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Feast and famine on the abyssal plain
Date:11/11/2013

MOSS LANDING, CA Animals living on the abyssal plain, miles below the ocean surface, don't usually get much to eat. Their main source of food is "marine snow"a slow drift of mucus, fecal pellets, and body partsthat sinks down from the surface waters. However, researchers have long been puzzled by the fact that, over the long term, the steady fall of marine snow cannot account for all the food consumed by animals and microbes living in the sediment. A new paper by MBARI researcher Ken Smith and his colleagues shows that population booms of algae or animals near the sea surface can sometimes result in huge pulses of organic material sinking to the deep seafloor. In a few weeks, such deep-sea "feasts" can deliver as much food to deep-sea animals as would normally arrive over years or even decades of typical marine snow.

For over 20 years, Smith and his fellow researchers have studied animals living on the abyssal plain at Station Ma deep-sea research site about 220 kilometers (140 miles) off the Central California coast. The muddy seafloor at Station M4,000 meters (13,100) feet below the surfaceis home to a variety of deep-sea animals, from sea cucumbers and sea urchins to grenadier fish. In addition, a myriad of smaller animals and microbes live buried within the mud.

Researchers have long wondered how all these animals and microbes get enough food to survive. The slow trickle of marine snow sinking down from above does not provide nearly enough food to support all the organisms that live down there. However, in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Smith and his coauthors show that occasional feasts could provide enough food to support deep-sea communities for years at a time.

Smith and his colleagues used several instruments to study the amount of marine snow arriving at Station M, as well as its impacts on life in the deep. They suspended conical "sediment traps" above the seafloor to colle
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Contact: Kim Fulton-Bennett
kfb@mbari.org
831-775-1835
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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