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    Life In The Deep Ocean

    Hot oases in chill darkness



    Before the first dives to mid-ocean ridges in the late 1970s, researchers expected to encounter a barren, mostly lifeless landscape. Algae and plants cannot survive without sunlight, which does not penetrate ocean water below about 1000 meters. Without plants or algae to form the base of the food chain, how could there be much to eat apart from a sparse sprinkling of "marine snow"—the corpses of animals and plants which died nearer the surface? But patches around active volcanoes and vents teem with life.

    Living without sunlight



    Some animals found around vents get their food by eating other organisms. But many of the animals living near deep-sea vents obtain their food in a very different way: they play host to particular species of microbe that live inside their bodies and manufacture food by combining certain chemicals found in vent fluids with oxygen found in seawater. The microbes give some of the food they manufacture to their animal hosts.

    Hostile conditions



    Organisms living near deep-sea vents have to be able to tolerate or avoid the extreme conditions there. The pressure is immense—hundreds of times greater than that at the ocean surface. The ocean water is just a few degrees above freezing, but fluids jetting out of seafloor vents can be tens or hundreds of degrees hotter. Many of the chemicals in the vent fluid are extremely toxic, even at low concentrations.
    New species galore

    Mussels, shrimp, crabs, snails, fish, huge worms and many other lifeforms have been discovered since the first dives to vents on the ocean floor. Most of these organisms were new to science, and to this day many new species are discovered each year.

    Where (and when) you are determines what creatures you find

    Different oceans contain different species. For example, deep-sea vent sites in the Atlantic contain many shrimps and mussels, whereas sites in the East Pacific have abundant tubeworms and clams as well as mussels. The depth and composition of the water also affects which species we see, as does the age of the site. Volcanic areas are often extremely dynamic. Vents can form suddenly when the crustal rocks crack, and die some time later (e.g. as the crack gets plugged with rock). Some vents are long-lived and others are short-lived. Some vents blow extremely hot fluid, while others merely seep warm fluid. The chemistry of the fluid exiting the vent varies—some vents contain more toxic chemicals than others. This variation in space and time creates a rich variety of habitats for vent creatures.
    Life away from vents

    Away from vents, the deep ocean is far from barren, and certain patches are especially rich in life. For example, whale carcasses support a wide range of organisms, including some that are closely related to vent species. Deep-water corals also function as essential habitats for a wide range of other creatures; they are found at depths down to about 2000m.


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    Microbes at the base of the deep-sea food chain



    Microbes are single-celled organisms. But though they're small, they are hugely important in the deep ocean, where they are found in countless billions. Thanks to microbes, we find a teeming abundance of animals around many volcanoes and vents on the seafloor. Microbes provide food for deep-sea animals in two ways:

    * Some microbes are eaten. Certain types of animal, such as deep-sea shrimp and snails, graze on microbes living free in the water or on rocks.
    * Some sorts of microbe live inside animals, such as tubeworms and mussels, and manufacture food for them. Certain kinds of animal, such as tubeworms, derive all their food from these symbiotic bacteria ("symbiotic" means "living together"). They provide the microbes with a place to live and the chemical ingredients to make sugars and other nutrients. In return, the microbes provide the animals with much of the food they make.

    Microbe basics

    Two main kinds of microbe live in the deep sea: bacteria and archaea.

    * Bacteria are found in huge numbers all over the Earth—inside your gut, on the highest mountain tops, at the bottom of the sea. While some types of bacteria can cause disease in humans, most kinds don't cause disease, and many are positively beneficial to us.
    * Archaea resemble bacteria in shape and size so closely that they used to be classed as bacteria. But detailed study of their genetics and chemical makeup has revealed that they are only very distantly related to bacteria. Like bacteria, they are found in an astonishing range of places—even inside some rocks hundreds of feet deep (where they are carried by fluids trickling through tiny fissures).
    » More about the discovery of an acid-loving deep sea member of the Archaea

    Amazing heat resistance

    Certain species of microbe found around deep-ocean volcanoes and vents have evolved the ability to withstand temperatures that would kill humans and most other organisms. Around deep-sea vents, certain microbes can grow at temperatures of up to 115°C (240°F). Many scientists think that some day we will discover microbes that can thrive in temperatures up to 145°C (295°F).
    Some microbes manufacture their own food

    Microbes can be classed into two main groups depending on their food source.

    * The first group (heterotrophs, or "eaters of other things") "eat" by breaking down organic compounds found in the environment around them (e.g. detritus in the soil).
    * The second group (autotrophs, or "self feeders") make their own food. They extract carbon from carbon dioxide in the environment around them, and use it to build more complex, organic molecules like sugars—which they can feed on. Some species (the photoautotrophs) get the energy to do this from sunlight (by photosynthesis). Other microbe species (the chemoautotrophs) get energy from breaking down chemicals in the environment around them (by chemosynthesis). There is no light in the deep sea, but certain chemoautotrophic microbes obtain energy by oxidising chemicals found in vent fluids…more about hydrothermal vents.



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    Tubeworms "eat" without a mouth



    Unlike most other animals, a tubeworm lacks a mouth, gut and anus. Instead, it gets its food from millions of microbes living inside it (a bit like a plant gets its food from the choloroplasts which give it its green color). The tubeworm's body reflects the symbiotic (living together) relationship it has with its microbes:

    * Instead of a gut, each tubeworm contains a trophosome (a nutritional organ)—a mass of green-brown spongy tissue where the microbes live inside specialized cells.
    * The part of the tubeworm furthest from the surface where it is anchored is called the plume. The worm never leaves its tube completely, but it can poke its plume into the seawater above. This organ is specialized to harvest the chemicals the microbes need to manufacture food from seawater. The plume often looks red because it is filled with blood close to the surface (a bit like our lungs).
    * At the end next to the seafloor, some tubeworms grow root-like structures. Like the plume, these appear to help the tubeworm absorb chemicals that its microbes use to manufacture food.
    * For more information about tubeworms, and a diagram of tubeworm anatomy, download a tubeworm factsheet (680 KB, .pdf)

    Tubeworms growing near a vent. Image courtesy D. Kelley and J. Delaney
    Tough cookies

    Not only can they live under immense pressures deep in the ocean, tubeworms living around volcanoes and vents can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. An individual tubeworm can often experience a range of tens of degrees over the length of its body (or a change in the same place on its body over the course of just a few seconds): from the background chill of most deep water (a few degrees above freezing), to warm fluids drifting out of vents in the seafloor.



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    Deep-sea mussels and clams


    Like tubeworms, several deep-sea mussel and clam species living near deep-sea vents contain in their tissues symbiotic microbes which manufacture food for them. The body structure of these animals differs from related species of shallower waters: the deep-sea vent species typically have bigger gills, and some have smaller guts. The gills hold the microbes: larger gills mean more microbes, hence less need for a digestive system. But species which retain functional guts can live for a short time even if vent fluids stop jetting from the seafloor. This could help them survive near vents which are fitfully active.

    Shrimp


    Shrimp are found in many deep-sea vent sites. Sometimes (e.g. in the mid-Atlantic), thousands or even millions teem in a small area. The shrimp eat microbes living free on the rocks and in the water column; they also play host to other, "symbiotic" microbes that manufacture food for the shrimp. In turn, other animals eat the shrimp—including other species of shrimp, fish, crabs, and anemones.

    Barnacles


    Several different barnacle species have been discovered near deep-sea vents. Some species are "living fossils" that evolved over a hundred million years ago (before the dinosaurs went extinct). In several species, adult barnacles grow on stalks attached to rocks; in other species (e.g. Neolepas zevinae, in the Pacific Ocean) individuals grow on top of one another, forming low "hedges." Barnacles are not known to contain symbiotic microbes—rather, they filter their microscopic food out of the water.

    Crabs and lobsters


    Crabs and lobsters feed on other organisms found around deep-sea vents. Some eat tubeworms, mussels, clams or shrimps; others eat microbes. Some species of crab are very noticeable in photographs of the seafloor because they are whitish and fairly large. Crabs are often among the first animals to colonize newly-formed vents.
    Deep-sea anemone. Photo courtesy of C. Fisher
    Even more animals

    Snails, limpets, octopus, fish, copepods, amphipods, anemones and many other types of animal are found around some deep-sea vents. As with the other groups of animals found in the deep sea, exactly which species we encounter depends where we are: what ocean we are in, what depth we are at, and the composition of the seawater.

    More pictures can find in Here



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    amazing deep sea creatures.



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