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New Worm Species Discovered in Antarctic Whale Bones

May 07, 2015 04:49 PM EDT
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A new worm species, called Parougia diapason, was discovered in whale bones on Antarctica's Deception Island, showing scientists just how many unknown species are still out there.

The new marine invertebrate species is part of a group of marine worms (polychaetous annelids) which commonly occur in marine seabeds rich in organic matter - from both natural and anthropogenic origin - at different latitudes. Specifically, P. diapason is the second species of the genus Parougia discovered in the Southern Ocean.

Curiously, this small marine worm was found in the bones of a common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in Port Foster shallow waters, on Deception Island. Bone-eating worms like P. diapason can remarkably survive even after their host whale dies, allowing scientists to make this incredible discovery.

"There are few scientific studies centered on marine invertebrate communities associated with whale bones in the Antarctica. Our group is pioneer in this type of studies which are also being developed in other Earth's regions," researcher Sergi Taboada, from the University of Barcelona, said in a statement.

Using morphological and phylogenetic analyses, the team was able to identify the new species. Evidence suggests that it is the most ancient species of the genus Parougia, as well as possibly the most unique. For example, it lacks the dorsal cirrus and has some particular morphological characters related to the jaw apparatus, unlike other related species.

But perhaps the most interesting find has to do with the fact that these organisms signal areas rich in organic matter - both from natural and anthropogenic origin.

"It seems that P. diapason is an organism that signals any kind of environment alteration like a significant increase of organic matter," Taboada said.

"The species," he adds, "is a clear example of an opportunistic species, in other words, an organism that takes profit of particular conditions (an excess of organic matter) that favor its proliferation and population density."

These findings, published in the journal Polar Biology, not only reveal a new discovery, but also show that there may be other unknown species living in the Antarctic that may need protecting.

"The Antarctica has very special habitats which are difficult to study; measures must be maximized in order to avoid, for instance anthropogenic pollution and tourism impact," noted researcher Conxita Àvila.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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