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Biol Bull. 1998 Apr;194(2):116-9.

Vestimentiferan on a whale fall.

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Center for Theoretical and Applied Genetics, Cook College, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903-0231, USA.


Discovery of chemosynthetic communities associated with whale bones led to the hypothesis that whale falls may serve as stepping-stones for faunal dispersal between disjunct hydrothermal vents and cold seeps on the ocean floor (1). The initial observation was followed by a faunal inventory that revealed a diverse assemblage of microbes and invertebrates, supported by chemoautotrophic production, living in close proximity to whale remains (2, 3). To date, the conspicuous absence from whale falls of vestimentiferan tubeworms (a predominant constituent of eastern Pacific vent and seep habitats) has been a major objection to the stepping-stone hypothesis (4-5). We report the first evidence of a vestimentiferan tubeworm associated with a whale fall (Fig. 1). The tubeworm, Escarpia spicata, was identified by morphological criteria and DNA sequence data from a portion of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase C subunit I (COI) gene. Additionally, the bacterial endosymbiont in the tubeworm possessed a 16S rRNA gene that was similar to that of endosymbionts from vestimentiferans in sedimented cold-seep environments.

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