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Antarctica Reveals Its Marine Secrets

As part of the decade long Census of Marine Life (CoML), the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) examined the distribution and vast range of Antarctica’s marine biodiversity.

Marine biologists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) took part in the largest of the Antarctic surveys for the census. They made 19 separate forays into Antarctic waters and collected samples from over 2,000 locations around Antarctica.

Hundreds of newly discovered Antarctic species

The results of the census were presented to the Royal Institution in London in early October. Huw Griffiths, a marine biologist with BAS, gives an idea of the scale of discovery when he says,

…working with the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding we identified hundreds of new species. At BAS, with the help of colleagues from New Zealand, we identified a new species of amphipod crustacean (closely related to Epimeria georgiana), which looks a bit like a shrimp. Natural variation in the shape and colour of this creature makes it difficult to tell if the ones we found were the same type of species, or not. Using DNA barcoding it was possible to identify this animal as a different species that was new to science.

CAML discovered hundreds of new Antarctic species

Unnamed species above, Epimeria georgiana below

CAML retrieved the DNA barcodes for 4,000 species during the census, in which it compiled a final inventory of over 16,000 marine species.

The results provide a benchmark against which can be measured the effects of climate change. Although the diversity of life is vulnerable to a range of climactic and human influences, the fact that so many creatures are surviving in some of the most challenging underwater environments proves how resilient life can be, even in the most extreme conditions.

Picture courtesy of British Antarctic Survey

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