Search Everything Octopus

Monday, November 10, 2008

Octopuses Share "Living Ancestor", Part I

Written by: Mark Kinver, Science and environment reporter

Many of the world's deep-sea octopuses evolved from a common ancestor, whose closest living relative still exists in the Southern Ocean, a study has shown.

Researchers suggest that the creatures evolved after being driven to other ocean basins 30 million years ago by nutrient-rich and salty currents.

The findings form part of a decade-long global research programme to learn more about life in the world's oceans.

The first Census of Marine Life (CoML) is set to be completed in late 2010.

The project, which began back in 2000, involves more than 2,000 scientists from 82 nations.

The research into the evolution of deep-sea octopuses was part of a programme called the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML), explained Ron O'Dor, CoML's co-senior scientist.

"Many of these octopuses were collected from the deep sea by a number of the CoML's different projects," he told BBC News.

"All of that material was brought together and made available to Dr Jan Strugnell, a biologist at Queen's University Belfast, and she used this material to carry out DNA studies.

"She was looking at the relationship between these different deep-sea octopuses and how they originated.

(Right) Octopus specimens collected by Census of Marine Life researchers.

"She has been able to trace the timeline for their distribution back 30 million years to a common ancestor."

The species could all be traced back to a shallow-water octopus that lived in the Southern Ocean. Today, the creature's closest living relative (Megaleledone setebos) can still be found in the icy waters around Antarctica.

Dr O'Dor added that Dr Strugnell's work also enabled her to identify how changes in the region's ocean played a pivotal role in the development of the new species, especially the emergence of a "thermohaline expressway".

"When you get an increase in sea ice, fresh water forms ice crystals and leaves behind high-salinity, high-oxygen water, which is denser than the surrounding sea water, so it sinks," he explained.

 We can use the first census as a benchmark to see what happens in the oceans over the next decade or more 

Dr Ron O'Dor,
CoML's co-senior scientist

"It gets mixed by sea currents and flows into all of the deepest parts of the ocean.

"At the time this process started, there was no oxygen at the bottom of the ocean, so it brought oxygen into these areas, and we can now see that the octopuses moved out from the Antarctic into deeper water."

Dr Strugnell's work, supported by the UK's Antarctic Funding Initiative (AFI) and the National Environment Research Council (Nerc), also showed how the creatures adapted to the new deep-sea environment.

One example was the loss of their ink sacs, because there was no need for the defence mechanism in the pitch black waters.

As well as being one of the CoML's highlights, the research is also being published in the journal Cladistics on Tuesday.

No comments: