(May 17) - Carnivorous sponges, blind creepy-crawlies adorned with hairy antennae and ribbed worms are just some of the new characters recently found to inhabit the dark abysses of the Southern Ocean, an abode once thought devoid of such life.
A 'Cradle of Life'
Recent expeditions have uncloaked this polar region, finding nearly 600 organisms never described before and challenging some assumptions that deep-sea biodiversity is depressed. The findings also suggest that all of Earth's marine life originated in Antarctic waters. Scientists had assumed that the deep sea of the South Pole would follow similar trends in biodiversity documented for the Arctic. "There are less species in the Arctic than around the equator," said one of the study scientists, Brigitte Ebbe, a taxonomist at the German Center for Marine Biodiversity Research. "People assumed that it would be the same if you went from the equator south, but it didn't prove to be true at all." The findings, reported this week in the journal Nature, provide a more accurate picture of creatures in the southern deep sea and shed light on the evolution of biodiversity in the deep ocean, including ancient colonization dating back 65 million years.