Field of Science

Life in Sand

Paramesochra mielkei, from Huys (1987).

Paramesochra is a genus of minute marine copepods found around the world. Over twenty species are currently assigned to the genus, but it is likely that many more await description. The extremely small size of paramesochrids (most are less than half a millimetre in length) reflects the interstitial habitat of most species described to date, i. e. they live among the grains of sand beneath the surface of their substrate. Also related to their choice of habitat is their vermiform (worm-like) shape and reduced setation compared to other copepods. These features also mean that they would be poor swimmers so they probably do not often emerge above the substrate surface. Most of the species described so far are from shallower waters, but this possibly reflects a lack of study of deep-sea species rather than reflecting true diversity. For instance, a survey of deep-sea Paramesochridae in the southern Atlantic and Antarctic Oceans by Gheerardyn & Veit-Köhler (2009) identified four species of Paramesochra, none of which corresponded to previously described species. These species probably do not have the same lifestyles as the shallow-water interstitial species due to the deep-sea substrate being fine mud rather than sand. Vasconcelos et al. (2009) suggested that another deep-sea paramesochrid, Kliopsyllus minor, might burrow in fluid mud or live in the 'organic fluff layer' (wonderful words) on top of the sediment. Deep-sea Paramesochra would probably be similar.

For the most part, genera of copepods have generally been distinguished mechanistically—different genera have different combinations of key features (usually related to the number of setae or segments on appendages)—without an explicit consideration of how those characters relate to phylogeny. However, Huys (1987) did propose a phylogenetic arrangement for the genera of Paramesochridae in which he suggested that Paramesochra formed a clade with the genera Kliopsyllus and Kunzia on the basis of their possessing single-segmented exopodites on the antennae and mandibles. However, while his tree shows Paramesochra as a monophyletic sister group to a clade of the other two genera, he did not identify any synapomorphies for Paramesochra. Instead, the features distinguishing it from the other two genera (two-segmented endopodites on the second to fourth legs, four setae on the distal exopodite segment of the first leg and two setae on the distal exopodite segment of the fourth leg) are resolved as plesiomorphies relative to the other clade. So if any of you feel inspired to spend your time dissecting and examining the legs of animals about 0.3 of a millimetre in total length, I know a potential research project going begging...


Gheerardyn, H., & G. Veit-Köhler. 2009. Diversity and large-scale biogeography of Paramesochridae (Copepoda, Harpacticoida) in South Atlantic Abyssal Plains and the deep Southern Ocean. Deep-Sea Research I 56: 1804-1815.

Huys, R. 1987. Paramesochra T. Scott, 1892 (Copepoda, Harpacticoida): a revised key, including a new species from the SW Dutch coast and some remarks on the phylogeny of the Paramesochridae. Hydrobiologia 144: 193-210.

Vasconcelos, D. M., G. Veit-Köhler, J. Drewes & P. J. Parreira dos Santos. 2009. First record of the genus Kliopsyllus Kunz, 1962 (Copepoda Harpacticoida, Paramesochridae) from Northeastern Brazil with description of the deep-sea species Kliopsyllus minor sp. nov. Zootaxa 2096: 327-337.

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