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What looks like blue flower vases is actually a genus of tunicates. They live as a sedentary life form on the seabed. Photo: © California Academy of Sciences

Was aussieht wie blaue Blumenvasen ist eigentlich eine Gattung der Manteltiere. Sie leben als sesshafte Lebensform auf dem Meeresboden. Foto: © California Academy of Sciences

What looks like blue flower vases is actually a genus of tunicates. They live as a sedentary life form on the seabed. Photo: © California Academy of Sciences

The reefs around the islands of the Philippines are among the most species-rich areas that the earth has to offer. However, so far, researchers do not know much about which species actually live there. During a seven-week expedition, scientists from the California Academy of Sciences discovered more than a hundred new species. The pictures they brought are a spectacle of colors and shapes.

The zoologist Terry Gosliner compares his expedition with a great underwater easter egg hunt. "It was one of the most exciting scientific dives in the 50 years of my career, " he says. Gosliner and his colleagues alone found more than 40 new subspecies of sea slugs in many different colors and patterns. The researchers discovered barnacles as well as a heart urchin, which is considered a "living fossil". The species has been living on Earth for 50 million years. So far, only skeletons of round animals had been discovered, now it has been shown that there are still living specimens of it.

The twilight zone - farther away than the moon

During the expedition, the scientists also dived into the so-called "twilight zone", as the sea is called at a depth of between 200 and 1000 meters. Although it is above the depth at which submarines can move, it is below the areas where divers usually go. Only with special equipment were the dives possible. There were more people on the moon than in the twilight zone, says Bart Shepherd, head of the aquarium at the California Academy.

The research on biodiversity in the coral reef should above all help to protect this habitat. In the next few months, the scientists will investigate the findings of the expedition in more detail. With DNA sequencing and similar methods, the assignments of the newly discovered creatures are to be checked. The lists of species and maps of their distribution areas are intended to facilitate decisions about future protection measures and indicate which areas are particularly worthy of protection, according to the researchers.

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