Thursday 26 May 2016

Ancient crayfish and worms may die out together

Research suggests that bizarre, tentacled worms which live attached to crayfish in the rivers of Australia are at risk of extinction - because the crayfish themselves are endangered.

It would be an example of coextinction, where one organism dies out because it depends on another doomed species.

Just a few millimetres long, the worms eat even tinier critters in the water or inside the crayfish gill chamber.

Their symbiotic relationship stretches back at least 80 million years.

The new findings, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, map out that shared history based on genetic analysis of 37 different species of spiny mountain crayfish and their "temnocephalan" flatworm passengers.

"We've now got a picture of how these two species have evolved together through time," said Dr Jennifer Hoyal Cuthill from the University of Cambridge.

She and her colleagues conclude that it was some 80-100 million years ago that these two types of animal started to evolve together.

The Australian continent was about halfway through its gradual northward march to its current position on the globe and as it progressed, the creatures' habitat started to fragment and shrink.

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