The Lost City hydrothermal vent field is located in the mid-Atlantic and is the only one of its kind found thus far. It offers scientists access to microorganisms living in vents that range in age from those newly formed to those tens of thousands of years old.
A bit-player among microbes found in scant numbers in younger, more active vents became the lead actor in a chimney more than 1,000 years old where venting had moderated and cooled, changing the ecosystem, according to Phillip Taylor of the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research.
This is the first evidence that microorganisms can remain rare for such a long time before completely turning the tables to become dominant when ecosystems change, says William Brazelton, a University of Washington (UW) postdoctoral researcher. It seems logical, but until recently, scientists weren’t able to detect microorganisms at such low abundance, he says.