New species of freshwater sponge discovered at Wyndham

  • A new species of freshwater sponge, Corvospongilla moochalabrensis, has been discovered in Moochalabra Dam in Wyndham
  • This is the first time the genus Corvospongilla has been reported in Australia.
  • A new species of freshwater sponge has been discovered at Wyndham. This is the first time the genus has been reported in Australia.

    The new species, Corvospongilla moochalabrensis, is named after the Moochalabra Dam, where it was found by Water Corporation staff, who delivered it to the Western Australian Museum for identification.

    The freshwater sponge fauna is little known in Australia. Only 220 species of freshwater sponges have been recorded worldwide, including 27 in Australia.

    WA Museum staff collaborated with experts in Italy and Germany who confirmed the new species.

    Using DNA samples, it has been confirmed that Corvospongilla moochalabrensis is new to science. It is one of 20 species of the genus Corvospongilla to be described worldwide. The other 19 have been found in all freshwater systems around the world, but never in Australasia, Antarctica or the Pacific regions.

    The genus is thought to have origins with Gondwana over 180 million years ago when the southern continents (South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica) formed the supercontinent Gondwana. This large landmass would have allowed the spread of freshwater sponges.

    Known for their efficient filtration system, freshwater sponges are essential components of healthy ecosystems. They are adapted to arid environments and, in the absence of water, resist desiccation due to their ability to produce small clumps of resilient cells called gemmules that have lower metabolic activity. When conditions are favorable, gemmules turn into sponges.

    The WA Museum and Water Corporation recognizes the Balanggarra Traditional Owners of the Wyndham area where this specimen was found.

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    As Culture and Arts Minister David Templeman said:

    “Discovering this new species of freshwater sponge and recording Australia’s first Corvospongilla in Wyndham’s Moochalabra Dam is incredibly exciting. It is a great addition to the State Collection and contributes to a better understanding of the extraordinary biodiversity of Western Australia and the global understanding of biodiversity in freshwater ecosystems.

    “I congratulate the WA Museum and Water Corporation for this fantastic collaboration. Identifying and describing a new species is truly fantastic and so exciting for our state. I also hope that this new species identification will inspire people working in remote waterway environments to collect samples of unusual specimens for identification at the WA Museum.

    As Water Minister Dave Kelly said:

    “The sponge was discovered by chance when Water Corporation personnel were investigating a technical issue with the treatment membranes at Wyndham’s water treatment plant.

    “Investigations revealed that the sponge was damaging membranes, so Water Corporation staff sought advice from the WA Museum to identify the species and how to mitigate its impact.

    “It’s fascinating to think that this species has been evolving for millions of years and that we have only just discovered its presence. It’s certainly a great tasting sponge, as Wyndham’s water from the Moochalabra Dam has been voted the tastiest tap water in WA.

    “I am truly delighted that the sponge’s name reflects its Kimberley roots, and my congratulations to everyone involved from the Wyndham and Water Quality teams at Water Corporation and the WA Museum.”

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