Unknown species found in isolated Israeli caves systems

Eight hitherto unknown species of invertebrate creatures isolated from the outside world for millions of years have been discovered in a unique subterranean ecosystem functioning in a cave in central Israel.

A team of scientists from Hebrew University said yesterday they had discovered the new species of crustaceans and scorpion-like animals in a cave uncovered during rock drilling at a cement quarry near Ramle.

The creatures include an omnivorous blind five-centimetre crustacean which the team have established as the highest in the food chain, capable of devouring other creatures as well as bacteria also found among what the scientists said were "exciting sediments" in the cave.

One of the team, Dr Hanan Dimentman said that the creature had three "relatives" in the Jordan Valley, and in the eastern Mediterranean off the coasts of southern Italy and Libya. But the team said that biomolecular analysis and DNA testing had already established that the crustacean and the other seven species were unique. The species are now being sent to experts in Europe and Israel for naming and classification.

Except for one species of blind scorpion all the creatures, which include both aquatic and terrestrial species, were found alive. But Dr Dimentman, of the university's Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, said he was confident that living scorpions would soon be discovered. "The eight species found thus far are only the beginning of what promises to be a fantastic biodiversity," he added.

Professor Amos Frumkin of the Hebrew University Department of Geography said the site - which scientists have named the Ayalon Cave - was "unique in the world" and had remained isolated because it was impenetrable to water.

Israel Naaman, a research student, described how he had initially used ropes to get through an underground passage into the cave 100 metres below the quarry close to the main Tel Aviv Jerusalem highway. With its branches, the cave extends over 2.5km before coming upon an underground lake. There Mr Namaan said he discovered a "small shrimp in the water," which prompted the team to carry out further investigation.

The university said yesterday that two of the crustaceans were seawater species while two others are of a type found in fresh or brackish water - suggesting that their ancestors may have had a link with the sea in prehistoric times.

The absence of sunlight in such caves means that plants cannot produce chemical energy by photosynthesis. Instead, life has to depend for its energy on the oxidation of subterranean minerals such as hydrogen minerals and hydrogen sulphide and they are then eaten by larger organisms.

Professor Frunkin said: "This is the most probable source of energy in the cave although the idea has yet to be tested." He showed a slide of large crystal-like deposits in the cave, which he said were unlike the stalagmites and stalactites often found in other caves.

The scientists said the lake was part of the Yarkon-Taninim aquifer, one of Israel's two main aquifers, but was different in temperature and chemical composition from the main waters of the aquifer. They added: "The lake's temperature and salinity indicates its source is deep underground."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence