Physiological Ecology And Biodiversity Of Animal Life Around Hydrothermal Vents And Hydrocarbon Seeps

Fisher, Charles
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 4
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2008
When considering the biodiversity of fauna endemic to hydrothermal vents or hydrocarbon seeps one must consider not only the numbers of unique species, but also the physiological diversity (and potential biochemical/physiological uniqueness) of the fauna. The deep ocean ridge system is home to some of most extreme animal habitats found on Earth. In addition to the high pressure, low temperature, and lack of light characterizing the deep-sea in general, hydrothermal-vent environments are characterized by toxic chemicals and temperatures that would be hostile to most other animal life. Perhaps even more challenging than the absolute levels of chemicals, dissolved gases, and temperature with which vent animals contend are the extreme gradients in time and space of all of these parameters. For example, temperatures around some vent animals can fluctuate from ice-water to hot-tub levels over seconds and can exceed 350°C only inches away. Specially adapted animals not only tolerate these conditions, they often thrive under them. As a result, the biomass of many deep ocean ridge ecosystems rivals that of coral reefs and tropical rain forests. In the Gulf of Mexico, hydrocarbon seepage through the sea floor driven by salt tectonics results in environments that are geologically very different from hydrothermal vents, but are geochemically similar enough that closely related animals are found in the two habitats. This includes seep mussels, clams, shrimp, worms, and other animals whose close relatives are found in hydrothermal vent environments. Although many aspects of the biology of the animals from the two environments are very similar, there are also significant differences in their life histories and physiologies that reflect the fundamental differences in the geology of their habitats.
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