by Monaca Noble and Katrina Lohan
A robin is a robin. It isn’t often confused with other birds. But some marine organisms are very difficult to identify because they look similar, too similar even for taxonomists trained to detect differences. Oysters are like this.
Oyster shells come in all shapes and sizes. As oysters fight for space and battle to survive in tough environments, their shells can change appearance based on conditions where they live. This makes it very hard to distinguish similar-looking species. Using DNA, we can identify these difficult species and provide new insights into their distribution, ecology, and ranges—insights not possible using shell morphology alone. In Panama, this DNA detective work led to two surprising discoveries.