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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 305:67-77 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps305067

Epifaunal community structure associated with Riftia pachyptila aggregations in chemically different hydrothermal vent habitats

Breea Govenar1,4,*, Nadine Le Bris2, Sabine Gollner3, Joanne Glanville1, Adrienne B. Aperghis1, Stéphane Hourdez1,5, Charles R. Fisher1

1Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, 208 Mueller Laboratory, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
2Département Environnement Profond, Ifremer, Centre de Brest, BP 70, 29280 Plouzané, France
3Department of Marine Biology, University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, 1090 Vienna, Austria
4Present address: Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA
5Present address: Equipe Ecophysiologie, CNRS-UPMC UMR 7144, Station Biologique, BP 74, 29682 Roscoff, France

ABSTRACT: The vestimentiferan tubeworm Riftia pachyptila (Polychaeta: Sibloglinidae) often dominates early succession stages and high productivity habitats at low-temperature hydrothermal vents on the East Pacific Rise. We collected 8 aggregations of R. pachyptila and the associated epifaunal community at 2 discrete sites of diffuse hydrothermal activity, in December 2001 and December 2002. Because of the high spatial and temporal variability of the biotic and abiotic factors related to hydrothermal vent activity, significant differences in the structure and the composition of the community were expected to occur at the scale of either 1 yr or 500 m distance between very different sites. There was no significant difference in the temperature ranges of the diffuse flow between sites or years, even though the environmental conditions were very different at the 2 sites. At 1 site (Riftia Field), the diffuse hydrothermal fluids had relatively low concentrations of sulfide, low pH, and high concentrations of iron. At the other site (Tica), the diffuse hydrothermal fluids had higher sulfide concentrations, the pH was closer to neutral, and iron was undetectable. The physiological condition of R. pachyptila appeared to reflect the availability of sulfide at each site. However, the structure and the composition of the epifaunal community were remarkably similar between sites and years, with the exception of a few species. Aggregations of R. pachyptila support high local species diversity relative to the surrounding seafloor and high community similarity in different hydrothermal vent habitats.

KEY WORDS: Hydrothermal vent · East Pacific Rise · Riftia pachyptila · Community structure · Epifauna · Benthos

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