• hydrothermal vent;
  • metapopulations;
  • stepping-stone dispersal


Deep-sea hydrothermal vents provide ephemeral habitats for animal communities that depend on chemosynthetic primary production. Sporadic volcanic and tectonic events destroy local vent fields and create new ones. Ongoing dispersal and cycles of extirpation and colonization affect the levels and distribution of genetic diversity in vent metapopulations. Several species exhibit evidence for stepping-stone dispersal along relatively linear, oceanic, ridge axes. Other species exhibit very high rates of gene flow, although natural barriers associated with variation in depth, deep-ocean currents, and lateral offsets of ridge axes often subdivide populations. Various degrees of impedance to dispersal across such boundaries are products of species-specific life histories and behaviours. Though unrelated to the size of a species range, levels of genetic diversity appear to correspond with the number of active vent localities that a species occupies within its range. Pioneer species that rapidly colonize nascent vents tend to be less subdivided and more diverse genetically than species that are slow to establish colonies at vents. Understanding the diversity and connectivity of vent metapopulations provides essential information for designing deep-sea preserves in regions that are under consideration for submarine mining of precious metals.