A bevy of new animal species deep undersea has emerged.
Scientists from the University of Southampton have discovered six new animal species in undersea hot springs approximately 2.8 kilometers deep in the southwest Indian Ocean.
A research team found the previously unknown marine life around hydrothermal vents at a place called Longqi (Dragon’s Breath) about 2,000 kilometers southeast of Madagascar.
The newly discovered animals include a species of hairy-chested Hoff crab, closely related to Hoff crabs at Antarctic vents, two species of snails, a species of limpet, a species of scaleworm and another species of deep-sea worm.
Only one of the species of snails was given a name—Gigantopelta aegis—and the remaining species have not yet been formally described.
According to Jon Copley Ph.D., the divers explored an area the size of a football stadium on the ocean floor, pinpointing the locations of more than a dozen mineral spires called vent chimneys.
“We can be certain that the new species we’ve found also live elsewhere in the southwest Indian Ocean, as they will have migrated here from other sites but at the moment no one really knows where, or how well-connected their populations are with those at Longqi,” Copley said in a statement.
“Our results highlight the need to explore other hydrothermal vents in the southwest Indian Ocean and investigate the connectivity of their populations, before any impacts from mineral exploration activities and future deep-sea mining can be assessed.”
The spires, many of which rise more than two stories above the seabed, have abundant copper and gold that is now attracting interest for future seafloor mining.
However, the spires are also populated by deep-sea animals using the hot fluids gushing out of the vent chimneys for nourishment.
The research team carried out genetic comparisons with other species and populations elsewhere to show that several species at Longqi are not yet recorded from anywhere else in the world’s ocean.
The research team includes scientists and other colleagues from the Natural History Museum in London and Newcastle University.
The expedition took place in 2011 and was the first to explore the vents using a deep-diving remotely operated vehicle.
It provided a record of what lives on the ocean floor in Longqi, which is licensed for mineral exploration by the International Seabed Authority of the United Nations, before any mining surveys is carried out.
The divers also discovered other species at Longqi that are known at other vents in other oceans when they found a scaleworm that lives at vents on the East Scotia Ridge in the Antarctic and a species of ragworm that lives at vents in the eastern Pacific.
“Finding these two species at Longqi shows that some vent animals may be more widely distributed across the oceans than we realized,” Copley added
The study was published in Scientific Reports.