700 new forms of life discovered in Antarctic sea

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Friday, May 18, 2007

This pink species of Epimeriidae is new to scientists and is the first deep sea member of this group.
Image: British Antarctic Survey.
An aerial view of Antarctica. Weddell Sea is the 'bay' in the top left corner.

At first glance, the Weddell Sea in northwest Antarctica may not appear to be teeming with life. Far below the surface there, though, an international team of scientists together with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) reported finding at least 700 new species.

The new species identified include carnivorous sponges, free-swimming worms, and 674 species of isopod crustaceans and molluscs. The species were found at depths between 2,500 feet to 20,000 feet (750–6,350 meters). Isopods, one of the most diverse orders of crustaceans, accounts for 585 of the new species discovered.

"The Antarctic deep sea is potentially the cradle of life of the global marine species. Our research results challenge suggestions that the deep sea diversity in the Southern Ocean is poor. We now have a better understanding in the evolution of the marine species and how they can adapt to changes in climate and environments," said Angelika Brandt, a professor at the Zoological Institute and Zoological Museum, University of Hamburg and head researcher of the team who made the discovery.

The international team discovered the new species through three expeditions, between 2002 and 2005, with the research vessel Polarstern. The project was called the Antarctic benthic (the lowest level of the ocean) deep-sea biodiversity project (ANDEEP). At least 14 research groups joined the effort to map the biodiversity of the sea-floor landscape, the continental slope and at different water depths.

"The isopods, ostracods (seed shrimp) and nematodes, which are poor dispersers, include many species currently known only from the Southern Ocean," the report says. The team's findings were published yesterday in the leading scientific journal Nature. The contributors were from the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the United States, Russia and Switzerland.

Sources

Angelika Brandt et. al.. First insights into the biodiversity and biogeography of the Southern Ocean deep sea. Nature, 2007; 447: 307-311.

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