Baikal Aquatic Wildlife
Specialists report that there are 3,500 species of plants and animals in Lake Baikal area. The wildlife of Baikal is abundant since this figure is much above average in comparison with many other lakes. The number of species in most European lakes amounts to 1,500 in general.
Besides, flora and fauna of Lake Baikal are highly endemic. Of 3,500 species found here 80% are endemic which means they evolved and live only in the lake. The process of formation of new varieties and species of organisms is continuously underway. Throughout its history both Baikal and the organisms inhabiting its world have undergone a complicated evolution, that is why lake Baikal is inhabited by very ancient forms of organisms as well as the younger ones.
There are protozoa organisms accounting for more then 300 species, great number of amphipod crustaceans, various flat and round worms, lowest crustaceans, insects, fish and Baikal nerpa (the fresh-water seal).
The aquatic flora of Lake Baikal has more than 1,000 species. The Limnological institute identified 852 plant species and 250 varieties of alga. Besides the alga about 20 species of flowering plants were hound here. Exceptionally rich and diversified is the phytoplankton – tiny algae inhabiting the upper layer of water. The biological role of the bacteria in Baikal is no less diverse. They decompose all that becomes dead, mineralize it, thus participating in purification of water.
The most numerous inhabitant of the lake’s water thickness is a copepod crustacean - the Baikal epishura. It is about a size of 1.5 mm but this crustacean accounts for 96% of Baikal zooplankton. It plays an exceptional role in Baikal’s life circle. Throughout the year all crustacean filter from 500 to 1,000 cubic km (120 – 239.9 cubic miles) of water. Epishura lives only in cold clean water with constant chemical composition and high saturation with oxygen.
One of the crustaceans of Baikal the amphipods account for about 300 species in the lake which is a third of all the gammaridae known in the world. They are inhabitants of the bottom, they can bury themselves in the ground, hide under stones, place cozily on the Baikal sponges. A major part of the amphipods are predators – cadaver-eaters. They are remarkable medical orderlies and serve as food for fish. However, if there is a dead fish left in a net in the water at the depth of several meters, these animals would easily penetrate into the body of the dead fish and in 24 hours there would be nothing more than a skeleton left. If one continue the experiment and leave the skeleton in the water for a longer period of time, nearly month later there will not be even a skeleton left.
In summers when the water surface is quiet, one can see through the water vast dark-green thickets of the Baikal fresh-water sponges of various shapes. They live at depths reaching quite a few meters tall. Sponges filter water through its pores and are built of natural silicon. Sponge is not a plant it is a colony of microorganisms. If the water of the lake were salty and contained more calcium they would turn into coral reefs.
All those organisms are included to the unique self-purifying system that works in Lake Baikal. Water of the lake is fresh, the level of mineralization is very low, and nevertheless the bone tissues are decomposed by Baikal water.