While it may seem hard to grasp, scientists now believe that even deep-sea hydrothermal vent communities - once thought to be completely isolated from all other ecosystems - will not be able to escape the effects of global climate change. Jon Copley, a marine biologist at the University of Southampton, and a team of researchers found that certain inhabitants of the vents - in particular, shrimp - depend on food that sinks down from the sunlit surface waters. Because global warming is likely to significantly decrease the surface waters' net productivity, he expects it will only be a matter of time before the denizens of the deep feel the effects.
Using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Copley and his team tracked the reproductive cycles of shrimps living in a cold seep in the Gulf of Mexico. "The females spawn their eggs in autumn, brood them on the back legs during winter and they hatch out their young in early spring," said Copley. Although adult shrimp have year-round access to the vents' bountiful food source, shrimp larvae - which leave the vents and migrate to neighboring ones to complete their metamorphosis - rely on food falling from the surface waters. According to Copley, that food source "varies seasonally depending on where you are in the ocean," so parents tend to time their reproductive cycles just right to coincide with the point when most of the food would be available to their larvae.
But what would happen to this delicate cycle if climate change, as expected, were to change the surface waters' food webs and productivity? Copley explains that such alterations would be "communicated to the ocean floor," thus casting doubt on the future viability of shrimp and other larval species that depend on the sunlit waters' rich food supply.
It just comes to show that there really is no respite from climate change.
Via ::BBC News: Deep-sea vents 'no climate haven' (news website)
See also: ::More Weird Beasties Discovered on Deep Sea "Mountain Range", ::Aliens of the Deep
Image courtesy of NASA