Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi

Michael Reuscher

An Outstanding Islander

Outline photo of Michael Reuscher

Deep-Sea Discovery

Michael Reuscher is helping scientists around the world become more familiar with the ocean environments by identifying new deep-sea creatures. The HRI graduate research assistant, who is earning a Ph.D. in Marine Biology, has discovered 20 new species of “ocean earthworms” from Japan, and eight new species from different regions in the Pacific Ocean and the Red Sea.

Reuscher came to the Island University in 2008 from Heidelberg, Germany, where he began his research. He is writing species descriptions on a marine group of animals called polychaetes, commonly known as “bristle worms,” to be published in research manuscripts. He emphasizes the significance of studying these ocean worms, which are extremely abundant.

“These species are so important because they provide food for other animals, crabs, and many commercial fish,” said Reuscher. “If you were to take away the polychaetes, the abundance of food would dramatically decrease. These worms also redistribute the nutrients in ocean floor sediment and increase oxygenation.”  

Reuscher adds that another concern is scientists are losing species at a faster rate than they are discovering them.

“We are losing biodiversity because of destruction of habitats and pollution,” he said. “I’m comparing the polychaete biodiversity of different regions in the Gulf of Mexico.”  

Reuscher has studied specimens at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., and the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. This summer he will travel to the Zoological Museum in Hamburg, Germany, and the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. For his two European travels, he was awarded the Ernst Mayr fellowship of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at the University of Harvard. In 2013, he will present his findings at the International Polychaete Conference in Sydney, Australia.

One of his other projects is studying the impact of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Working with Dr. Paul Montagna, he is comparing samples and data from the 1980s, the 2000s, and 2010, where he hopes to find out how the species composition has changed after the oil spill, and if the biodiversity was affected by the blowout.

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