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Exploring Integrative Approaches to Understand the Interaction of Microbial Biofilms and Fluid Chemistry on Larval Settlement at Deep-sea Hydrothermal Vents

DOEI Project Funded: 2003

Proposed Research

Hydrothermal vents provide ephemeral habitats for deep-sea fauna that rely on chemosynthesis for their livelihood. Biologists have long proposed that the chemical compositions of vent fluids serve as settlement cues for vent-dependent fauna to colonize vents along mid-ocean ridges; however, this hypothesis remains largely untested. In addition, microbial community composition in vent fluids and the development of microbial biofilms at vent openings would be expected to vary in response to changing vent fluid chemistry, and may facilitate or inhibit the settlement of invertebrate species.

A major objective of our research is to understand biological/geochemical interactions during initial colonization of basalt at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, through time-series studies that combine molecular genetic characterization of colonists and in situ measurements of fluid chemistry. Our interdisciplinary study of microbial and invertebrate species colonization of basalt in conjunction with co-located, in situ, time-series detection of dissolved H2, H2S, pH, and temperature at hydrothermal vents on the East Pacific Rise will evaluate the chemical and microbial environment as settlement cues for the initial colonization in these ephemeral habitats. We will gain fundamental insights into how hydrothermal fluid chemistry and microbial biofilms interact to affect larval settlement on basalt substrates, the first step in larval recruitment and the ultimate development of vent megafaunal assemblages.

Originally published: January 1, 2003