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Beyond sunlight: Explorers census 17,650 ocean species between edge of darkness and black abyss


"In the bathy- and mesopelagic zones - the largest 3D deep-sea living space - animals either have to cope somehow with food scarcity or migrate long distances up to find food," says MAR-ECO project leader Odd Aksel Bergstad of University of Bergen. "Because it provides an oasis of topographical relief in the center of the ocean, we found a high concentration of animals on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge."

"Distribution is pretty straightforward for animals in the deep sea," says Dr. Carney. "The composition of faunal populations changes with depth, likely a consequence of physiology, ecology and the suitability of seafloor habitat condition for certain animals."

"Diversity is harder to understand. Although the mud on the deep sea floor appears monotonous and poor in food, that monotonous mud has a maximum of species diversity on the lower continental margin. To survive in the deep, animals must find and exploit meager or novel resources, and their great diversity in the deep reflects how many ways there are to adapt."

Meeting an unfamiliar Dumbo, and other tales from the deep

Specific discoveries, some beautiful and all pushing back the frontiers of the unknown, illustrate the results of voyages by the five Census projects exploring the dark deep sea.

On two 2009 voyages to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge by MAR-ECO explorers:

  • At 2,000 to 2,500 meters (~1.25-1.5 miles): A bizarre, elongated orange animal identified as Neocyema -- only the fifth specimen of the fish ever caught and never before on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge;

  • At 1,700 to 4,300 meters (~1-1.9 miles): Coryphaenoides brevibarbis, with tiny bones in its ear, known as otoliths, that have growth bands countable like tree rings to reveal the fish's age. Comparison of age with size shows its growth rate and thus the amount of food in the neighborhood. Called the rat-tail, the fish lives on crustaceans

Contact: Terry Collins
Census of Marine Life

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