Living in driftwood: the talitrid story

The world of driftwood is probably one humans do not give much thought to, but for some creatures it is their whole universe. Research published this month has shone more light on these ‘driftwood hoppers’, who both live in and feed on logs of driftwood.

Talitrid

A juvenile driftwood talitrid.

These unusual creatures are a type of talitrid, a group of tiny (under 40mm long) crustaceans, familiar to some beach lovers as sandhoppers. These driftwood specialist talitrids are similar to sandhoppers, but smaller (under 15mm long) and live within driftwood logs, rather than in the sand. Living and breeding within the driftwood helps these creatures evade attack by seabirds, a problem which other talitrid species struggle with. They even use the rotting driftwood as food.

If the driftwood they live on is disturbed by a storm, these talitrids may be transported out to sea and end up living on a new island, allowing their species to spread. Dr David Wildish, who carried out this research, is fascinated by talitrids because of this ability to travel, which means they are “ideal subjects to study evolution and dispersal”.

Only seven species of driftwood hopper have been discovered so far, with two new ones described in this paper, but this is probably due to a lack of searching rather than a lack of diversity. For example, six of these seven currently-known species come from European waters, where most of the research has taken place. Dr Wildish hopes that “more people will look for driftwood talitrids in other parts of the world, wherever driftwood is found on the local beach” so we can learn more about these unusual creatures.

 

Reference
Wildish D (2014) New genus and two new species of driftwood hoppers (Crustacea, Amphipoda, Talitridae) from northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean coastal regions. Zoosystematics and Evolution 90(2): 133-146. doi: 10.3897/zse.90.8410

Image credits: Pixabay (featured image). Dr Dave Wildish (talitrid image)

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