2012 Photomicrography Competition

The above image showcases an Ophiothela mirabilis, a brittle star typically found in the warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean.  Now imagine Dr. Alvaro Migotto’s surprise when he found this particular subject matter in the Atlantic Ocean, many thousands of miles from where it belongs.

Dr. Migotto cited the difficulty of photographing a live subject and the brittle star’s symmetrical beauty as his reasons for submitting this image.  More importantly, however, Dr. Migotto explained that he also entered the image because he should never have found it in the first place. He hypothesized that the brittle star was likely a stowaway on a shipping freighter.  As an invasive species in its non-native ecosystem, the brittle star is more likely to proliferate in the absence of natural predators and disrupt the ecological balance of its new home.

Dr. Migotto and his colleagues reported the appearance of Ophiothela mirabilis in a recent issue of the journal, Coral Reefs. Though this did not factor into the image winning in this year’s competition, it perfectly illustrates how Small World winners demonstrate the blend of science and art that makes the competition so unique. In the article, the scientists discuss that international shipping is the likely culprit vehicle for invasion due to the brittle stars vicinity to Brazilian and Caribbean ports. Further, they expound on the fear that the species’ asexual reproduction method will lead to a population explosion, although more research is necessary to determine the potential threat and discover the source of the colonization. We invite our readers to download the article in full from this link and read more about this interesting phenomenon.