A team of researchers from the University of Southampton have just discovered six new animal species that live on hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean. The animals were found in the Indian Ocean, just southeast from Madagascar. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Scientists have been collaborating to analyze data and animals collected during a 2011 expedition to the Southwest Indian Ridge, an underexplored area at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. The expedition used Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to collect specimens, which were later examined in laboratories throughout the world. The animals were collected from hydrothermal vents, fissures that blast hot water. The vents studied by the researchers had formed chimneys made out of various minerals, including deposits of copper, cobalt, and gold. These deposits have made them attractive for mineral mining but proposed mining operations have not yet started. Hydrothermal vents are unique, contained ecosystems made up of a variety of strange creatures not found elsewhere.
While many of the animals collected had already been described, the team found six brand new species. The team found a new species of crab covered with hair that appeared to be related to a similar species found in Antarctica. Two new worms, a scale worm and a completely unknown species, were found. The team also discovered a new species of limpet and two new snail species, one of which has been named Gigantopelta aegis. The other new animals have not yet been completely examined or named. Interestingly, the researchers also found animals that had already been discovered—thousands of miles away. Somehow, the animals have managed to travel between hydrothermal vents but these types of migrations are still poorly understood.
The team’s findings show that there are still many animal species that have yet to be discovered, especially at the bottom of the ocean. Hydrothermal vent ecosystems are unlike most other ecosystems on Earth and contain a variety of very strange critters, including crabs covered in hair and large aquatic worms. The team emphasizes the need to fully explore the area’s hydrothermal vents before conducting any of the recently proposed mineral mining activities.
Copley et al. Ecology and biogeography of megafauna and macrofauna at the first known deep-sea hydrothermal vents on the ultraslow-spreading Southwest Indian Ridge. Scientific Reports (2016).