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Ocean seep mollusks may share evolutionary history with other deep-sea creatures

The unusual mollusks of oceanic cold seeps--strange clams, mussels and sea snails that thrive in the sulfur and methane-rich environments--are on average older than the marine mollusk community as a whole, according to a new report in the 8 September issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

On average, the first appearance of cold seep mollusk genera in the geological record is a full epoch earlier than that of marine mollusks in general, according to Steffen Kiel and Crispin Little of the University of Leeds.

These findings indicate that the long evolutionary history of the seep mollusks is more similar to that of other deep-sea animals than to some of their mollusk contemporaries from other parts of the oceans.

Cold seeps may have been--and continue to be--safe harbors for the mollusks, protecting them from mass extinctions and possible abrupt oxygen changes in the seas, the researchers found. However, many deep-sea species outside of the cold seeps have also managed to ride out these changes.

"The shallow water environment is much more challenging, subject to changes in sea levels, extinction events, pollution, sediment runoff--all sorts of factors which don't affect animals in the deep sea," Little explained.

This makes it difficult to tell whether seep mollusks owe their long evolutionary history to their unique home environment or to their status as deep-sea creatures, he noted.

Cold seeps are places where fluids rich in hydrogen sulfide and methane leak up through the ocean floor, creating a unique chemical environment where hardy bacteria process the sulfide and methane. Seep fluids are about the same temperature as surrounding waters, but similar chemically challenging environments exist at hydrothermal vents, fissures in the ocean floor where water is superheated by magma lurking just below the crust.

Although seep and vent fluids are a poisonous brew
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Contact: Natasha Pinol
npinol@aaas.org
202-326-7088
American Association for the Advancement of Science
7-Sep-2006


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