This new species is Phreatomerus latipes, from Coward Springs, South Australia. Photo credit: Courtesy of the Australian Center for Evolutionary Biology & Biodiversity, University of Adelaide. via Eurekalert
Scientists have discovered 850 new species of invertebrates living in underground water, caves and micro-caverns across arid and semi-arid Australia. Over the course of a four-year study, the team found whole communities of previously undiscovered insects, small crustaceans, spiders, worms and many other creatures...and they say it is all evidence of past climate change. When theorizing about why so many species have evolved underground and in caves unbeknown to us previously, Professor Andy Austin says, "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. But the continent became drier, a process that last until about 1-2 million years ago, resulting in our current arid environment. Species took refuge in isolated favorable habitats, such as in underground waters and micro-caverns, where they survived and evolved in isolation from each other."
The discoveries so far are estimated to include only about a fifth of the total species still unknown in these caves and underground waters. With talk about climate change coming at us from all angles right now, it's impossible not to wonder about what evolutionary changes are in store for creatures like these and elsewhere, in order to cope with a warmer, dryer planet. However, that's only if they have the opportunity - conservation measures are already of concern thanks to mining and other "pastoral" activities.
According to Eurekalert, the findings were reported at Darwin 200, a scientific conference on evolution and biodiversity in Darwin, which celebrates the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin. And so far, only half of the new species have been named. Maybe this is the time for global leaders in climate change to really step up their act so that they might get a creepy crawly named for them. After all, President Obama had a new species of lichen named after him!
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