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Avast! Ask me questions about my majestic leathery squirty existence.
More than 520 million years ago, when the subphylums 'Tunicates' (including sea squirts) and Craniata (all animals with bone skulls) split from the phyllum 'Chordata'. We were probably all small swimmy worm things around this point
I should be sequenced because...: It will show how invasive species spread around in the sea, which is important for protecting marine ecosystems and biodiversity
Avast! I am the Leathery Sea Squirt, fearless clinger-on-to-things of the high seas! Although I’m native to the Northwest Pacific, I’ve been recorded off the coast of the United Kingdom since the 1950’s, and I’m found all over the world in shallow waters. I’ve spread by clinging to the hulls of boats, or to the shells of oysters transported here on those boats.
I’m variously called the club sea squirt, club tunicate, Asian tunicate, leathery sea squirt or rough sea squirt…but I like the name leathery best, as it describes my hardy disposition. I’m a lone wolf, travelling about the way I do – settling where I please to sit on a rock and feed on all whatever delicacies I can filter from the water around me.
Although I’m magnificently beautiful (as you can see from my picture) and fun to be around, some people aren’t that happy that I have come to visit their countries. How ungrateful! Apparently when I grow too much in one area, I out compete locally farmed muscles and oysters for their food. I’m also considered a pest for ‘fouling’ the hulls of ships. On the other hand, there is some argument that I’m pretty good for increasing biodiversity – this is because I only attach myself to a pretty small area of rocks, but then allow other species to grow all over me once I’m there. More space often equals opportunities for more species.
Scientists say sequencing my genome would be interesting because it would help them understand how I have spread to different places around the world, and how my population has evolved once I’m at those locations. They could use this to produce cool maps that show how I have spread around, which could help predict how other similar species might disperse themselves. This is especially important because I’m an invasive species, so people are worried that I could be a threat to native species in new ecosystems that I enter.
When an organism comes to a new location, scientists expect to see reduced genetic diversity and genetic bottlenecks in members of that organism in the new area. For example, if a lot of humans with blonde hair and sticky-out ears all settled in a new place and only bred with each other, you would expect the majority of humans produced for many generations to also have blonde hair and sticky out ears. The thing is, that doesn’t happen as much as scientists have predicted it should in marine species. Sequencing my genome might help understand why that’s the case.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Leathery stow away
What's it like where you live?
Busy! I like shallow water and harbours where there's lots going on
What's your favourite food?
I mostly eat plankton, but when I'm in shallower water I get to supplement that with lots of decomposing plant and animal matter I filter from the water around me. Delicious!
What's your family life like?
Well...that's a bit of a complicated one. I live alone, usually attached to whatever I rock I suckered onto as a larvae. Because this means I can't rely on other boys or girls being around like humans can, I have to take both those roles for myself - I'm a hermaphrodite with both male and female organs! When I release spawn, this improves the chances of them being fertilised nearby. Although we're a tough species which can survive in water as cold as -2 Celcius, I only spawn when it's above 15C.
Are you endangered or threatened by anything?
Not really in the UK, because I'm not from around here I have no natural predators! Some people have tried to remove me from muscle farms by lowering cages full of crabs onto my head, but without much luck.
What's the best thing about you/interesting fact?
I'm a like a mighty viking in sea squirt form - I've invaded your land by stowing away on the hulls of ships coming back from Korea
The champion of this species is...