ambience: Dive sounds
Deep within this salt water cave in Bermuda marine biologists are studying tiny organisms which may have stranded here during the age of the dinosaurs. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Dr. Tom Illiffe has dived into hundreds of these caves, located mostly on islands around the world. The life forms which have survived in this dark environment have been here a long, long, time.
“We’re diving into uh caves that give us a glimpse of what life was like very early on in the history of life on Earth. It’s a literal time machine where we can see what conditions were like millions of years ago. We can see organisms that probably existed in the early oceans on Earth.”
Biologists were surprised to find that the tiny crustaceans living in these caves have more in common with fossil specimens than with their distant modern relatives like crabs and shrimp. Interestingly enough, their only true kin can be found in other deep salt water caves.
“Many of the animals that we find in isolated saltwater caves have close relatives inhabiting saltwater caves on other islands or even other oceans. Indeed we’ve found animals that are closely related to cave species from the Caribbean, occurring and inhabiting saltwater caves in Australia on the opposite sides of the Earth.”
Tom Illiffe believes that these animals originally invaded underwater caves along the coast of an ancient super continent. As this giant land mass broke up, the fragments drifted apart, and became the continents that we know today. The tiny creatures in these caves were separated by distance and frozen in time.
Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation.