The study of deep-sea fauna has rapidly improved with the use of cameras, robotic and autonomous technology. Collection of species image data brings the challenge to identify taxa observed in these images. Taxonomic key features along with environmental variables allow taxonomic experts to identify species from image data. Nevertheless, there are no formalized guidelines to follow that facilitate this learning for new deep-sea researchers.
The focus of this one-day workshop was the identification of cold-water corals (CWC). Taxonomic experts presented key taxonomic features used to identify coral taxa from image data, as well as family characters and the status of key taxonomic groups. Participants of the workshop included students and researchers involved in deep-sea studies from varied places across the world. Through a series of presentations and lab practicals, attendees had the opportunity to learn new skills and put them to test.
The workshop began with a brief presentation by Dr Jaime Davies (Plymouth University) on key groups visible in images that can be used to identify to a given taxonomic level and the differences between them (i.e. how to distinguish between a black coral and a gorgonian). The next session was carried out by Dr Dennis M Opresko, from the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution (United States). In this session, Dr Opresko explained the distinctive features of antipatharians (black corals) and how to differentiate antipatharian families according to features like colony morphotypes. Finally, Dr Andreia Braga Henriques, from the Oceanic Observatory of Madeira (Portugal), gave a presentation on octocorals, focusing on gorgonians. Several families of gorgonians were explained as well as key features to distinguish them.
After the presentations, there was a practical session that consisted of a little quiz to give the participants a try on identifying antipatharian and gorgonian families from some images taken by Remote Operated Vehicles (ROV), which the experts explained later on how to identify.
The practical also included the identification of corals in-situ using a magnifying loupe. With the help of Dr Braga Henriques and Dr Opresko, attendees were explained the main characteristics to identify CWC at the species level. The practical session also allowed the participants to share ROV videos, to look in groups at corals under the loupe and to share knowledge and experiences.
From the point of view of students we found this workshop very useful. Firstly, it was a privilege to learn first hand about the key features useful for the identification of CWC from experts such as Dr Opresko and Dr Braga Henriques. Secondly, the opportunity to test our knowledge through practical activities helped to settle our new acquired knowledge. Finally, these meetings become very constructive as they enable the exchange of knowledge among researchers working in this field of research, creating bonds between projects and strengthening the scientific community.
Many thanks to Cristina for writing this short article about the workshop!