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Concept: Hydrothermal vent


The “wooden-steps” hypothesis [Distel DL, et al. (2000) Nature 403:725-726] proposed that large chemosynthetic mussels found at deep-sea hydrothermal vents descend from much smaller species associated with sunken wood and other organic deposits, and that the endosymbionts of these progenitors made use of hydrogen sulfide from biogenic sources (e.g., decaying wood) rather than from vent fluids. Here, we show that wood has served not only as a stepping stone between habitats but also as a bridge between heterotrophic and chemoautotrophic symbiosis for the giant mud-boring bivalve Kuphus polythalamia This rare and enigmatic species, which achieves the greatest length of any extant bivalve, is the only described member of the wood-boring bivalve family Teredinidae (shipworms) that burrows in marine sediments rather than wood. We show that K. polythalamia harbors sulfur-oxidizing chemoautotrophic (thioautotrophic) bacteria instead of the cellulolytic symbionts that allow other shipworm species to consume wood as food. The characteristics of its symbionts, its phylogenetic position within Teredinidae, the reduction of its digestive system by comparison with other family members, and the loss of morphological features associated with wood digestion indicate that K. polythalamia is a chemoautotrophic bivalve descended from wood-feeding (xylotrophic) ancestors. This is an example in which a chemoautotrophic endosymbiosis arose by displacement of an ancestral heterotrophic symbiosis and a report of pure culture of a thioautotrophic endosymbiont.

Concepts: Algae, Bacteria, Evolution, Symbiosis, Endosymbiont, Hydrothermal vent, Bivalvia, Shipworm


Hydrothermal vents in the Southern Ocean are the physiologically most isolated chemosynthetic environments known. Here, we describe Kiwa tyleri sp. nov., the first species of yeti crab known from the Southern Ocean. Kiwa tyleri belongs to the family Kiwaidae and is the visually dominant macrofauna of two known vent sites situated on the northern and southern segments of the East Scotia Ridge (ESR). The species is known to depend on primary productivity by chemosynthetic bacteria and resides at the warm-eurythermal vent environment for most of its life; its short-range distribution away from vents (few metres) is physiologically constrained by the stable, cold waters of the surrounding Southern Ocean. Kiwa tylerihas been shown to present differential life history adaptations in response to this contrasting thermal environment. Morphological adaptations specific to life in warm-eurythermal waters, as found on - or in close proximity of - vent chimneys, are discussed in comparison with adaptations seen in the other two known members of the family (K. hirsuta, K. puravida), which show a preference for low temperature chemosynthetic environments.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Hydrothermal vent, Anomura, Southern Ocean, Chemosynthesis, Kiwa hirsuta, Squat lobster, Kiwa


The Mid-Cayman spreading centre is an ultraslow-spreading ridge in the Caribbean Sea. Its extreme depth and geographic isolation from other mid-ocean ridges offer insights into the effects of pressure on hydrothermal venting, and the biogeography of vent fauna. Here we report the discovery of two hydrothermal vent fields on the Mid-Cayman spreading centre. The Von Damm Vent Field is located on the upper slopes of an oceanic core complex at a depth of 2,300 m. High-temperature venting in this off-axis setting suggests that the global incidence of vent fields may be underestimated. At a depth of 4,960 m on the Mid-Cayman spreading centre axis, the Beebe Vent Field emits copper-enriched fluids and a buoyant plume that rises 1,100 m, consistent with >400 °C venting from the world’s deepest known hydrothermal system. At both sites, a new morphospecies of alvinocaridid shrimp dominates faunal assemblages, which exhibit similarities to those of Mid-Atlantic vents.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Hydrothermal vent, Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Seafloor spreading, Mid-ocean ridge


Although it is not known when or where life on Earth began, some of the earliest habitable environments may have been submarine-hydrothermal vents. Here we describe putative fossilized microorganisms that are at least 3,770 million and possibly 4,280 million years old in ferruginous sedimentary rocks, interpreted as seafloor-hydrothermal vent-related precipitates, from the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Quebec, Canada. These structures occur as micrometre-scale haematite tubes and filaments with morphologies and mineral assemblages similar to those of filamentous microorganisms from modern hydrothermal vent precipitates and analogous microfossils in younger rocks. The Nuvvuagittuq rocks contain isotopically light carbon in carbonate and carbonaceous material, which occurs as graphitic inclusions in diagenetic carbonate rosettes, apatite blades intergrown among carbonate rosettes and magnetite-haematite granules, and is associated with carbonate in direct contact with the putative microfossils. Collectively, these observations are consistent with an oxidized biomass and provide evidence for biological activity in submarine-hydrothermal environments more than 3,770 million years ago.

