In 2010, new animal species were discovered living in a “hybrid” environment deep within the ocean off Costa Rica. The results of that discovery were published today in the March 7 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The “hybrid” environment is described as a combination of hot and cold habitats, where the heat of hydrothermal vents and the coldness of methane “seeps” collide.
Lisa Levin and her colleagues at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who made the discovery, are calling this peculiar overlapping ecosystem a “hydrothermal seep.”
“The most interesting aspects of this site are the presence of vent-like and seep-like features together,” said Levin, “along with a vast cover of tubeworms over large areas and a wealth of new, undescribed species.”
The researchers located this anomaly while exploring an area known as the Jaco Scar, where an underwater mountain is moving under a tectonic plate. There, they found a variety of animal life, including fish, mussels, and crabs, which typically congregate near either hot vents or cold seeps. But they also found new “foundation” species that exist in both habitats.
This is the kind of strange environment, harboring new, previously unknown species, that we may eventually find in the deep oceans of moons like Europa. Living organisms that exist in places we would have never thought possible.
As for life here on Earth, according to Levin, “Not only are there new species but there are almost certainly new communities and ecosystems to be discovered.”