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Reproduction and dispersal at vents and cold seeps

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 April 2001

P.A. Tyler
School of Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton, SOC, Southampton, SO14 3ZH
C.M. Young
Division of Marine Science, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, 5600 US 1 N, Fort Pierce, FL 34946, USA


Reproductive cycles are determined from samples taken at regular intervals over a period of time related to the assumed periodicity of the breeding cycle. Fiscal, ship time and sampling constraints have made this almost impossible at deep-sea vents and seeps, but there is an accumulating mass of data that cast light on these processes. It is becoming apparent that most reproductive processes are phylogenetically conservative, even in extreme vent and seep habitats. Reproductive patterns of species occurring at vents and seeps are not dissimilar to those of species from the same phyla found in non-chemosynthetic environments. The demographic structure of most vent and seep animals is undescribed and the maximum ages and growth rates are not known. We know little about how the gametogenic cycle is initiated, though there is a growing body of data on the size at first reproduction. Gametogenic biology has been described from seasonal samples for only one organism from vent/seep environments. For other species, the pattern of gametogenesis has been described from serendipitous samples that allow determination of reproductive effort, but such samples reveal little about energy partitioning during the gametogenic process. Some notable adaptations have been described in mature gametes, including modified sperm. Spawning has been observed for a number of species both in situ and in vitro. Knowledge of the larvae of vent/seep organisms has been derived from laboratory fertilizations, from field collections over vent and seep areas and, for molluscs, from protoconch or prodissoconch size and shape. Larval dispersal has been perhaps the most intractable aspect of reproduction. Because the length of larval life is known for only a single seep organism and no vent organism, we cannot infer dispersal distance from a knowledge of current velocities. Modelling has been used to assess the maximum larval distance that allows effective migration between vent sectors. An indirect approach has been to estimate gene flow within, and between, vent sites using DNA sequencing and electrophoretic techniques. Although data are still equivocal, there are indications of considerable mixing among populations within and between vent sectors of the same ridge. Our knowledge of reproductive biology in vent and seep organisms remains fragmentary, but with molecular and biochemical techniques, emerging larval culture techniques, and increased sampling effort, the pieces of the jigsaw will eventually form an overall picture.

Review Article
© 1999 Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom

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