Concepts: Water, Sedimentary rock, Mineral, Rock, Geology, Hydrothermal vent, Fossil, Metamorphic rock


Deep-sea hydrothermal vents are subject to major disturbances that alter the physical and chemical environment and eradicate the resident faunal communities. Vent fields are isolated by uninhabitable deep seafloor, so recolonization via dispersal of planktonic larvae is critical for persistence of populations. We monitored colonization near 9°50'N on the East Pacific Rise following a catastrophic eruption in order to address questions of the relative contributions of pioneer colonists and environmental change to variation in species composition, and the role of pioneers at the disturbed site in altering community structure elsewhere in the region. Pioneer colonists included two gastropod species: Ctenopelta porifera, which was new to the vent field, and Lepetodrilus tevnianus, which had been rare before the eruption but persisted in high abundance afterward, delaying and possibly out-competing the ubiquitous pre-eruption congener L. elevatus. A decrease in abundance of C. porifera over time, and the arrival of later species, corresponded to a decrease in vent fluid flow and in the sulfide to temperature ratio. For some species these successional changes were likely due to habitat requirements, but other species persisted (L. tevnianus) or arrived (L. elevatus) in patterns unrelated to their habitat preferences. After two years, disturbed communities had started to resemble pre-eruption ones, but were lower in diversity. When compared to a prior (1991) eruption, the succession of foundation species (tubeworms and mussels) appeared to be delayed, even though habitat chemistry became similar to the pre-eruption state more quickly. Surprisingly, a nearby community that had not been disturbed by the eruption was invaded by the pioneers, possibly after they became established in the disturbed vents. These results indicate that the post-eruption arrival of species from remote locales had a strong and persistent effect on communities at both disturbed and undisturbed vents.

Concepts: Ecology, Annelid, Hydrothermal vent, East Pacific Rise, Black smoker, Silent Alarm


BACKGROUND: The inhabitants of deep-sea hydrothermal vents occupy ephemeral island-like habitats distributed sporadically along tectonic spreading-centers, back-arc basins, and volcanically active seamounts. The majority of vent taxa undergo a pelagic larval phase, and thus varying degrees of geographical subdivision, ranging from no impedance of dispersal to complete isolation, often exist among taxa that span common geomorphological boundaries. Two lineages of Bathymodiolus mussels segregate on either side of the Easter Microplate, a boundary that separates the East Pacific Rise from spreading centers connected to the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge. RESULTS: A recent sample from the northwest flank of the Easter Microplate contained an admixture of northern and southern mitochondrial haplotypes and corresponding alleles at five nuclear gene loci. Genotypic frequencies in this sample did not fit random mating expectation. Significant heterozygote deficiencies at nuclear loci and gametic disequilibria between loci suggested that this transitional region might be a ‘Tension Zone’ maintained by immigration of parental types and possibly hybrid unfitness. An analysis of recombination history in the nuclear genes suggests a prolonged history of parapatric contact between the two mussel lineages. We hereby elevate the southern lineage to species status as Bathymodiolus antarcticus n. sp. and restrict the use of Bathymodiolus thermophilus to the northern lineage. CONCLUSIONS: Because B. thermophilus s.s. exhibits no evidence for subdivision or isolation-by-distance across its 4000 km range along the EPR axis and Galapagos Rift, partial isolation of B. antarcticus n. sp. requires explanation. The time needed to produce the observed degree of mitochondrial differentiation is consistent with the age of the Easter Microplate (2.5 to 5.3 million years). The complex geomorphology of the Easter Microplate region forces strong cross-axis currents that might disrupt self-recruitment of mussels by removing planktotrophic larvae from the ridge axis. Furthermore, frequent local extinction events in this tectonically dynamic region might produce a demographic sink rather than a source for dispersing mussel larvae. Historical changes in tectonic rates and current patterns appear to permit intermittent contact and introgression between the two subspecies.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Species, Pacific Ocean, Hydrothermal vent, Mollusca, Galápagos Islands, East Pacific Rise


The Southwest Indian Ridge is the longest section of very slow to ultraslow-spreading seafloor in the global mid-ocean ridge system, but the biogeography and ecology of its hydrothermal vent fauna are previously unknown. We collected 21 macro- and megafaunal taxa during the first Remotely Operated Vehicle dives to the Longqi vent field at 37° 47’S 49° 39'E, depth 2800 m. Six species are not yet known from other vents, while six other species are known from the Central Indian Ridge, and morphological and molecular analyses show that two further polychaete species are shared with vents beyond the Indian Ocean. Multivariate analysis of vent fauna across three oceans places Longqi in an Indian Ocean province of vent biogeography. Faunal zonation with increasing distance from vents is dominated by the gastropods Chrysomallon squamiferum and Gigantopelta aegis, mussel Bathymodiolus marisindicus, and Neolepas sp. stalked barnacle. Other taxa occur at lower abundance, in some cases contrasting with abundances at other vent fields, and δ(13)C and δ(15)N isotope values of species analysed from Longqi are similar to those of shared or related species elsewhere. This study provides baseline ecological observations prior to mineral exploration activities licensed at Longqi by the United Nations.

