An expedition to the world’s most remote coral reef found a new species of seal, with a new genetic analysis indicating it belongs to the same family as a species that lived in the Pacific in the last ice age.
The expedition, led by a team of researchers from the University of East Anglia and the Natural History Museum, found the new species, D. m. marquesi, in the Ross Sea, off the coast of the South Pacific island of Kiribati.
The team used the molecular data from the species to build a genetic tree of the seal, a family that has existed for thousands of years.
This information was then combined with a detailed genetic analysis of the fossil and a sample of sea water.
They discovered the new seal, Dermot M. marqueisi, belonged to a new lineage, Dichotomys marquesisi.
This new lineage was a sister to another group of sealers that lived between 3.5 million and 4 million years ago.
This new seal is one of only two seals in the world that had a male, according to the researchers, who said it was the only seal from that time period that had been identified in its entirety.
The other is a species from the Pleistocene, which is a time period in Earth history when animals were more closely related to humans than now.
“Dermot was the first animal to ever be found on Ross Island in this way,” lead researcher Dr Mark J. Glynn, from the Department of Zoology at the University’s Department of Marine and Antarctic Science, told the BBC.
“It was the most unusual finding I’ve ever seen.”
This new species is a member of the family Dichots marquesidae.
This is one family in which the female seals are the only members of the species known.
The new species was named Dermoteo marquesii, because it has a very small, flat head.
The discovery, published in the journal Scientific Reports, was made by researchers using molecular techniques that look for genetic variation in DNA.
Dr Glynn said the team used an advanced molecular sequencing tool called SNPArray to sequence Dermodeo marquei.
It is thought that D. marquerii has only one genetic mutation.
This mutation was found in the male, meaning there is a male in the family.
The researchers then used the SNPArray software to look for additional variations in the DNA of the male.
“We have shown that this mutation is in the female, which has a male-specific genetic code,” Dr Glynn told the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“So we can now be confident that Dermota is a female.”
If the female of Dermoto marquesidei was a male the male would have been an unknown, but the fact that we can be confident of this is really exciting.
“It’s a huge achievement, especially when you consider that Demoto marqueidini was only discovered in the Pleismos time period.”
This is a new seal that is the first to be found in this family.
This is the smallest animal known to have a male seal.
The scientists said the findings show the potential of using molecular methods to study species from a wide range of environments.
“Our findings can be applied to other areas where it’s possible to find new species or to identify species that may be extinct or are unknown,” Dr J.J. Gannon, from University of Exeter, said.
“The discovery of the new Dermotes marqueidei demonstrates that the ability to sequence DNA from a new animal is not limited to just coral reefs.”
This research has been supported by grants from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Royal Institution and the Department for Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism.
This article originally appeared on New Scientist.