NUI Galway Research Headlines International Conference on Marine Biodiversity

Thursday, 13 November 2008

- Scientists report major steps towards 1st Census of Marine Life -
Research from the Martin Ryan Institute at NUI Galway will headline the latest report from the 2,000-strong community of Census of Marine Life (CoML) scientists from 82 nations tomorrow (Tuesday, 11 November, 2008) announcing astonishing examples of recent new finds from the world's ocean depths. As more than 700 delegates gather for the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity (Valencia, Spain, 11-15 November), organized by the Census's European affiliate program on Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning, the report details major progress towards the first ever marine life census, for release in October, 2010. Antarctic ancestry of many deep-sea octopuses worldwide Principal Investigator Dr Louise Allcock from NUI Galway, and her colleagues from Cambridge University, Queen's University Belfast and British Antarctic Survey, will report the first molecular evidence that a large proportion of deep-sea octopus species worldwide evolved from common ancestor species that still exist in the Southern Ocean. Octopuses started migrating to new ocean basins more than 30 million years ago as Antarctica cooled and large icesheets grew. These huge climatic events created a "thermohaline expressway," a northbound flow of deep cold water, providing new habitat for the animals previously confined to the sea floor around Antarctica. Isolated in new habitat conditions, many different species evolved; some octopuses, for example, lost their defensive ink sacs – pointless at perpetually dark depths more than two kilometres below the surface. This revelation into the global distribution and diversity of deep-sea fauna, to be reported on 11 November in the journal Cladistics, was made possible by intensive sampling during Census International Polar Year expeditions. Dr Allcock commented: "It is clear from our research that climate change can have profound effects on biodiversity, with impacts even extending into inaccessible habitats such as the deep oceans". In the fourth highlights report issued since the global collaboration began in the year 2000, Census scientists say their work is compiling an unprecedented number of "firsts" for ocean biodiversity: Advancing technology for discovery; organizing knowledge about marine life and making it accessible; measuring effects of human activities on ocean life; and providing the foundation for scientifically-based policies. According to Ian Poiner, chair of the Census's International Scientific Steering Committee and Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Institute of Marine Science: "The release of the first Census in 2010 will be a milestone in science. After 10 years of new global research and information assembly by thousands of experts the world over, it will synthesize what humankind knows about the oceans, what we don't know, and what we may never know – a scientific achievement of historic proportions". "Dedication and cooperation are enabling the largest, most complex program ever undertaken in marine biology to meet its schedule and reach its goals. When the program began, such progress seemed improbable to many observers".
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