Biotic interactions at hydrothermal vents: Recruitment inhibition by the mussel Bathymodiolus thermophilus

H. S. Lenihan, S. W. Mills, L. S. Mullineaux, C. H. Peterson, C. R. Fisher, F. Micheli

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26 Scopus citations


The structure and dynamics of marine communities are regulated in part by variation in recruitment. As in other ecosystems, recruitment at deep-sea hydrothermal vents is controlled by the interplay of propagule supply and behavior, gradients in physical-chemical conditions, and biotic interactions during pre- and post-settlement periods. Recent research along the East Pacific Rise indicates that inhibition of recently settled larvae by mobile predators (mainly limpets) influences patterns of recruitment and subsequent community succession. We conducted a manipulative experiment at the same sites (∼2510 m water depth) to test whether high-density assemblages of the mussel Bathymodiolus thermophilus also inhibit recruitment. In a preliminary study, recruitment of vent invertebrates within the faunal zone dominated by B. thermophilus was strikingly different at two sites, East Wall and Worm Hole. East Wall had high densities of mussels but very low total recruitment. In contrast, Worm Hole had few mussels but high recruitment. Using the submersible Alvin, we transplanted a large number of mussels from East Wall to Worm Hole and quantified recruitment on basalt blocks placed in three treatments: (1) naturally high densities of mussels at East Wall; (2) naturally low densities of mussels at Worm Hole; and (3) high densities of transplanted mussels at Worm Hole. After 11 months, a total of 24 taxa had recruited to the basalt blocks. Recruitment was 44-60% lower in the transplanted high-density mussel patch at Worm Hole and the natural high-density patch at East Wall than within the natural low-density patch at Worm Hole. Biotic processes that may have caused the pattern of recruitment observed included predation of larvae via water filtration by mussels, larval avoidance of superior competitors, interference competition, and enhanced predation by species within the mussel-bed community. Our results indicate that biotic interactions affecting recruitment must be understood to explain patterns of invertebrate community organization and dynamics at hydrothermal vents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1707-1717
Number of pages11
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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