Diversity in mussel beds at deep-sea hydrothermal vents and cold seeps


*Correspondence: E-mail: clvand@wm.edu


Remarkably little is known about fundamental distinctions (or similarities) between the faunas of deep-sea hydrothermal vents and seeps. Low species richness at vents has been attributed to the transient nature of vent habitats and to toxic effects of hydrogen sulphide and heavy metals in vent effluents. Seeps are arguably more stable and more chemically benign than vents. They have also been regarded as more diverse, but until now there has not been a rigorous test of this hypothesis. We evaluated diversity indices for invertebrates associated with mussel beds at six vents and two seeps and found that invertebrate diversity was significantly higher at seeps than vents, although some vent mussel beds supported nearly the same diversity as seep mussel beds. Lower diversity at vents may be a consequence of a greater physiological barrier to invasion at vents than at seeps. Diversity was lowest where spacing between vents was greatest, suggesting that risks of extinction as a result of dispersal-related processes may contribute to the pattern of diversity observed at vents.