Monday, December 1, 2008

Antarctic more diverse than Galapagos Islands, claim British scientists

Telegraph (UK): A team from the British Antarctic Survey and University of Hamburg spent seven weeks studying life on the South Orkney Islands, near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The survey - which saw experts combing the land and using trawling nets up to 1,500 metres long in waters around the island - revealed an area "rich in biodiversity".

Some 1,224 marine and land species were recorded, including sea urchins, free-swimming worms, crustaceans, molluscs, mites and birds. After checking 100 years of study data five were found to be new to science and a third new to the area, with 1,026 marine creatures, 821 of which living on the seabed.

Scientists believe the study provides an important benchmark to monitor future environmental change in the area. Antarctic ocean temperatures have risen by 1C and atmospheric temperatures by 2.5C in the last 50 years, making it one of the most rapidly warming areas on the planet.

Dr David Barnes, lead author at the Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey (BAS), has revealed his findings in the Journal of Biogeography. He said: "If we are to understand how these animals will respond to future change, a starting point like this is really important. "This is the first time anybody has done an inventory like this in the polar regions. It's part of the Census of Marine Life (COML) an international effort to assess and explain the diversity and distribution of marine life in the world's oceans."

Stefanie Kaiser, co-author from University of Hamburg said: "We never knew there were so many different species on and around these islands. "This abundance of life was completely unexpected for a location in the polar regions, previously perceived to be poor in biodiversity."….

Scotia on Laurie Island (South Orkney Islands) during Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1902-1904), from an old postcard

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