Unique New Species Discovered around Antarctic Hydrothermal Vents
04.01.2012 - Water & Oceans, Flora & Fauna, Antarctic
Several species new to science have been discovered inhabiting areas around deep-sea hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor along the East Scotia Ridge between the southern tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. While hydrothermal vents have been studied in other parts of the world’s oceans, this is the first time hydrothermal vents in Antarctica have been investigated.
In the study published in the online journal PLoS Biology, researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Southampton, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and other international institutions detail their discoveries, which include new species of sea anemones, barnacles, crabs (including a hairy-chested yeti crab species that seems to dominate the Antarctic vent ecosystem), starfish (including a seven-legged predatory sea star), and a ghostly-looking species of octopus. The Antarctic vents are also unique in that they aren’t home to populations of tube worms, mussels, and shrimp – species that have been found at other hydrothermal vents studied elsewhere on the planet.
Hydrothermal vents are home to unique species not found in any other environment on Earth. Lacking sunlight as an energy source, they obtain energy from the geothermal energy from the Earth’s crust (vents known as “black smokers” can emit water as hot as 382°C) and by breaking down chemicals found in these unique environments such as hydrogen sulphide.
Researchers conducted their survey of the Antarctic vents during a research cruise in January and February of 2010. They deployed a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) which dove to depths of as much as 2,600 metres to collect footage of the undersea environment and collect samples.
Jon Copely from the University of Southampton, who has studied hydrothermal vent ecosystems in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, says the vents along the
East Scotia Ridge “are some of the lushest, richest vents, in terms of life,” that he has ever ecnountered.
The discovery of these new species may force a rethinking of how marine creatures populate the world’s oceans. Obtaining a better knowledge of what governs patterns of life a deep sea vents will also pave the way for better decision-making regarding how these deep ocean resources are managed.