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FEATURE ARTICLE

An Empire Lacking Food

Once viewed as a barren expanse, the deep seafloor is a biologically elaborate ecosystem whose fate is tied to life above, near the sea surface

Craig McClain

2010-11McClainF1.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageThe deep seafloor is a dark, cold and food-poor habitat. But it is also a place of great biological diversity and complexity. Marine scientist Craig McClain of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center explores some of the growing insight into how life manages to succeed in this extreme environment. Size adaptation has helped. So has evolutionary novelty. Fundamental to it all is faraway food production, near the sea surface, where phytoplankton and zooplankton dwell. Deep seafloor organisms depend on the fluxed carbon—a mix of decaying remains and waste—that falls from the surface in the form of “marine snow.” While only tiny amounts of what starts falling finish the long journey down, it is enough.


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