November 28, 2012
Scientists Discover Three New Arthropod Species In Spain
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Three new collembolan species have been discovered in the Maestrazgo caves in Teruel, Spain, by a team of scientists from the University of Navarra and the Catalan Association of Biospeleology. The team published descriptions of the new species — minute animals belonging to one of the most ancient animal species on the planet — in the journal Zootaxa.
Biospeleology is the study of life in caves, karst formations and groundwater.
The fauna of the Iberian Range region where the Maestrazgo caves are located has not been the focus of much study to date. The region is very isolated with an average altitude between 5,000 and 6,500 feet above sea level. The climate of the region can be described as "almost extreme" with low temperatures between -40F and -13F. As with most caves, the internal temperatures remain constant between 41F and 52F.
"Studying fauna in the caves allows us to expand on our knowledge of biodiversity. In the case of the three new collembolan species that we have found in Teruel, they are organisms that have survived totally isolated for thousands of years. Having 'relatives' on the surface means they act like relics from the past that have survived the climate change taken place on the outside of the caves," explained Enrique Baquero from the University of Navarra.
Rafael Jordana, also of the University of Navarra, joined Baquero in performing the taxanomic study.
It is vital to study how new species adapt to cave environments.
"Like other cave-adapted animals, the collembolans require greater chemical sensitivity as they cannot use their sight in the absence of light", explains Baquero.
The animals, which are arthropods from the hexapod group — meaning they have six legs — were found by a team of speleologists led by Floren Fadrique from the Catalan Association of Biospeleology.
Hexapods are a parallel group to insects, however, they are more primitive, showing an absence of wings, different structure of their mouth, presence of the ventral organ and frequently, presence of the springing organ named the furca. The furca is an uneven abdomen appendix used to jump far away from danger.
Hexapods are found on every continent, including the extremely hostile environment of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica. There are currently over one million described species of hexapods, and scientists postulate there may be as many as 5 to 8 million.
The three new species — named Pygmarrhopalites maestrazgoensis, P. cantavetulae and Oncopodura fadriquei - belong to very different groups and are phylogenetically separate from one another. Specimens of five other species were found in the caves that have already been documented in other caves.
The speleologists worked in very harsh conditions of cold, humidity, and darkness within the caves.
Baquero concludes that "the animals were captured by laying down traps. These consisted of jars containing different liquids, which the animals approached in search of food. They were then trapped until the speleologists returned to collect them. Professor Jordana and I received the samples collected by the speleologists and proceeded to their identification."