Researchers parse ecosystems fueled by chemistry, not light

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Science  22 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6357, pp. 1223-1224
DOI: 10.1126/science.357.6357.1223

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When the first deep-sea vent creatures came into view 40 years ago through a porthole of the submersible Alvin, everyone was speechless, as no one expected to find life thousands of meters deep. This luxuriant ecosystem clustered around volcanic vents did not draw sustenance from the sunlit world, like most living things. Instead, these creatures all hosted "chemosynthetic" bacteria, redefining the limits of the types of ways animals can make a living. Since then biologists have discovered nonphotosynthetic food webs not just at volcanic vents around the world, but also at cool seafloor oil seeps, on sunken logs and animal carcasses, and in seagrass beds and mudflats. And new technologies now are enabling researchers to unravel these intricate chemosynthetic food webs. They are discovering new sources of energy, new capabilities of these bacteria, and have a greater appreciation of the complex interconnections not just among organisms in these environments, but also with organisms in the great ocean and beyond.