The research station of Fundación Huinay in the Comau fjord (Lakes Region) delves deep into the unknowns of marine life in Patagonia. While scientists at the station continue to see and categorize potential new species, visiting scientists Dr. Andreas Rhaesa (Universitӓt Hamburg, Germany) and Matthew Lee (Universidad de Los Lagos, Chile) seek to explore and understand those creatures which cannot easily be seen. Each are experts in the little known world of the Meiofauna, the vast and incredibly diverse range of multicellular animals which occupy a murky, ubiquitous zone of life. Meiofauna are larger than simple cellular life, but are animals so complex and yet so small one can hardly conceive of their existence.
During a five day stay at the labs, the researchers collaborated to sample sediments from various environments in Comau fjord and extract the interstitial fluids in the sediment to observe life within these confided spaces. The interstitial space is the water moving between microscopic gaps in the sediment grains and it’s a habitat thoroughly occupied and utilized by a unique assemblage of Meiofauna. Describing these tiny creatures can be a daunting task, requiring delicate, tedious labor in the labs. Even one 50mL sample may take days or more of dedicated laboratory work to process. There are 20 known phyla branches in the Meiofauna group and just one, Nematodes, may be as diverse as all insect life. Examining the species living in the upper sediment means observing minute details, as well as careful handling of the fragile, often translucent organisms.
Dr. Rhaesa is particularly interested in discovering new species and observing what known species are present in the sediment, while Dr. Lee will focus on the ecological community of Meiofauna, such as dominant groups or community structure between different environments. Their range of taxonomic and ecological understanding provides a holistic approach to studying Meiofauna diversity. Together, their visit has started new partnerships and cracked open the door to an unseen world in Huinay. The researchers will study samples collected in the Comau fjord as well as in other parts of Chile; the discoveries they make are only limited to the diversity and strangeness of the Meiofauna studied.