Deep sea animals stowaway on submarines and reach new territory

May 24, 2012
This is a photo of Lepetodrilus gordensis, the species recovered from the Alvin submersible. Credit: Todd Haney

Marine scientists studying life around deep-sea vents have discovered that some hardy species can survive the extreme change in pressure that occurs when a research submersible rises to the surface. The team's findings, published in Conservation Biology, reveal how a species can be inadvertently carried by submersibles to new areas, with potentially damaging effects on marine ecosystems.

After using the manned submersible Alvin to collect samples of from the Juan de Fuca Ridge under the northeastern Pacific Ocean, the team discovered 38 deep-sea limpets ( Lepetodrilus gordensis) among their sample. Intriguingly this species is believed to occur only in the vents of the Gorda Ridge, which are 635 km south of the dive site.

"The big question was, how did they get over 600 kilometers from their habitat?" said Dr. Janet Voight, from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. "We discovered that the individuals must have been transported from the Gorda Ridge by our submersible. Even though we clean the submersibles after sampling we had assumed that the extreme pressure change would kill any species which are missed."

The introduction of new species to an ecosystem by humans, often inadvertently, is a big challenge to conservation. How a new species will react to new surroundings, and the effect it can have, is unpredictable. Increases in deep-sea drilling and submersible activity can increase the probability of introductions, but until now have been considered too extreme and too isolated to be a source of introduced species.

In coastal environments one of the biggest threats posed by invasive species to native species is disease, as newly introduced pathogens and parasites can cause mass mortality. Diseases that may exist in the created by hydrothermal vents have not been well studied.

"We've discovered that it is possible to accidently introduce a species, and any potential diseases it may carry, from a deep-sea vent to a new location," concluded Voight. "This has implications for the future exploration of hydrothermal vents as it reveals the potential risk of human driven change to the ecosystem."

Explore further: For stable flight, fruit flies sense every wing beat

More information: Voight. J, Lee. R, Refy. A, Bates. A, “Scientific Gear as a Vector for Non-Native Species at Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents”, Conservation Biology, Wiley-Blackwell, May 2012, DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01864.x

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A_Paradox
3 / 5 (1) May 24, 2012
Wow! There's a conundrum for you [us?]. The alien has latched onto the deep sea boat; ah hah! we need a hind-leg scratcher device to scrape off free riders! Ah, but, we need something else to scratch the flees of that thing, after which we have to make sure no fleas [whatever] are hiding on the scratcher of the scratcher.
I think there's a poem about that ...' and so on ad infinitum...'
A_Paradox
5 / 5 (1) May 24, 2012
A question is, however, whether it is true on not that mid ocean hot vent creatures are necessarily quarantined to their original localities. There are all sorts of other things that inhabit the abyssal plains. Maybe some of these wander far enough to carry sticky and dormant eggs or larvae from one region to another.
Husky
2 / 5 (1) May 24, 2012
who needs a contaminable scratcher, just hose the thing with some nasty chemical