December 21, 2013
A photo of the new species. Photo courtesy of E. A. Treml.
Other genetic indicators suggest that small giant clam populations in New Guinea and the Pacific are surprisingly distinct from one another, despite belonging to the same species. Additionally, a new species was suggested, referred to in the study as Tradicna sp. which may have been formerly identified as the small giant clam. For the boring clam, populations in New Guinea and the Western Pacific were also found to belong to two different genetic groups, with the New Guinea population found nowhere else in the world.
Despite having distinct morphological characteristics, the research indicates that the taxonomic classification of these clams is difficult to determine by appearance alone, stressing the importance of genetic analysis. This will further our understanding not only of marine biodiversity, but of the impact of commercial industries on clam populations, as well.
Crocus giant clam. Photo by Nhobgood Nick Hobgood under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
The authors argue that lack of genetic study could lead to a failure to understand the actual biodiversity of marine species, in turn leading to potential overestimation of stock abundance. Findings such as those of this study could be used in the development and implementation of fishery monitoring plans and in more effective conservation strategies for vulnerable populations. The latter point is of particular concern as giant clam larvae disperse by being carried away with currents that act as geographic barriers make it difficult for larval dispersal leading to a potential depletion of the population and slow recovery.
While the boring clam, the small giant clam and others of their genus may be stable for the time being, this study suggests that this may not always be the case. Understanding the genetics of these populations allows scientists to classify and describe them and thereby more effectively determine potential threats. As these clams demonstrate, there are many distinct species yet to be found – and not all can be spotted just by looking at them.