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New clam species identified off Newfoundland’s coast

Dr. Jean-Marc Gagnon compares the new species of giant file clam (left) to a regular-sized file clam.
Dr. Jean-Marc Gagnon compares the new species of giant file clam (left) to a regular-sized file clam.

TC Media A clam, originally found off Newfoundland’s coast 30 years ago, has now been identified through DNA testing as a new species of giant file clam.

A scientific paper about the species, published in the journal Zootaxa, is co-authored by researchers with the Canadian Museum of Nature and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Bedford Institute of Oceanography).
“This is the culmination of a story that began decades ago when, as a Ph.D. student, I first observed this clam in an underwater submersible off the coast of Newfoundland,” said Dr. Jean-Marc Gagnon, curator of invertebrates with the Canadian Museum of Nature, in a news release.
“Originally, we assumed it to be a European species.”
When Gagnon first discovered the clams in the 1980s, he recognized that they were unusual, with characteristics similar to scallops, but he put them aside to focus on other research. It was only years later at the museum that he began to look at them more closely.

A scientific paper about the species, published in the journal Zootaxa, is co-authored by researchers with the Canadian Museum of Nature and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Bedford Institute of Oceanography).
“This is the culmination of a story that began decades ago when, as a Ph.D. student, I first observed this clam in an underwater submersible off the coast of Newfoundland,” said Dr. Jean-Marc Gagnon, curator of invertebrates with the Canadian Museum of Nature, in a news release.
“Originally, we assumed it to be a European species.”
When Gagnon first discovered the clams in the 1980s, he recognized that they were unusual, with characteristics similar to scallops, but he put them aside to focus on other research. It was only years later at the museum that he began to look at them more closely.

A cluster of the new giant file clam species, Acesta cryptadelphe. They were found attached to a rocky surface in the Gully Marine Protected Area, about 200 km off the coast of Nova Scotia

In recent years, the news release says, more samples have been collected off the Grand Banks and in a marine protected area “The Gully” about 220 km off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Through DNA analysis, coupled with comparative studies of other giant file clams in museum collections, Gagnon and his colleagues determined these North Atlantic specimens to be a new species.
The giant file clam, about nine to 15-cm long, is two to three times larger than a regular file clam. The name comes from the sharp ridges on the clam shell surface.
The clam’s scientific name, Acesta cryptadelphe, means “cryptic sibling”, which refers to the similarity in shape and structure to the European giant file clam, Acesta excavata.
The story of the identification of this new species is also one of technology, said study co-author Dr. Ellen Kenchington, a scientist with the Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO) in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Scientists from BIO used ROPOS—an underwater vehicle with cameras and manipulator arms— to find new specimens of the clam while operating in the deepwater canyons of the Gully Marine Protected Area.
Before they even returned to their shore labs, the scientists were able to use new genetic technology aboard the oceanographic ship CCGS Hudson to process the DNA from the clams.
“Using all this technology allowed us to photograph and collect intact specimens, and then to process the DNA while at sea. This gave us an early indication that we might have something special,” Kenchington said.”
The Gully MPA continues to amaze us with new discoveries. It is an extraordinary place.”
Shape and structure alone could not differentiate the northwest Atlantic species from the European and other known species. But the new DNA technology and genetic analysis provided by the Bedford Institute showed that the “cryptic” species was genetically distinct from the European giant file clam and is a new species, now known as Acesta cryptadelphe.
“Our persistence shows that there are still discoveries to be made from deep in our oceans, and both museum collections and genetic analysis are important resources to advance this knowledge, said Gagnon.”

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