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Marine Census Discovers New Microbe, Plankton Species

April 19, 2010

Microbes and zooplankton may be difficult to see, but they are playing an important role in the Census of Marine Life as explorers and researchers are attempting to catalogue the smallest, hardest-to-find marine species in four of the 14 Census field projects.

The findings of the entire census, which involved over 2,000 scientists from 80 different countries, will be formally unveiled in October. However, in an April 18 press release, census officials disclosed some of their findings, including estimates that there were a nonillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual microbial cells present in the world’s oceans and that they comprised as much as 90-percent of all oceanic biomass.

The researchers also discovered the existence of a massive mat of microbes on the seafloors near South America that were approximately the size of Greece, or 50,000 square miles.

“In no other realm of ocean life has the magnitude of Census discovery been as extensive as in the world of microbes,” Mitch Sogi leader of the International Census of Marine Microbes (ICoMM), said in the press release. “Scientists are discovering and describing an astonishing new world of marine microbial diversity and abundance, distribution patterns and seasonal changes.”

Furthermore, their research uncovered enough new species of plankton to double the amount currently known to scientists (from 7,000 to 14,000) in the next few decades, as well as almost 700 different copepod species, enough foraminifera species to result in 20 to 50 times the number of types currently identified, new information about the developmental stages of loriciferans, and possible new types of nematodes and seaworms, though they may not be identifiable using current techniques.

“There is enormous diversity on the sea floor we have only just begun to discover–the deeper the depth, the less we know,” said ICoMM program manager Linda Amaral Zettler.

“The inventory of life in the deep sea has only just begun, and much more remains to be done,” added Census of the Diversity of Abyssal Marine Life (CeDAMar) leader Pedro Martinez Arbizu. “Sediment-covered seafloors cover more than 60 percent of Earth’s surface. And, given these new insights, we cannot possibly use the deep-sea floor as a waste dump or subject it to unlimited resource extraction without massively impacting the marine communities living there.”

The Census of Marine Life was started in 2000 and according to Sunday’s press release, “Life has been a decade-long international research program uniting thousands of scientists worldwide with the goal of assessing and explaining the diversity, distribution and abundance of life in the seas.” The final reports, will be presented at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London on October 4, 2010.

On the Net: Census of Marine Life scientists with the German Center for Marine Biodiversity Research at the Senckenberg Research Institute, last year described this new species and genus of the burrower loriciferan, Culexiregiloricus trichiscalida, found at 4,141 meters (2.6 miles) depth in the Atlantic’s Guinea Basin south of Cote d’Ivoire, Africa, on the 2005 DIVA 2 expedition. Loriciferans, affectionately dubbed “girdle wearers” due to characteristic hind shells resembling a corset, are among the smallest known multi-cellular marine animals. This is a juvenile stage specimen with a body length is about 1/4 of a millimeter (1/100th of an inch) — roughly the width of three human hairs. The body is filled with granular cells and tissue. This is one of several images available in high-res at www.coml.org/embargo/hardtosee) Credit: Gunnar Gad, Marco Bntzow, Deutsches Zentrum fr Marine Biodiversitätsforschung/German Centre for Marine Biodiversity Research, Senckenberg Research Institute, Germany /Census of Marine Life.

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