This week's issue of the science journal Nature carries a paper with some of the highlight findings of the ANDEEP project. The paper explores the questions of the biodiversity of the deep parts of the Weddell Sea, and of whether Antarctic deep-sea animals are very old ancestors of shallow-water species, or whether they evolved from shallow-water species that colonised deeper waters. The findings suggest high biodiversity, and that the glacial cycle of advance and retreat of ice led to an intermingling of species that originated in shallow and deep-water habitats.
The lead author of the study, Professor Angelica Brandt from the University of Hamburg, summarises: "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 of the evolution of the marine species and how they can adapt to changes in climate and environments."
Dr John Howe, marine geologist at SAMS and one of 21 co-authors, says: "The study is the first step to understanding the complex relationship between the Antarctic seabed and the animals that live there. The fragile ecosystems in the polar regions are extremely vulnerable to climatic change. We examined the diverse environments of the Antarctic deep sea, and reveal a high biodiversity in areas such as the volcanically active basins of the peninsula, the abyssal plain and even in the extreme deep waters of the trench. This demonstrates that the deep seas around the Antarctic continent are not a featureless abyss but a dynamic and variable enviornment with a rich biological community."
Samples for this project were collected during three research expeditions aboard the German research vessel Polarstern between 2002 and 2005.
'First insights into the biodiversity and biogeography of the Southern Ocean deep sea' by A Brandt, AJ Gooday, S Brix, W Broekeland, T Cedhagen, M Choudhury, N Cornelius, B Danis, I De Mesel, RJ Diaz, DC Gillian, B Ebbe, J Howe, D Janussen, S Kaiser, K Linse, M Malyutina, SN Brandao, J Pawlowski, M Raupach, & A Vanreusel. Nature 447: 307 pp, published 17 May 2007.