ECU researchers find four new species of crustaceans in the Pilbara

An ECU researcher hunting in aquifers in the Pilbara region. Photo: Giulia Perina
An ECU researcher hunting in aquifers in the Pilbara region. Photo: Giulia Perina

ECU researchers have discovered four new species of tiny, blind crustaceans in aquifers beneath the Pilbara region.

Known as stygofauna, they spend their entire lives in the dark, which would not bother them as they don’t have eyes.

People are unlikely to see them either because they’re almost translucent and only about 1mm long.

ECU researchers have found four new species of tiny, blind crustaceans. Photo: Giulia Perina

ECU School of Science PhD candidate Giulia Perina was responsible for defining the four new species.

She said they were important to the health of groundwater around Australia.

“They recycle nutrients from groundwater, they’re excellent indicators of the health of groundwater and they also help us understand the interconnections between the aquifers underground and the geological history of the Pilbara” she said.

“That’s especially true in areas where mining and other human activities which affect groundwater are occurring.”

The four new species are part of the family Bathynellidae and are a type of crustacean.

There’s only one other species of the family which has been named by science, despite the fact they seem to exist in almost every aquifer in Australia.

That’s because the study and defining of each new species is incredibly difficult and time consuming.

Mrs Perina travelled to Spain to learn how to work on identifying stygofauna from the only active specialist working in this area.

“They have such a thin delicate exoskeleton that they can disappear after treating them with liquids used to examine them under a microscope,” she said.

“There’s a reason why there’s only a few specialists researching these animals around the world – it is very hard.

“You have to dissect all of the legs and the mouth parts.”

Specimens for this research were collected from bore holes drilled during mining exploration and environmental impact surveys around Ethel Gorge, just east of Newman in the East Pilbara region – about 1200km north of Perth.