May 31, 2006

Prehistoric ecosystem found in Israeli cave

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli scientists said on Wednesday
they had discovered a prehistoric ecosystem dating back
millions of years.

The discovery was made in a cave near the central Israeli
city of Ramle during rock drilling at a quarry. Scientists were
called in and soon found eight previously unknown species of
crustaceans and invertebrates similar to scorpions.

"Until now eight species of animals were found in the cave,
all of them unknown to science," said Dr Hanan Dimantman, a
biologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He said the cave's ecosystem probably dates back around
five million years when the Mediterranean Sea covered parts of

The cave was completely sealed off from the world,
including from water and nutrients seeping through rock
crevices above. Scientists who discovered the cave believe it
has been intact for millions of years.

"Every species we examined had no eyes which means they
lost their sight due to evolution," said Dimantman.

Samples of the animals discovered in the cave were sent for
DNA tests which found they were unique, he said. The cave has
been closed off as scientists conduct a more detailed survey.

"This is a cave of fantastic biodiversity," Dimantman said.