Four new cockle species (top and bottom on the far left: both sides of Pratulum occidentale; middle, larger speckled shell: Acrosterigma extremattenuatum; top-right: both sides of Microcardium scabrosum; bottom right: Ctenocardia pilbaraensis).

Decades of extensive biological surveys and taxonomic work have revealed four new cockle species, 16 that were previously not known to exist in Western Australian waters, and 14 others being recorded around Australia for the first time.

The research was conducted by an international team of scientists, led by Dutch malacologist Dr Jan Johan ter Poorten, and included Western Australian Museum Curator of Molluscs Dr Lisa Kirkendale and French malacologist Dr Jean-Maurice Poutiers.

Dr Kirkendale said the team’s work focused on cockles of WA and northern tropical Australia.

“It presents the results of decades of extensive biological surveys in the region led by the WA Museum and a suite of external organisations such as the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO),” Dr Kirkendale said.

“The study builds on earlier work from 1977, led by the late Dr Barry Wilson, to whom this work is dedicated. Former Curator of Molluscs and Head of Science at the WA Museum, Dr Wilson contributed much to the development of marine conservation policy and can be considered the architect of marine parks in WA.”

The four newly described species are Acrosterigma extremattenuatum, Ctenocardia pilbaraensis, Microcardium scabrosum and Pratulum occidentale. Pratulum occidentale lives at the edge of the continental shelf of northern Australia, while C. pilbaraensis, A. extremattenuatum and M. scabrosum are all found inshore (in the Pilbara and the latter two northern Australia).

The research paper, The Cardiidae (Mollusca: Bivalvia) of tropical northern Australia: A synthesis of taxonomy, biodiversity and biogeography with the description of four new species, was recently published by Records of the Western Australian Museum. The paper can be accessed online here:

“In comparison to records from 1977, the paper doubles the known marine cockles in WA to 68, and in doing so, provides important source data such as species lists and detailed distributions,” Dr Kirkendale said.

“Especially useful in this regard will be new data from Western Australia on commercially important and threatened giant clam species. The distributional data can facilitate targeted monitoring of populations by conservation managers.”

The new taxonomy, biodiversity assessments and distributional data also supports the concept of a Dampierian Province. That is, the cockle fauna across northern Australia is a shared fauna, uniting and differentiating Western Australia, the Northern Territory and northern Queensland from adjacent areas. The four newly described species, which are all Dampierian endemics, reinforce this concept.

The cardiid collection at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory was studied as part of this project. Dr Richard Willan, the Senior Curator of Molluscs there, said the significance of this major scientific work extends well beyond establishing the right names for all the 68 species of marine cockles in Western Australia.

“In discovering that several of the species live solely in WA’s inshore waters, it stresses the great importance of the coasts for conservation of marine wildlife,” Dr Willan said.

“Invertebrates must be taken into account when planning for coastal development.”

This work was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the WA Museum, Atlas of Living Australia, Woodside Energy Ltd., the Western Australian Marine Science Institute, Wealth from Oceans Flagship, and the Australian Government Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (now Department of Environment and Energy).


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Sharna Craig
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Western Australian Museum