work actively to study mealybugs, centipedes, insects, mosses, plants, molluscs and everything that comes our way, thanks to the collaboration and support provided by the Principality”, he explains.

Surprise

Of the discovery together with Lluc Garcia insists on the great luck and surprise that it was. “Although I went with the purpose of looking for halophilic terrestrial arthropods linked to these ecosystems, I did not expect to find it there at all. We had already visited many beaches and we had found countless organisms, but never this one. And that I spent two years going when I could to study it. See how it moved, how it fed, how it behaved, how the tides influenced it and much more. During all this time I realized how localized it was and how fragile its ecosystem could be in the face of human disturbances, which, fortunately, are rare in this area”, he concludes.

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