The worm and the bridge

Land, J. van der Land at
Thu Jan 23 14:08:01 EST 2003

Last week a small article entitled "The worm and the bridge" appeared in my 
daily newspaper. This rare occurrence of polychaetes in a news item drew 
my attention because it was accompanied by a nice picture of the 
ampharetid polychaete Alkmaria romijni.  

This species is very dear to me because it is the most Dutch polychaete you 
can imagine. It was described in Dutch by my predecessor Horst in 1919, 
the type specimens being in our collection of course. The genus name was 
derived from the Alkmaar Lake, the type locality, and the species name from 
the name of the collector, the Dutch limnologist Romijn. Moreover the name 
includes the only special letter of the Dutch alphabeth between x and z, the y 
with dots (Y Asci code 0159), for convenience mostly written as ij or IJ.  

The news copied from The Times, is that one of the largest bridge building 
projects in Britain (Euro 225 million) has to be stopped for about half a year. 
The buiilding of the bridge across the river Medway in Kent for highway M2 is 
going to destroy a brackish water habitat along the borders of the river. 
Conservationists in Kent first want to move the population of the rare 
Alkmaria romijni occurring there, to another location. The species apparently 
appeared on a list of rare species to be protected. I suspect this was a result 
of studies by Gilliland and Sanderson.  

The species is now known from several brackish water localities along the 
European coast from Scandinavia to Spain. It does not occur in the Alkmaar 
Lake anymore. Most inland waters in the province of North Holland used to 
be somewhat brackish because of the nearby marine Zuiderzee. This was 
closed off from the sea in the nineteen thirties and became the freshwater 
IJssel Lake (indeed also with a Dutch Y).  

Reference: Gilliland, P.M. & W.G. Sanderson, 2000. Re-evaluation of marine 
benthic species of nature conservation importance: a new perspective on 
certain 'lagoonal specialists' with particular emphasis on Alkmaria romijni 
Horst (Polychaeta: Ampharetidae). - Aquatic-Conservation: 10(1): 1-12  

Dr Jacob van der Land
National Museum of Natural History - Naturalis
P.O.Box 9517
2300 RA  Leiden
the Netherlands
e-mail: land at

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