A study of phoronid larvae published recently by scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama has detected eight potentially new species. “The global diversity of small, rare marine animals like phoronids is grossly underestimated,” said STRI staff- scientist Rachel Collin. “We don’t know what animals are out there, and we know even less about what their role might be in the world’s oceans.”
Because phoronid larvae swim and drift in seawater, they are much easier to sample than their adult forms, which live on the sea floor within sands, sediment or rubble. And the larvae do not look like the adults, making it difficult to tell which larva belongs to which adult without doing a sort of paternity testing: comparing larval DNA sequences to the DNA of their potential parents.