Wednesday, May 31, 2006

ENV: New Cave Critters

Prehistoric ecosystem found in Israeli cave
Reuters

JERUSALEM - Israeli scientists said on Wednesday they had discovered a prehistoric ecosystem dating back millions of years.

The discovery was made in a cave near the central Israeli city of Ramle during rock drilling at a quarry. Scientists were called in and soon found eight previously unknown species of crustaceans and invertebrates similar to scorpions.

"Until now eight species of animals were found in the cave, all of them unknown to science," said Dr Hanan Dimantman, a biologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He said the cave's ecosystem probably dates back around five million years when the Mediterranean Sea covered parts of Israel.

The cave was completely sealed off from the world, including from water and nutrients seeping through rock crevices above. Scientists who discovered the cave believe it has been intact for millions of years.

"Every species we examined had no eyes which means they lost their sight due to evolution," said Dimantman.

Samples of the animals discovered in the cave were sent for DNA tests which found they were unique, he said. The cave has been closed off as scientists conduct a more detailed survey.

"This is a cave of fantastic biodiversity," Dimantman said.

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