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Beyond sunlight: Explorers census 17,650 ocean species between edge of darkness and black abyss
Date:11/22/2009

80 specimens of copepods collected on a recent CeDAMar cruise (DIVA 2) to the southeastern Atlantic, for example, only seven could be identified; 99 percent were new to science. And among hundreds of species of macrofauna (animals about the size of an earthworm) collected in different areas, 50 to 85 percent were unrecognized.

"The abyssal fauna is so rich in species diversity and so poorly described that collecting a known species is an anomaly," says Dr. Billett. "Describing for the first time all the different species in any coffee cup-sized sample of deep-sea sediment is a daunting challenge."

Far rarer than new species in the mud is the capture of a new species of sea cucumber, and rarer still a new genus. However, Dr. Billett and colleagues from the National Oceanography Centre and the Shirshov Institute, Moscow, accomplished this feat this year around the Crozet Islands after steaming for a grueling six days south from South Africa.

One of the new sea cucumbers was yellowish-green, a rare find as virtually all others found in the global seas are whitish grey or purple.

However, what startled researchers most was finding that the most abundant sea cucumber around the Crozet Islands - thousands of specimens at abyssal depths - was a species never seen anywhere else before, now dubbed Peniagone crozeti.

"The distribution of species in the deep sea is full of mysteries," says Dr. Billett. "In addition to the boundaries caused by underwater topography, ridges and seamounts, there are unseen, and as yet unexplained, walls and barriers that determine supplies of food and define the provinces of species in the deep sea."

"There is both a great lack of information about the 'abyss' and substantial misinformation," says Dr. Carney.

"Many species live there. However, the abyss has long been viewed as a desert. Worse, it was viewed as a wasteland where few to no environmental impacts could be of any
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Contact: Terry Collins
terrycollins@rogers.com
416-538-8712
Census of Marine Life
Source:Eurekalert  

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