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By Shirley Joy

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Sept. 27) - The Santo marine biodiversity survey currently being undertaken by a team of some of the world’s top scientists has so far revealed that [the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu] could have more than 500 different species of crabs.

Dr. Tan Heok Hui and Mr. J. C. Mendoza from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University in Singapore said while these are not new species to the country and the island of Santo, they are still discovering more species from their daily collections and experiments.

In a report provided by Hui, land crabs are always interesting; they are obvious, often quite large and sometimes edible.

Until the 1990s, one of the least understood land crab was a species everyone was calling Cardisoma longipes. Supposedly described from New Caledonia, scientists never found the species there. It had been seen in some other small Pacific islands but never common.

Things moved fast in the late 1990s when the species was better understood -- they like karst formations, living in the vegetation, and are nocturnal. The report stated that the reason why they were never found on New Caledonia was that the original label was wrong.

They were common in the nearby Loyalty Islands, which are karsts! A French expedition deep into the caves found them in good numbers! More were then found in Guam and then Vanuatu.

To make the story even more interesting, in a joint study, French and Singapore researchers named a new allied species from karst caves in the Philippines, and showed that the genus Discoplax erected by Alphonse Milne-Edwards in 1867 -- but sunk under Cardisoma by workers for decades was in fact a good genus.

Hui said some land crabs are a source of food for the ni-Vanuatu. The hairy land crab, Discoplax hirtipes, is commonly available in the markets of Espiritu Santo and are typically sold tied up in a bunch of five to six crabs. The bunch depicted below costs 100 vatu [US 92 cents].

The Members of the Crustacea team comprise Professor Peter Ng, Dr. Tan Swee Hee, Dr. Tan Heok Hui, Mr. J. C. Mendoza from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore, Ms. Marivene Manuel-Santos of the Philippines National Museum, Manila, in Philippines who specialize in Crab taxonomy.

Other members who specialize in Shrimp Taxonomy include Professor Chan Tin-Yam, Dr. Masako Mitsuhashi National Taiwan Ocean University, Keelung, Taiwan, Dr. Charles H. J. Fransen, Leiden Museum, The Netherlands, M. Regis, Cleva Museum national d‚Hisotire naturelle Collection Manager, crustacean collection, and Mr. Paul Clark, Natural History Museum, London.

September 28, 2006

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