UC Berkeley researchers find extreme diversity and parasitism in squat lobster fossils

Adiël Klompmaker/Courtesy

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UC Berkeley researchers found extreme diversity and parasitism in the largest known collection of Jurassic squat lobster specimens, according to Adiël Klompmaker, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar at the UC Museum of Paleontology.

Klompmaker and Cristina Robins — co-author of the study and a senior scientist at the UC Museum of Paleontology — studied 2,348 specimens of squat lobsters for two weeks during the summer of 2017 at the Natural History Museum Vienna in Austria. Afterward, the research team borrowed a small portion of the collection for further study, Klompmaker said.

According to Klompmaker, studying past generations of squat lobsters can help lead to a better understanding of what may happen to squat lobsters currently living in stressed coral reefs.

“Looking at the diversity of the past, as well as tracking the changes in environment and the impact on living organisms can help us predict what will happen in the future with our current environmental changes and warming climate,” Robins said in an email.

According to Robins, the study examined 53 Jurassic species of squat lobsters from six families, four of which originated in Ernstbrunn.

The team studied three new species of the superfamily Galatheoidea, including the oldest fossil species of squat lobster families: Porcellanidae and Galatheidae. Klompmaker added that these fossils are especially important, as they help determine when different crustaceans appeared in the fossil record.

They also found that the oldest claimed fossil Porcellanidae is not a porcellanid, but rather a true crab, or Brachyura, according to Klompmaker.

The researchers also checked for parasitic swellings created by isopod crustaceans that lived in the gill chambers of squat lobsters. According to Klompmaker, 10 percent of squat lobsters had parasites — a rate unprecedented before the Late Jurassic period.

Klompmaker added that the parasites have never been found in the fossil record due to their small, soft bodies that allow them to decay faster. In order to detect the parasites, the research team looked for distinct swellings behind the shell around the squat lobsters’ gill chambers.

“This type of knowledge helps us to understand the prevalence of this type of parasitism through time in the long run, and its causes,” Klompmaker said in an email.

According to Klompmaker, an understanding of these species will be beneficial in the long term, as it will help create a better understanding of biodiversity and help identify potential reasons for changes in diversity.

The research team also believes the presence of coral reefs created a high diversity of 53 species in the squat lobsters collection that was studied. Reefs provide a source of food and serve as a hiding place for inhabitants, according to Klompmaker.

Aishwarya Kaimal is the lead research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Aishwarya_R_K‏.