, Volume 161, Issue 2, pp 387-400
Date: 24 Jun 2009

Imprint of past environmental regimes on structure and succession of a deep-sea hydrothermal vent community

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Abstract

Dramatic perturbations of ecological communities through rapid shifts in environmental regime do not always result in complete mortality of residents. Instead, legacy individuals may remain and influence the succession and composition of subsequent communities. We used a reciprocal transplant experiment to investigate whether a legacy effect is detectable in communities experiencing an abrupt increase or decrease in hydrothermal fluid flux at deep-sea vents. Vent habitats are characterized by strong gradients in productivity and physico-chemical stressors, both of which tend to increase with increasing vent fluid flux. In our experiments, many species survived transplantation from cool (water temperatures <2°C above ambient) to warm (4–30°C above ambient) habitats, resulting in significantly higher species richness on transplanted than remaining experimental substrata. A legacy effect was much less apparent in transplantation from warm to cool habitat, although a few vestimentiferan tubeworms, normally restricted to warm habitat, survived transplantation. The asymmetry in influence of legacy individuals suggests that productivity enhancement may outweigh potential physiological stress in setting limits to distributions of vent invertebrates. This influence of biological processes contrasts with theory developed in the rocky intertidal that predicts the predominance of physical control at the high-stress end of an environmental gradient. Prediction of successional transitions in vents and other habitats experiencing regime shifts in which remnant species may survive must take into account the possible influence of historical effects.

Communicated by Tony Underwood.