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Pipe dream comes true for BIOS scientist

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Leocadio Blanco-Bercial, a zooplankton ecologist at BIOS, examines copepods and other marine life collected from an intake pipe at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo. (Photograph supplied)

Some scientists journey to to the opposite side of the world to discover new forms of life – but a researcher in Bermuda found possible unknown species in his lab’s plumbing.

Leocadio Blanco-Bercial, an ecologist at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, has discovered rare and possibly new species of microscopic crustaceans called copepods in Bermuda’s saltwater wells.

Dr Blanco-Bercial said: “It is amazing, all these copepods, swimming happily in the seawater wells.

“Some people have to work for hours and days to get to this water. We have it delivered.”

Dr Blanco-Bercial came to Bermuda in 2015 as part of research into how copepods – critical to the marine food web – are dispersed around the globe and how they have evolved.

Copepods are known to live in saltwater in the island’s caves, but Dr Blanco-Bercial said he had been told by colleagues when he arrived on the island that they could also be discovered in Bermuda’s saltwater plumbing.

Dr Blanco-Bercial admitted: “I thought it was a joke. Then one day I was talking to the maintenance guy at the BIOS lab and there was a problem with the saltwater line and he mentioned it was coming from the caves.

“I remembered the jokes and I put two and two together.”

He said he ran water from the saltwater well through a plankton net and after three hours he discovered seven copepods.

Dr Blanco-Bercia said: “We spent a full week cave diving, going to many caves. It’s difficult, it’s dangerous and we found five of these guys.”

The collection effort later moved to the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo in Flatts, where he was given permission to check water pumped in for its exhibits.

He said: “Chris Flook, who works with BAMZ, mentioned that to keep the temperatures consistent in the large tanks, they pumped in water from caves.

“He said they had a filter and they would find a ton of cave shrimp caught in it.”

Dr Blanco-Bercia explained that Bermuda’s caves were interconnected by large caverns and small cracks that run through the limestone which some copepods call home.

He said he had identified many rare copepods and two “ultra-rare” – and potentially new – species.

Dr Blanco-Bercial added: “The process of confirming they are a new species is the tedious part – looking at all the species that have been described in Bermuda and the Latin Caribbean.”

He said he believed that a wide range of copepod species existed on the island and many have yet to be discovered and studied.

Dr Blanco-Bercial added: “We have very little information about who lives in that water and what they are doing there, and that is exciting to me.”

Erebonectes nesioticus - a species of copepod (Photograph supplied)

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Published May 19, 2021 at 7:54 am (Updated May 19, 2021 at 7:15 am)

Pipe dream comes true for BIOS scientist

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