Monday, 28 Sep, 2009 Science

Scientists Discover 850 New Species in Underground Waters of Australia


Recently 18 Australian scientists discovered 850 previously unknown species of invertebrate animals that live in underground water and caves in severe conditions. The list of newly discovered invertebrates includes a large number of different insects, small crustaceans, spiders and worms.

The group of scientists was led by three experts: Professor Andy Austin from the University of Adelaide, Dr Steve Cooper from the South Australian Museum and Dr Bill Humphreys from the Western Australian Museum. Researchers carried out a detailed 4-year study of underground water, caves and micro-caverns located in some dry regions across Australia.

"What we have discovered is a completely new component to Australia's biodiversity," said Professor Austin from the Australian Center for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity at the University of Adelaide. He mentioned that the finding represents only about 20 percent of the total number of unknown species that scientists consider to exist beneath the Australian outback.

So far researchers managed to give names only to about half of the new species. It is worth mentioning that species that live in the underground water are generally known as "stygofauna" and those living in caves and micro-caverns are generically called "troglofauna". According to the team, the new species appeared as a result of climate change. Researchers say that about 15 million years ago Central and southern Australia represented a much wetter place with a rich invertebrate fauna inhabiting the surface.

For about 1-2 million years the continent continued to dry out and species that survived found shelter in isolated habitats suitable for life, like underground waters and micro-caverns. Scientists reported their discovery at a scientific conference on evolution and biodiversity that took place in Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory, Australia. The conference was organized to mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin.

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