Sunday Scribble #25 - Research, Leafy Seadragon (Phycodurus eques)

I rarely go back and add to work after it is published here, but perhaps an explanation is needed. So...

My article below is an example of research and the presenting of facts... a very basic technical writing style. It is not presented in an essay format (and is not copy/paste from other web sights, with the exception of two referenced quotes.)

Alright, I am starting to assume that most people find research (and the presentation of facts) dry. EEK! "Entertain me! Autrice wrote a boring
Sunday Scribblings!"

I could go back through this and spice it up with buzzwords and catch phrases, but the purpose of my presenting my research on the Leafy Seadragon, as it is, is two-fold:

First, creative writers are often gnashing at the bit to write - and they can't resist adding color to their work. It takes a great sense of discipline to write just the facts, without throwing in too much opinion (in hard-line documentation, no opinion is warranted or needed.) So, the material often reads like a mini book report or basic biology class assignment. In the case of my entry below, I detailed the basics. Were it an article for journal publication, I would have to expand on various things - and include a whole mess of scientific data (which I actually ripped out of the article before posting it here.) I could have opted to write a lengthy essay which incorporates those facts.

The second reason is that, in a non-essay work, facts should speak for themselves, in a concise manner, so other researchers don't have to hunt through paragraphs for pertinent data.

The first thing a scientist needs or wants to know is: what is it? In the case of zoology (or even paleontology), we want a breakdown of where the animal sits. The phrase "Kings Play Chess On Fat Girl's Stomachs" comes into play here. That phrase is the sing-song way of remembering ranking: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Species. Classification is everything! A Nudibrach is a Mollusk... and knowing this, a Scientist can made a general assumption that a Nudibrach will behave in a "Mollusky" way. If it veers from Mollusk rules, the article will mention it.

Of secondary interest is the animal's size and/or shape.

The third thing a zoological scientist is interested in is the animal environment. Where does it live? Is it threatened or endangered? Will it kill me if I touch it? How hardy is it?

All three things are usually presented in the beginning of an article, in a very brief manner - although many articles list these facts in a small info-box within an article or at the end.

We come to the meat of the article after the initial facts are presented or outlined. These are the more wordy portions that add better description to the subject being studied. If sources are used, it is in a technical writer's best interest to cover his or her butt and list or refer to them! (References should always be within the article, usually at the end.)

As I have no major discovery (that is my own) to report, the article is merely information concerning what we already know about the subject. Often, there might be an "In conclusion" section, where the author has a bit of liberty to exress his viewpoint on the subject.

So, is dull worthwhile? Yes. If a researcher can't step back and approach a subject in black and white from time to time, facts get lost in the confusion of poetic writing. And, yes, it pays well. Had I studied my subject personally, I would have spent some time diving with them or near them, testing reported facts against my own observations. The culmination of a lengthy research undertaking is, of course, the "research paper".

Since I first submitted this to Sunday Scribbles, I noted that the topic has changed from "Research" to "Google". I hope that it still falls into the theme, as I did have to Google information for it. And, I hope it helps shed some light on the reason why so many papers and articles in the world read in a sterile manner. If you would like to learn more:
leafy seadragon - Google Search.

Anyway, enjoy! I'm hoping a lot of other people don't do the "dry" approach to this week's topic. I really enjoy reading the essay style much more!

~ T. Wheeler (aka Autrice)

Examples of research articles, and the different ways in which they can be approached:

Palaeo Portfolio: Southwestern dragon
(Essay Style) Darren Naish: Tetrapod Zoology: Are Sumatran rhinos really ‘living fossils’?
The Sea Slug Forum - Flabellina iodinea
"Bambi" the Velociraptor


Phycodurus eques -or- Leafy seadragon

Family: Syngnathidae (Pipefishes and seahorses), subfamily: Syngnathinae
Order: Syngnathiformes (pipefishes and seahorses)
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)

Max size: 35.0 cm TL
Environment: reef-associated; non-migratory; marine; depth range 4 – 30 m
Climate: subtropical; 31 degrees S - 38 degrees S
Importance: fisheries: of no interest; aquarium: commercial
Resilience: Medium, minimum population doubling time 1.4 - 4.4 years
Distribution: Eastern Indian Ocean: endemic to southern Australia.
Biology: Usually occur over sand patches close to reefs with kelp, feeding on mysids and other crustaceans. Ovoviviparous. The male carries the eggs in a brood pouch which is found under the tail. One of the most spectacular examples of camouflage: neither prey nor predators recognize it as a fish.
Threat Status: none; harmless to humans.