Concepts: Biology, Ecology, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, United Nations, Ocean, Hydrothermal vent, Rodrigues Triple Point


Since the first discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents along the Galápagos Rift in 1977, numerous vent sites and endemic faunal assemblages have been found along mid-ocean ridges and back-arc basins at low to mid latitudes. These discoveries have suggested the existence of separate biogeographic provinces in the Atlantic and the North West Pacific, the existence of a province including the South West Pacific and Indian Ocean, and a separation of the North East Pacific, North East Pacific Rise, and South East Pacific Rise. The Southern Ocean is known to be a region of high deep-sea species diversity and centre of origin for the global deep-sea fauna. It has also been proposed as a gateway connecting hydrothermal vents in different oceans but is little explored because of extreme conditions. Since 2009 we have explored two segments of the East Scotia Ridge (ESR) in the Southern Ocean using a remotely operated vehicle. In each segment we located deep-sea hydrothermal vents hosting high-temperature black smokers up to 382.8°C and diffuse venting. The chemosynthetic ecosystems hosted by these vents are dominated by a new yeti crab (Kiwa n. sp.), stalked barnacles, limpets, peltospiroid gastropods, anemones, and a predatory sea star. Taxa abundant in vent ecosystems in other oceans, including polychaete worms (Siboglinidae), bathymodiolid mussels, and alvinocaridid shrimps, are absent from the ESR vents. These groups, except the Siboglinidae, possess planktotrophic larvae, rare in Antarctic marine invertebrates, suggesting that the environmental conditions of the Southern Ocean may act as a dispersal filter for vent taxa. Evidence from the distinctive fauna, the unique community structure, and multivariate analyses suggest that the Antarctic vent ecosystems represent a new vent biogeographic province. However, multivariate analyses of species present at the ESR and at other deep-sea hydrothermal vents globally indicate that vent biogeography is more complex than previously recognised.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Australia, Hydrothermal vent, Antarctica, Southern Ocean, East Pacific Rise


An aerobic, alkane-oxidizing bacterium, designated strain EPR92(T), was isolated from hydrothermal fluids that had been collected from a deep-sea vent on the East Pacific Rise (at 9° 50' N 104° 17' W). The cells of the novel strain were Gram-staining-negative rods that measured approximately 1.4 µm in length and 0.4 µm in width. Strain EPR92(T) grew at 20-40 °C (optimum 35 °C), with1.0-5.0 % (w/v) NaCl (optimum 2.5 %), and at pH 4.0-8.5 (optimum pH 7.5). The generation time under optimal conditions was 63 min. Strain EPR92(T) grew aerobically in artificial seawater minimal medium with n-alkanes as sole carbon and energy sources, and also in artificial seawater medium supplemented with peptone and yeast extract. The predominant fatty acids were C(18 : 1)ω7c, C(19 : 0) cyclo ω8c, 11-methyl C(18 : 1)ω7c and a putative C(12 : 0) aldehyde. The major polar lipids were phosphatidylglycerol, diphosphatidylglycerol, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylcholine and four unidentified aminolipids. The major respiratory quinone was Q-10 and the genomic DNA G+C content was 60.7 mol%. Phylogenetic analyses of the 16S rRNA gene showed that strain EPR92(T) belongs in the class Alphaproteobacteria and the recognized species that were most closely related to the novel strain were identified as Parvibaculum indicum P-31(T) (98.7 % sequence similarity) and Parvibaculum lavamentivorans DS-1(T) (95.8 %). In DNA-DNA hybridizations, the level of DNA-DNA relatedness observed between strain EPR92(T) and P. indicum P-31(T) was 47.7 %, indicating that the two strains do not belong to the same species. Based on the phylogenetic, physiological, chemotaxonomic and genetic evidence, strain EPR92(T) represents a novel species within the genus Parvibaculum, for which the name Parvibaculum hydrocarboniclasticum sp. nov. is proposed. The type strain is EPR92(T) ( = DSM 23209 = JCM 16666(T)).

Concepts: DNA, Biology, Species, Ribosomal RNA, 16S ribosomal RNA, Lipid, Hydrothermal vent, East Pacific Rise


Natural CO2 releases from shallow marine hydrothermal vents are assumed to mix into the water column, and not accumulate into stratified seafloor pools. We present newly discovered shallow subsea pools located within the Santorini volcanic caldera of the Southern Aegean Sea, Greece, that accumulate CO2 emissions from geologic reservoirs. This type of hydrothermal seafloor pool, containing highly concentrated CO2, provides direct evidence of shallow benthic CO2 accumulations originating from sub-seafloor releases. Samples taken from within these acidic pools are devoid of calcifying organisms, and channel structures among the pools indicate gravity driven flow, suggesting that seafloor release of CO2 at this site may preferentially impact benthic ecosystems. These naturally occurring seafloor pools may provide a diagnostic indicator of incipient volcanic activity and can serve as an analog for studying CO2 leakage and benthic accumulations from subsea carbon capture and storage sites.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Hydrothermal vent, Volcano, Greece, Caldera, Santorini, Cyclades, Yellowstone Caldera