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Researchers discover new types of microscopic plankton in Bermuda waters

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A previously identified species of microscopic coccolithophore, Ceratolithus cristatus, found in Bermuda’s waters.

Researchers have discovered dozens of new types of microscopic phytoplankton in Bermuda’s waters as part of a new study.

According to the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences Currents newsletter, the researchers identified 40 new morphospecies – organisms of the same species with different colours or forms – and likely one new genus of phytoplankton.

All of the organisms were collected at Hydrostation ‘S’, one of BIOS’s long-term oceanographic time-series locations in 2020.

Josué Millán, a PhD candidate from Indiana State University who led the team, said: “We were aware of the possibility of finding some rare species, but never at this magnitude.

“I hope our findings generate more interest in studying these organisms and highlight the importance of continuing to support research projects in this region.”

The researchers had set out to study the community structure and population dynamics of deepwater coccolithophores – a type of microscopic unicellular algae which builds intricate shells out of chalk – found in Bermuda’s waters.

The shells created by the organisms are made up of tiny overlapping plates known as coccoliths, which give the plankton an armoured appearance.

However the researchers noticed a range of variations of the armoured shells of the organisms caught which were significant enough to suggest they were separate morphospecies.

Leocadio Blanco-Bercial, a zooplankton ecologist at BIOS involved in the project, said: “This is a great example of the yet-to-be-discovered, hidden biodiversity of the Sargasso Sea.

“This is one of the world’s hotspots for plankton biodiversity, and this collection of new species is just a hint of what we could find if we actively search.

“We will never know if species are disappearing, or are changed by others, if we do not know what species are here to begin with.”

Research into phytoplanktons are also useful in helping scientists understand the impact of climate change.

Because – like plants on land – use photosynthesis, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Dr Blanco-Bercial said: “We know that there are long-term changes taking place in the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study, likely linked to global climate change.

“Knowing what species are there, and how the community is built and evolving, is key to truly understanding what dynamics are driving these changes.”

The researchers are now working to publish their results and work with taxonomists to obtain classifications of the new species, along with gauging the status of the island’s coccolithophore population.

A previously identified species of microscopic coccolithophore, Cyrtosphaera aculeata, found in Bermuda’s waters.

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Published August 03, 2022 at 7:47 am (Updated August 03, 2022 at 7:47 am)

Researchers discover new types of microscopic plankton in Bermuda waters

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