Red List Status:
Year Assessed - 2006
Assessor - R. Connolly
Evaluators - Morgan, S.K. & Martin-Smith, K (Syngnathid Red List Authority)
Justification - More information is available about leafy seadragons than when the species was last assessed, and this has resulted in a reassessment of Near Threatened (NT). There remains a paucity of information describing population fluctuations, population size and life history traits, therefore the assessment focuses on criterion B (geographic range). Population sizes have probably been reduced marginally through incidental impacts of fishing and the species' habitat certainly has been adversely affected by pollution. However, these reductions have not been measured and probably represent a small proportion of totals of fish abundances and habitat extent. Some issues point towards criteria within the Endangered (EN) category, and these points are described below. None of the information provides compelling evidence for trends in occurrence or occupancy, however this is largely due to the absence of data, rather than information that points towards population stability.
The extent of occurrence is estimated to be 1,400 km², which is below the 5,000 km² threshold for EN B1 and well below the 20,000 km² threshold for Vulnerable (VU). Total area of occupancy is possibly less than the VU threshold of 2,000 km² (given the approximate extent of occurrence calculated above), but at this time is unknown. Criterion B2 therefore cannot be used.

EN B1b(iii) (continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat) is met. Seadragon habitat such as algal covered reefs and seagrass meadows are being adversely affected by human activities and loss in quality and quantity of habitat has been documented (Baker 2003). The loss of habitat is most severe near major urban centres (e.g., Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne), where discharge of storm water and treated sewage leads to eutrophication and increased sedimentation. Losses of seagrass have been particularly severe along the metropolitan coasts and are well documented (Short and Wyllie-Echeverria 1996). The threat to seadragons may be lessened to an extent by the occurrence of seadragons at sites distant from these population centres, provided that these areas are biologically connected through movement or dispersal.

Seadragons have been sighted at numerous locations within the range but it is impossible to determine how fragmented occurrence is. Therefore, sub-criterion B1a cannot be used at present.

In summary, the lack of trend data means that seadragons cannot be described as meeting any of the threatened categories at present, but it nearly meets Endangered under criterion B (currently only on sub-criterion (B1b(iii)) is met). Therefore it is assessed as NT.

Continued monitoring is required to establish population trends. Research is also needed to establish areas of occupancy.

Description and Behavior:
The Leafy Seadragon's (Phycodurus eques, Gunther 1865) name becomes clear when we view these magnificent animals. Their leafy appendages, which are not used to move about, allow them to hide from predators among seaweed and other water plants. Their principle method of locomotion is via translucent fins. The small pectoral fins, found along the sides of the head, allow the Leafy Seadragon to steer and pivot. The Seadragon propels itself using dorsal fins found alone the spine. Movement is very graceful, which allows the Leafy Seadragon to mimic the swaying motion of the kelp or seaweed around it. Please note the long, tubular snout.

The Leafy Seadragon can be found in ocean waters near Australia (southern Western Australia, South Australia, and near the coastline of Victoria province) and it is a protected species under Australian law, as demand for aquarium specimens threatens the species to extinction.

Food Sources:
Small crustaceans and other tiny prey, as well as plankton, are primary sources of nutrition for Leafy Seadragons.

"A unique characteristic of the seahorse, including the Leafy Seadragon, is the parenting role of the males. After male and female seadragons pair up in late winter, the female develops around 300 orange coloured eggs in her lower abdominal cavity and the male develops about 120 small pits or 'egg cups' on his tail. The eggs are transferred from the female to the male and fertilized, then carried by the male for an incubation period of about four weeks before young seadragons hatch over several days. At birth the young are around 20mm long and so highly susceptible to predation from fish, crustaceans and sea anenomes. The hatching itself is staggered to assist with dispersal and avoid competition for food amongst the young. The young dragons are fast growing, reaching 20cm after one year and attain mature length after about two years. It is not known how long wild seadragons live. Whilst they can reach up to 43cm in the wild the average size is closer to 30cm."2

With the exception of the photograph at the beginning of this article, all photographs are from my personal collection (artists unknown). (The initial photograph was taken by me at the Pittsburgh Aquarium. I apologize for it being so fuzzy.)

In conclusion, the Leafy Seadragon is a fascinating and graceful addition to Australian waters. Under legal protection, they should inhabit the reefs and seaweed beds for many generations to come. Captivity should be left to professional aquariums, as the illegal pet trade market is the primary danger to this species success in the wild.

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-Eastern Australia. Crawford House Press. Pp. 437.
Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. Pp. 433.
Dawson, C.E. in Gomon, M.F, C.J.M. Glover & R.H. Kuiter (Eds). 1994. The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. State Print, Adelaide. Pp. 992.

1. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2006
2. The Marine Emblem of South Australia - Leafy Seadragon

7 responded with...:

paris parfait said...

Well that's an interesting topic - not one I expected to find at SS. And I don't think research is boring - on the contrary, you're learning more about something that interests you - it's a bit like getting to know someone; you're "researching" their character.

TI said...

Fascinating topic. I love the very last piece of artwork. You must have a really good collection.

Kayt said...

I really liked what you had to say about facts speaking for themselves :)

Anonymous said...

i love these creatures and think they are both beautiful and interesting. I must comment I like two of the questions at the beginning of the post as well as the research itself. They were "Is it threatened or endangered? Will it kill me if I touch it?" Cheers.

Dorinny said...

What a fascinating little creature. Beautiful too! I learn something new every day! Really enjoyed this.

Roadchick said...

Impressive entry - the 'chick is in awe!

Anonymous said...

interesting topic, and great that you found something interesting to research. I enjoyed it.