The ancient Britons: ‘Groundwater shrimp’ survive 19 million years of climate change
(Phys.org) —New research has revealed that Britain and Ireland’s oldest known inhabitants are tiny crustaceans still living today in water-filled crevices deep beneath our feet.
Over the last 60 million years, Britain and Ireland have experienced dramatic climate change, with conditions ranging from warm and wet periods, to arid episodes and then repeated coverings by glaciers. For this reason, it was not thought that any animal species (fauna) could have survived through these fluctuations.
Now, a new study led by Dr Bernd Hänfling, Lecturer in Ecology and Evolution at the University of Hull has yielded some surprising results. Published in the journal Molecular Ecology, it shows that two species of Niphargus (small, shrimp-like animals) have persisted in Britain and Ireland for at least 19 million years; making them the oldest known inhabitants of these countries.
Dr Hänfling explains the significance of the data. He said: “All previous research shows that the majority of fauna in Britain and Ireland arrived from mainland Europe following the most recent glaciations. We have a few unique animal species - for example, the Irish hare - but these are rare and most importantly, they have only been around for a few tens of thousands of years.”
"In contrast, our results show that subterranean groundwater contains by far the oldest animals that are unique to Britain and Ireland. These species must have survived a wide range of temperatures as the climate shifted between glacial and warm conditions."