Palaeontology: 100 unknown species discovered - Triops Galaxy

Palaeontology: Researchers discover 100 unknown species in the sea near New Zealand

Off the eastern coast of New Zealand stretches the 800 kilometre long Bounty Trough, a deep depression that is part of a vast area of 4.9 million square kilometres known as Zealandia. Similar to South America, Africa, Antarctica, India and Australia, Zealandia was once part of the supercontinent Gondwanaland, which split apart over time. During a three-week expedition, researchers have discovered 100 potentially new animal species along the Bounty Trough in the sea off New Zealand, including a “star-shaped blob” that could not previously be assigned to any known genus. Zealandia remains a mystery to scientists, especially as most of the area is almost completely below sea level.

Discovery of three new fish species particularly noteworthy

A research vessel from New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has spent three weeks searching for previously undiscovered life forms in this little-explored region. The expedition was conducted on behalf of the Ocean Census, a global initiative to accelerate the discovery and protection of marine life. During this time, the ship collected almost 1800 samples from depths of up to 4800 metres.

The samples included a variety of curious creatures as well as a significant number of new, undiscovered species, as Alex Rogers, scientific director of Ocean Census and co-leader of the expedition, explained. It is expected that the ongoing analyses of the samples will bring more than 100 new species to light. So far, dozens of molluscs, three fish species, a shrimp, a cephalopod and a new genus of coral have been discovered among the newly identified species. The discovery of three new fish species is particularly remarkable, emphasised Rogers.

The depths of the seabed off New Zealand have hardly been explored so far, and knowledge of the fauna there was limited. However, the latest expedition has shown that life in the Bounty Trough is literally pulsating, as Sadie Mills, marine biologist at NIWA, reported. One of the discoveries is currently puzzling the experts: the “mystery species”, as it is called by the researchers, is a bright, star-shaped “blob” that remotely resembles a starfish. After initial investigations, however, the creature could not be identified as either a starfish or a sea anemone, explained Michela Mitchell from the Queensland Museum Network. The experts are looking forward to further investigations to decipher the nature of this creature.

Only around 240,000 species scientifically described

It is currently suspected that the “mystery species” could be a new type of octocoral or even a completely new genus. Unlike many other coral species, octocorals do not contribute to the construction of coral reefs, as their skeletons decay quickly after death. The discovery of a new genus would be of great importance for the deep sea and would further deepen our understanding of our planet’s unique biodiversity. Despite the excitement of the discoveries, the researchers emphasise that the expedition has only scratched the surface of the Bounty Trough. Much remains to be explored, as the gaps in knowledge about the depths of the ocean are still large. Although around 2.2 million species are thought to inhabit the Earth’s oceans, only around 240,000 species have been scientifically described to date.

Different equipment was used for sampling depending on the nature of the seabed, including a sampling net, robust tools for rocky surfaces, a device for taking water samples close to the seabed and an underwater camera.

Sladjan Lazic

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