Founder effects in a deep-sea invasive: Easter Limpets

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Global Norming marches into the deep sea. We’ve been watching with concern the gradual shift towards the normalization of species distribution due to the widespread introduction of marine invasives. Thanks to a general lack human habitation on the seafloor, the deep sea has remained largely exempt from this phenomenon. It takes a lot of technanthropic migration to normalize an ecosystem.

In the past, scientists have observed small numbers of deep-sea species transported into new biogeographic regions on the backs of research submersibles and industrial equipment, hinting at the potential for deep-sea invasion. Thankfully proactive mitigation measures have mostly prevented large scale deep-sea invasions. Range expansion due to climate change is generally considered to be the greater threat to deep-sea ecosystem stability.

In a recent paper, Plough and friends (2040) identify a large-scale species invasion at hydrothermal vents in the Caribbean. Lepetodrilus johnsonii, a limpet species common at hydrothermal vents around the equatorial extent of the East Pacific Rise have established themselves at vent fields around the Mid-Cayman Spreading Center, just south of the Cayman Islands. As the Pacific and Caribbean are separated by continents, it is unlikely that this invasion happened without human assistance.

Using next-generation Yotta+ environmental holome sequencing, Plough and friends were able to trace the invasion to a relatively small founder population, at most 23 individuals, which we’re likely transported sometime in the last 6 years. Read More

Fun Science FRIEDay – Evolution, what’s it good for?

It is widely accepted that the world around us is changing, and as a result the organisms that exist adapt with that change or are resigned to the fossil record. Evolution, it’s a fact of life… or is it? UCLA paleobiologist J. William Schopf, and colleagues,  have discovered an organism that has remained relatively unchanged over a 2.3 billion year period. Meh, who needs evolution? These bacteria were discovered in the muddy sediments of the deep sea and represent the greatest lack of evolution ever seen!

1871 editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape. (Photo credit: Unknown artist in 1871 from The Hornet newspaper - no longer in publication)

1871 editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape. (Photo credit: Unknown artist in 1871 from The Hornet newspaper – no longer in publication)

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TGIF: 250+ videos from the deep sea for you to enjoy

InDEEP and the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative have compiled a massive database of more than 250 online videos featuring ecology, biology, oceanography, and conservation of the deep ocean: Deep-sea Online Videos. There’s a ton of videos in there to explore (especially if you find yourself with an abundance of shutdown related free time). Here’s just one of the ones I hadn’t seen before:

Rob Dunbar: The threat of ocean acidification

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evfgbVjb688

Return of the Science of Aquaman: Welcome to the Trench

Seriously, is no one else bothered by the fact that his trident has five points? Aquaman: The Trench. From DC Comics.

Seriously, is no one else bothered by the fact that his trident has five points? Aquaman: The Trench. From DC Comics.

After reducing Aquaman to a hypothermic, hyposmotic, constantly famished, case study in psychological trauma, I figure that I owe the king of Atlantis a second chance. After all, Aquaman was and still remains the most interesting hero in the DC universe. A generous fan sent me a copy of Aquaman Volume 1: The Trench, arguing that the New 52 version of everybody’s favorite aquatic hero is even more compelling than previous incarnations, with a stronger backstory, powers that make sense, and plenty of humor.

Last time I paid the hapless mariner a visit, many readers interpreted my incisive criticism of the science behind Aquaman as evidence that I had it out for our scale-clad hero. Since you all know that I’m going to take the misguided marine science in this volume to task, let’s start with all of the good stuff in this reimagination of DC’s oft-mocked champion.

The central conceit of New 52 Aquaman is that the comic book world has the same perception of Arthur Curry that we do–a hero with oddly specific and mostly useless powers that talks to fish. In addition, the citizens of the DC Universe believe that Atlantis is a fairy tale, so Aquaman’s kingly status is meaningless to the surface dwellers. The hybrid of a human father and Atlantean mother, Aquaman feels out of place in Atlantis and chooses to return to the surface with his wife, Mera. Comparing himself to his lighthouse-keeper father, he explains that even though he loves the sea, someone must protect the shore.

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I *heart* cryptozoology

Cryptozoology, the study of animals whose existence is unproven, lies just south of the boundary between science and pseudoscience. Unlike most psuedoscientific movements, which require adherents to suspend disbelief and ignore the realities of physics, chemistry, medicine, and, well, reality, the foundational principals of cryptozoology – that there are remnant populations of thought-to-be-extinct species and that there are still large, charismatic animals that have not yet been discovered – are grounded in ecology. In deep-sea biology, we discover new species all of the time, some of which are far more fantastical than humans can imagine. Some times, we even discover once extinct species. So it is not much of a leap to go from exploratory zoology to cryptozoology.

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Rumors from the Abyss: visions of a future without deep sea conservation

Bathymetric map, click for GEBCO high resolution image

The deep benthos is simultaneously the largest and least explored ecosystem on the planet. Covering nearly 60% of the Earth’s surface, it supports an almost unimaginable reservoir of biodiversity, rivaling all terrestrial habitats combined. Its microbial and metabolic diversity have revolutionized our view of how life is sustained, not once, but twice (first with the discovery of chemoautotrophic organisms at hydrothermal vents, and again with the discovery of cognate communities at methane cold-seeps). In spite of these major discoveries, the deep benthos is essentially invisible. Only a select few will ever witness it first hand, while for the rest, it will remain a dark and unfathomable abyss.

This places the deep benthos in a precarious position. Human activities that influence the deep sea go unnoticed. Without a thorough understanding of its ecology, it is impossible to assess the damage caused by anthropogenic impacts. Although recent and ongoing studies have shed light on many species and communities, the deep benthos remains largely unexplored. Two studies, both released this week, reveal simultaneously how little we know about the deep benthos and how human impacts, even unintentional ones, could shape this ecosystem.

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