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Press Release - Scientists discover new life in the Antarctic deep sea

Issue date: 16 May 2007
Number: 07/2007

Monday 14 May 2007 

Scientists have found hundreds of new marine creatures in the vast, dark deep-sea surrounding Antarctica. Carnivorous sponges, free-swimming worms, crustaceans, and molluscs living in the Weddell Sea provide new insights into the evolution of ocean life.

Reporting this week in the journal Nature, scientists describe how creatures in the deeper parts of the Southern Ocean - the source for much of the deep water in the world ocean – are likely to be related to animals living in both the adjacent shallower waters and in other parts of the deep ocean.

A key question for scientists is whether shallow water species colonised the deep ocean or vice versa. The research findings suggest the glacial cycle of advance and retreat of ice led to an intermingling of species that originated in shallow and deep water habitats.

Lead author Professor Angelika Brandt from the Zoological Institute and Zoological Museum, University Hamburg says,

“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.”

Dr Katrin Linse, marine biologist from British Antarctic Survey, says,

“What was once thought to be a featureless abyss is in fact a dynamic, variable and biologically rich environment. Finding this extraordinary treasure trove of marine life is our first step to understanding the complex relationships between the deep ocean and distribution of marine life.”

Three research expeditions, as part of the ANDEEP project (Antarctic benthic deep-sea biodiversity), onboard the German research ship Polarstern took place between 2002 and 2005. An international team from 14 research organisations investigated the seafloor landscape, its continental slope rise and changing water depths to build a picture of this little known region of the ocean. They found over 700 new species.

Ends

Issued by the British Antarctic Survey Press Office.

Linda Capper – tel. ++44 1223 221448, mob: 07714 233744, email: l.capper@bas.ac.uk

Athena Dinar - tel: ++44 1223 221414, mob:07740 822229 , email: a.dinar@bas.ac.uk

Notes for Editors:

Pictures: stills of the specimens are available from the BAS Press Office and underwater photos from Bob Diaz at Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Tel: 001 32 26502234

Interview opportunities with authors:

Dr Katrin Linse, British Antarctic Survey tel: 01223 221631 (contact BAS Press Office as above)

Professor Angelika Brandt at Zoological Institute and Zoological Museum, University Hamburg (Organiser of ANDEEP):

Contact: Tel: ++49 40 42838 2278

Dr Brigitte Ebbe, Deutsches Zentrum für Marine Biodiversitätsforschung, Senckenberg, Wilhelmshaven, Germany (CeDAMar, Education and Outreach officer)

Contact: Tel: ++ 49 228 9122 285

Professor Andrew Gooday at National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Contact: Press Office. Kim Marshall-Brown – tel: ++44 2380 596170

Dr John Howe at Scottish Association for Marine Science

Contact SAMS Press Office. Anuschka Miller – tel: ++44 1631 559300

Dr Bob Diaz at Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Contact: Tel: ++32 26502234

Dr Bruno Danis at Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Project manager SCAR MarBIN

Contact: Tel: 001 32 26502234

Dr Jan Pawlowski at Department of Zoology and Animal Biology, University of Geneva (Genetic analyses). Contact: Tel: ++41 223793069

The paper, First insights into the biodiversity and biogeography of the Southern Ocean deep sea by Angelika Brandt, Andrew J. Gooday, Saskia Brix, Wiebke Brökeland, Tomas Cedhagen, Madhumitu Choudhury, Nils Cornelius, Bruno Danis, Ilse De Mesel, Robert J. Diaz, David C. Gillan, Brigitte Ebbe, John Howe, Dorte Janussen, Stefanie Kaiser, Katrin Linse, Marina Malyutina, Simone Nunes Brandão, Jan Pawlowski, Michael Raupach, Ann Vanreusel is published in the journal Nature on 16 May.

The deep sea is classified as depths below 1000 metres. The specimens were collected at depths of 774 – 6348 metres from the German research vessel Polarstern on three cruises between 2002 – 2005.

Scientists know about the biodiversity in shallow marine communities, but knowledge of the deep sea communities is poor.

The ANDEEP (Antarctic benthic deep sea biodiversity) project is conducting the first comprehensive study of marine animals in the Antarctic deep sea. It involves scientists from 17 organisations world-wide. The German Science Foundation (DFG) and the Ministry for Science and Education (BMBF) are the major funders of ANDEEP.

UK Scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton (NOCS) and Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) were involved in the analyses of the species and marine sediments, which are a basis for structuring marine ecosystems.

British Antarctic Survey is a world leader in research into global issues in an Antarctic context. It is the UK’s national operator and is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council. It has an annual budget of around £40 million, runs nine research programmes and operates five research stations, two Royal Research Ships and five aircraft in and around Antarctica. More information about the work of the Survey can be found at:

The Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar- and Marine Sciences in Bremerhaven runs the logistics of the R/V Polarstern, Germany's polar research and supply vessel. R/V Polarstern has completed a total of more than thirty expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. She was specially designed for working in the polar seas and is currently one of the most sophisticated polar research vessel in the world.

The National Oceanography Centre, Southampton is the UK’s focus for oceanography and represents an unparalleled investment in marine and earth sciences and technology in the UK. The centre opened in 1995 in a purpose-built, £50 million waterfront campus on the city’s Empress Dock. A collaboration between the Natural Environment Research Council and the University of Southampton, the centre houses around 500 staff and 700 undergraduate and postgraduate students.

The Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) is one of the world’s oldest oceanographic institutions. Based at the Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory, Scotland it is committed to promoting, delivering and supporting high-quality, independent research and education in marine science. Further information can be found at www.sams.ac.uk