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850 new species discovered in semi-arid Australia


Sydney : About 850 new species inhabiting underground water, caves and micro-caverns have been discovered in semi-arid Australia. These invertebrates include various insects, small crustaceans, spiders, worms and many others.

The team – led by Andy Austin, professor at the University of Adelaide (U-A), Steve Cooper, South Australian Museum, and Bill Humphreys, Western Australian Museum – conducted a comprehensive four-year survey of underground water, caves and micro-caverns.

“What we’ve found is that you don’t have to go searching in the depths of the ocean to discover new species of invertebrate animals – you just have to look in your own backyard,” said Austin.

“Our research has revealed whole communities of invertebrate animals that were unknown a few years ago… It is a huge discovery and it is only about one-fifth of the number of new species we believe exist underground in the Australian outback.”

Only half of the species discovered have so far been named. Generically, the animals found in underground water are known as “stygofauna” and those from caves and micro-caverns are known as “troglofauna”.

Austin says the team has a theory as to why so many new species have been hidden away underground and in caves, according to an U-A release.

“Essentially what we are seeing is the result of past climate change. Central and southern Australia was a much wetter place 15 million years ago when there was a flourishing diversity of invertebrate fauna living on the surface,” he said.

“Discovery of this new biodiversity, although exciting scientifically, also poses a number of challenges for conservation in that many of these species are found in areas that are potentially impacted by mining and pastoral activities.”

These findings were presented at a scientific conference on evolution and biodiversity in Darwin.