Port Stephens, Australia - a sea hare haven?

New paper points to New South Wales marine park as a global hotspot for sea hare diversity

GBIF-mediated data resources used : 154 species occurrences
Bursatella leachii
Bursatella leachii, one of the many sea hare species found in Port Stephens. Photo courtesy of Matt Nimbs.

Sea hares are heterobranch sea slugs of the Aplysiidae family with large ear-like rhinophores, responsible for the vernacular of the group. Members of this globally distributed family usually only live up to one year, while producing up to 180 million eggs, and in some species growing to a size of up to two kilograms.

In a recent study, researchers investigated and documented the diversity of aplysiid diversity in Port Stephens, NSW, Australia, home to more species than anywhere else in the world. With the most diverse algal flora in the world, the waters of southern Australia provide the ideal living conditions for sea hares whose diets consists of marine plants- mostly algae.

While reviewing the taxomomy and nomenclature of the group, the authors describe the morphology and distributions of 16 species found in the region, including the first observation of Petalifera sp. in Australian waters. Highlighting the global significance of Port Stephens for Aplysiidae and an obvious target for further sea hare studies, this study forms a baseline for detecting changes to aplysiid diversity in future, changing climates.

Nimbs MJ, Willan RC and Smith SDA (2016) Is Port Stephens, eastern Australia, a global hotspot for biodiversity of Aplysiidae (Gastropoda: Heterobranchia)? Molluscan Research. Informa UK Limited 37(1): 45–65. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13235818.2016.1207280.