Building a polychaete species database for water management purposes in American Samoa

National Institute for Water Resources, Water Resources Research Institute Program


The biodiversity of marine invertebrates from the American Samoa has been poorly characterized. Most of the efforts are concentrated on studying the coral reefs, which encompasses one of the most diverse assemblages of corals and fish of the south Pacific. The Indo-Pacific polychaete fauna is one of the most diverse worldwide, but only 30 species are recorded for the Samoan Islands and this is probably a result of few collecting efforts. There is an extensive literature and interest on Palolo worms from Samoa with the first accounts dated from 1847 (Stair 1847). The swarming event of this species is celebrated and a cultural aspect of American Samoa as the worms are scooped up and eaten raw or cooked by the islanders. The interest on these worms has increased along the years and several papers describe its morphology (Woodworth 1903) and reproductive characteristics (Caspers 1964, 1984; Krämer 1897). More recently, Brown (2009) described additional notes on the spawning behavior of this species and Schulze (2006) shed some light on the phylogenetic relationships between the Pacific and Caribbean palolo worms. Although palolo worms have been well-studied, other polychaete families that are known as being bioindicators of ecosystem health are poorly characterized in American Samoa. Some previous research concerning polychaetes from the Pacific Ocean are based on samples collected from sites around American Samoa and describe species that are endemic to that area. The first studies, with a taxonomic perspective were done by Treadwell (1921, 1922, 1926). Treadwell described 16 species collected from Pago Pago Harbor and among them 4 were endemic species to that area. Augener (1927) and Hartmann-Schröder (1965) increased this number to about 30 species. Shallow water polychaete species were characterized qualitatively at several sites around American Samoa.The intent was to determine the polychaete species present in soft sediments, diverse algal assemblages and coral rubble to provide a polychaete species list that would be useful for future biomonitoring projects. There are few accounts of Samoan polychaetes and only about 20 species are recorded for those islands. The Indo-Pacific polychaete fauna is one of the most diverse worldwide and the low richness of species found in the Samoan Islands is probably due to scarce collecting efforts.

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Julie H. Bailey-Brock

Professor, Zoology

Edmondson Hall 216 and BioMed T-301C
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