Physiological and behavioral responses of Bathynerita naticoidea (Gastropoda: Neritidae) and Methanoaricia dendrobranchiata (Polychaeta: Orbiniidae) to hypersaline conditions at a brine pool cold seep


Craig M. Young, Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, PO Box 5389 Charleston, OR 97420, USA.


Bathynerita naticoidea (Gastropoda: Neritidae) and Methanoaricia dendrobranchiata (Polychaeta: Orbiniidae) are two of the most abundant invertebrates associated with cold-seep mussel beds in the Gulf of Mexico. At the methane seep known as Brine Pool NR-1 (27 °43.415 N, 91 °16.756 W; 650 m depth), which is surrounded by a broad band of mussels (Bathymodiolus childressi), these species have distinctly different patterns of abundance, with the gastropod being found mostly at the outer edge of the mussel bed (average density in November 2003: 817 individuals·m−2 in outer zone, 20·m−2 in inner zone) and the polychaete being found almost exclusively near the inner edge (average density in November 2003: 3155 individuals·m−2 in inner zone, 0·m−2 in outer zone), adjacent to the brine pool itself. The salinity of the brine pool exceeds 120, so we hypothesized that M. dendrobranchiata should be more tolerant of high salinities than B. naticoidea. The opposite proved to be true. The gastropods were capable of withstanding salinities at least as high as 85, whereas the polychaetes died at salinities higher than 75. Both species were osmoconformers over the range of salinities (35–75) tested. Behavioral responses of B. naticoidea to salinities of 50, 60, and 70 were investigated in inverted vertical haloclines. Gastropods generally did not enter water of salinity greater than 60, but tolerated short periods at 60. Behavioral avoidance of brine should limit the vertical distribution of B. naticoidea in the inner zone to the top 2.5–5 cm of the mussel bed. Behavior is also a likely (though unproven) mechanism for controlling horizontal distribution of this species across the mussel bed. Methanoaricia dendrobranchiata can tolerate short excursions into the brine, but probably avoids hypersaline conditions by aggregating on the tops of the mussels.