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Deep-sea ophiuroids (Echinodermata) from reducing and non-reducing environments in the North Atlantic Ocean

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 March 2005

Sabine Stöhr
Swedish Museum of Natural History, Department of Invertebrate Zoology, Box 50007, 10405 Stockholm, Sweden
Michel Segonzac
IFREMER, Centre de Brest, DRO/Environnement profond-Centob, BP 70, 29280 Plouzané, France


The animal communities associated with the deep-sea reducing environment have been studied for almost 30 years, but until now only a single species of ophiuroid, Ophioctenella acies, has been found at both hydrothermal vents and methane cold seeps. Since the faunal overlap between vent and seep communities is small and many endemic species have been found among other taxa (e.g. Mollusca, Crustacea), additional species of ophiuroids were expected at previously unstudied sites. Chemical compositions at reducing sites differ greatly from the nearby bathyal environment. Generally, species adapted to chemosynthetic environments are not found in non-chemosynthetic habitats, but occasional visitors of other bathyal species to vent and seep sites have been recorded among many taxa except ophiuroids. This paper presents an analysis of the ophiuroid fauna found at hydrothermal vents and non-reducing nearby sites on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and on methane cold seeps in the Gulf of Mexico, at Blake Ridge off South Carolina and south of Barbados. In addition to O. acies, four species were found at vents, Ophiactis tyleri sp. nov., Ophiocten centobi, Ophiomitra spinea and Ophiotreta valenciennesi rufescens. While Ophioctenella acies appears to be restricted to chemosynthetic areas, the other four species were also found in other bathyal habitats. They also occur in low numbers (mostly single individuals), whereas species adapted to hydrothermal areas typically occur in large numbers. Ophioscolex tripapillatus sp. nov. and Ophiophyllum atlanticum sp. nov. are described from nearby non-chemosynthetic sites. In a cold seep south of Barbados, three species of ophiuroids were found, including Ophioctenella acies, Amphiura sp., Ophiacantha longispina sp. nov. and Ophioplinthaca chelys. From the cold seeps at Blake Ridge and the Gulf of Mexico, Ophienigma spinilimbatum gen. et sp. nov. is described, likely restricted to the reducing environment. Ophiotreta valenciennesi rufescens occurred abundantly among Lophelia corals in the Gulf of Mexico seeps, which is the first record of this species from the West Atlantic. Habitat descriptions complement the taxonomic considerations, and the distribution of the animals in reducing environments is discussed.

Research Article
2005 Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom

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