NATURE: Shark species more diverse than thought

Up to 79 new species discovered

NOTE: This post was excerpted from an article on Nature.com.

A genetic study of thousands of specimens of sharks and rays has uncovered scores of potential new species and is fuelling biologists’ debates over the organisation of the family tree of these animals. The work also raises the possibility that some species are even more endangered than previously thought.

Sharks and rays are key predators in marine ecosystems, but the life cycles and population numbers of many species remain poorly understood. The family tree of these animals — which are part of the elasmobranch subclass — has proved similarly opaque, with little agreement among researchers over their evolutionary relationships.

Gavin Naylor, a biologist at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and his colleagues sequenced samples from 4,283 specimens of sharks and rays as part of a major effort to fill the gaps. The team found 574 species, of which 79 are potentially new, they report in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.

Naylor says that he was “flabbergasted” by the result, especially because the sequencing covered only around half of the roughly 1,200 species thought to exist worldwide.

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