, Volume 14, Issue 2-3, pp 149-159

Consideration of the oasis analogy for chemosynthetic communities at Gulf of Mexico hydrocarbon vents

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Abstract

The analogy between desert oasis and deep-sea chemosynthetic community arose from the biomass contrast between vents and the relatively depauperate background benthic fauna. Fully developed, the analogy helps pose questions about interactions with the background fauna with respect to resources, colonization, and persistence. The chemosynthetic sites of the Gulf of Mexico provide an opportunity to consider possible interactions between vent and nonvent fauna over a 3000-m depth range. It is postulated that deep chemosynthetic communities require the operation of geochemical transporting and concentrating processes to overcome low levels of in situ methane and sulfide production. Clathrate reservoirs may serve these functions. A few chemosynthetic species at the Gulf of Mexico upper slope sites are related to shallow-water sulfide species, but it can be speculated that the dominant chemosynthetic fauna may have originated in a wide spread deep sulfide biome of the Cretaceous. Generic endemism of consumers is low in Gulf of Mexico sites, suggesting a high level of colonization from the surrounding benthos. Chemosynthetic communities may avoid excessive colonization by predators in spite of the apparent food limitation of the surrounding benthos due to toxicity or an evolutionary mechanism selecting against specialized predators. The abundance of large predators is related to the composition of the surrounding benthos and is high at the Gulf of Mexico upper slope sites. Exclusion of chemosyntheic communities from shallower depths may be due to excessive predation by generalists.