It has been argued for the polychaetes of the Pacific coast of South America that shallow areas act as sources of colonisation, helping to maintain species diversity in deeper regions in the face of local extinction. "Such colonisation-extinction dynamics may also explain the patterns of diversity that we see in the Magellanic region," said Dr Thatje.
The Magellanic region was covered by ice 21,000 years ago, and the sea level was much lower than it is today. The Straits of Magellan probably did not fully open until approximately 7,000 years ago, after the ice had receded. The species now present in Magellanic waters must therefore have recolonised the region from adjacent Atlantic and Pacific areas, and indeed some of the polychaetes found in the Magellanic region are known from the Antarctic shelf.
The larvae of polychaetes can live as plankton for many months before resettling and developing into adults. "The dispersal of Antarctic species through larval transport in easterly circumpolar currents may explain their occurrence in the Magellanic region," said Dr Thatje.
|Contact: Dr. Rory Howlett|
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK)