An astonishing array of wildlife has been unexpectedly found in one of the world's most hostile environments - the pitch-black, freezing extreme depths of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.

More than 700 creatures new to science, ranging from crustaceans and molluscs to carnivorous sponges and free-swimming worms, have been discovered on a series of expeditions exploring the deep waters of the Weddell Sea.

No fewer than 585 new species of crustacean were brought to light during three sampling expeditions set up as part of the Andeep (Antarctic benthic deep-sea biodiversity) project, carried out by an international team including British scientists who were based on the German polar research ship Polarstern between 2002 and 2005.

The results, reported this week in the journal Nature, throw new light on a largely unstudied place and challenge previous preconceptions that life in the Southern Ocean's extreme depths was unlikely to be particularly plentiful.