The Deep Sea: Desert and Rainforest
Snelgrove, Paul V. R., Grassle, J. Frederick, Oceanus
Debunking the Desert Analogy
The title of this article may surprise some and offend others, but we chose it to highlight a common misconception. In sources ranging from the popular press to university textbooks, the deep sea is often likened to a desert with large expanses of monotonous landscape devoid of life. Most panoramic photographs of the deep sea bottom are indeed reminiscent of deserts, with gently rolling contours of mud or sand and little visible life.
Until the 1960s, most impressions of the deep sea were based on photographic observations and ineffective sampling techniques, and both supported the view of life in the deep oceans as species poor. Thus, there arose the analogy of the "ocean desert," a perspective that persists even today among most people who do not actually study deep-sea biology. In the 1960s, WHOI biologists Howard Sanders and Robert Hessler (Hessler is now at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography) began to use a sampling device called an epibenthic sled [ILLUSTRATION FOR PHOTO OMITTED]. This device was dragged across the bottom to provide more quantitative and complete samples of bottom-living organisms (benthos). They sampled a number of deep-sea sites between Martha's Vineyard and Bermuda, and provided the first evidence that deep-sea communities are actually extremely varied.
A tremendous diversity of tiny invertebrates (macrofaunal benthos) lives within the bottom sediment. This community includes polychaetes, crustaceans, and mollusks that had been missed in photographs and by the relatively primitive sampling equipment used up until that time. The magnitude of this diversity was not fully appreciated until extensive sampling of the Atlantic continental slope of the United States was undertaken in the 1980s by author Grassle's lab at WHOI and Nancy Maciolek's and Jim Blake's lab at Battelle Ocean Sciences. …
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Publication information: Article title: The Deep Sea: Desert and Rainforest. Contributors: Snelgrove, Paul V. R. - Author, Grassle, J. Frederick - Author. Magazine title: Oceanus. Volume: 38. Issue: 2 Publication date: Fall-Winter 1995. Page number: 25+. © 1998 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. COPYRIGHT 1995 Gale Group.
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