Unique Underground Ecosystem Revealed by Hebrew University Researchers Uncovers Eight Previously Unknown Species

May 31, 2006
New crustacean species found in cave near Ramle, Israel.
New crustacean species found in cave near Ramle, Israel.

Discovery of eight previously unknown, ancient animal species within “a new and unique underground ecosystem” in Israel was revealed today by Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers.

In a press conference on the Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University, the researchers said the discovery came about when a small opening was found, leading to a cave extending to a depth of 100 meters beneath the surface of a quarry in the vicinity of Ramle, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The quarry is operated by cement manufacturer Nesher Industries.

The cave, which has been dubbed the Ayalon Cave, is “unique in the world,” said Prof. Amos Frumkin of the Hebrew University Department of Geography. This is due mainly to its isolation from the outside world, since the cave’s surface is situated under a layer of chalk that is impenetrable to water. The cave, with its branches, extends over some 2½ kilometers, making it Israel’s second largest limestone cave. It is to remain closed to the public to permit further scientific research.

The invertebrate animals found in the cave – four seawater and freshwater crustaceans and four terrestial species – are related to but different from other, similar life forms known to scientists. The species have been sent to biological experts in both Israel and abroad for further analysis and dating. It is estimated that these species are millions of years old. Also found in the cave were bacteria that serve as the basic food source in the ecosystem.

“The eight species found thus far are only the beginning” of what promises to be “a fantastic biodiversity,” said Dr. Hanan Dimentman of the Hebrew University Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, another of the researchers involved in the project. He said that he expects further exploration to reveal several other unique life forms.

The animals found there were all discovered live, except for a blind species of scorpion, although Dr. Dimentman is certain that live scorpions will be discovered in further explorations and also probably an animal or animals which feed on the scorpions.

The underground cave includes an underground lake, in which the crustaceans were found. The lake is part of the Yarkon-Taninim aquifer, one of Israel’s two aquifers, yet is different in temperature and chemical composition from the main waters of the aquifer. The lake’s temperature and salinity indicates that its source is deep underground.

Among the interesting features of the discoveries thus far in the cave is that two of the crustaceans are seawater species and two others are of a types found in fresh or brackish water. This can provide insights into events occurring millions of years ago regarding the history of ancient bodies of water in the region.

In addition to Prof. Frumkin, who heads the unit for cave research in the Department of Geography, and Dr. Dimentman, others involved in the project are Prof. Dov Por and Prof. Aharon Oren of the Institute of Life Sciences, graduate student Israel Naaman, and several others. The Israel Water Commission has assisted in the research, as has Nesher Industries.

Yoel Feldschue, director-general of Nesher Industries, said today that Nesher will preserve the ecological ecosystem which has been revealed in the center of its quarry in order to avoid any damage to the important findings there. He added in that regard that he is hopeful that the planning authorities will enable the company to operate in alternate areas in order to help preserve the scientific site.

Source: Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Explore further: Aging Africa

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fossil arthropod went on the hunt for its prey

Aug 22, 2014

A new species of carnivorous crustacean has been identified, which roamed the seas 435 million years ago, grasping its prey with spiny limbs before devouring it. The fossil is described and details of its lifestyle are published ...

West US cave with fossil secrets to be excavated

Jul 24, 2014

(AP)—For the first time in three decades, paleontologists are about to revisit one of North America's most remarkable troves of ancient fossils: The bones of tens of thousands of animals piled at the bottom ...

Bats use polarized light to navigate

Jul 22, 2014

Scientists have discovered that greater mouse-eared bats use polarisation patterns in the sky to navigate – the first mammal that's known to do this.

Recommended for you

Aging Africa

14 hours ago

In the September issue of GSA Today, Paul Bierman of the University of Vermont–Burlington and colleagues present a cosmogenic view of erosion, relief generation, and the age of faulting in southernmost Africa ...

NASA animation shows Hurricane Marie winding down

15 hours ago

NOAA's GOES-West satellite keeps a continuous eye on the Eastern Pacific and has been covering Hurricane Marie since birth. NASA's GOES Project uses NOAA data and creates animations and did so to show the end of Hurricane ...

EU project sails off to study Arctic sea ice

20 hours ago

A one-of-a-kind scientific expedition is currently heading to the Arctic, aboard the South Korean icebreaker Araon. This joint initiative of the US and Korea will measure atmospheric, sea ice and ocean properties with technology ...

User comments : 0