Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Going against the flow: The importance of studying obscure organisms

Beth Okamura, Ph.D.,
 University of Reading

, July  9, 2004
Pacific Forum 10:00 a.m.

Research on popular or common organisms entails many widely-recognized advantages. Less appreciated are opportunities afforded by research on obscure organisms. Such opportunities can result from unanticipated discoveries or when such organisms provide appropriate model systems to investigate general problems. Recent research on myxozoans, an enigmatic group of parasitic animals, has identified the long sought source of a mysterious and devastating disease of salmonid fish, and has also demonstrated perhaps the most spectacular level of degeneracy due to parasitism in a bilateral animal. Other research based on freshwater bryozoan populations has shown that waterfowl act as dispersal agents of freshwater organisms, and thus contribute to biodiversity and ecosystem linkage. Commonly studied freshwater invertebrates provide poor models for studying dispersal as their life histories promote rapid adaptive change. These examples illustrate how neglected taxa can provide the basis for fundamental advances in biological knowledge.

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