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12 December 2013 1:00 pm ,
Vol. 342 ,
The iconic 125-year-old Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton near San Jose, California, is facing the threat of closure...
Recent results from the Curiosity Mars rover have helped scientists formulate a plan for the next phase of its mission...
A new, remarkably powerful drug that cripples the hepatitis C virus (HCV) came to market last week, but it sells for $...
In pretoothbrush populations, gumlines would often be marred by a thick, visible crust of calcium phosphate, food...
Evolutionary biologists have long studied how the Mexican tetra, a drab fish that lives in rivers and creeks but has...
Victorian astronomers spent countless hours laboriously charting the positions of stars in the sky. Such sky mapping,...
In an ambitious project to study 1000 years of sickness and health, researchers are excavating the graveyard of the now...
Stefan Behnisch has won awards for designing science labs and other buildings that are smart, sustainable, and...
- 12 December 2013 1:00 pm , Vol. 342 , #6164
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Missing Members of a Living Museum
8 January 1997 7:50 pm
Cracks in the Earth's crust deep below the sea may not be as secure a refuge for weird life-forms--worms, mollusks, and other ancient species--as scientists had thought. Russian fossils, described in tomorrow's issue of Nature, suggest that broad groups of hydrothermal vent creatures have gone extinct. The find undermines the view that vent communities have remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of millions of years.
Crispin Little and his colleagues at the Natural History Museum in London examined fossils deposited 438 million years ago at the dried-up Yaman Kasy vent in Russia's southern Urals. During the Silurian period, this region was at the bottom of an ocean. Little's group noted the usual menagerie of deep-sea vent organisms, such as tubeworms and bivalve mollusks. But they also found fossils of filter-feeding lampshells (brachiopods) and snaillike grazers (monoplacophorans) that do not appear to have been present in other vents of that time or in modern ones. According to Little, "Modern vent communities are not refuges for these Silurian shelly taxa," or species groups.
But some experts point out that the same fossil record confirms that some groups, at least, indeed have found sanctuary at vents. "Some taxa only occur at vents and are unique," says Cindy Van Dover, a marine biologist at the University of Alaska. The existence of these groups, she says, "is a good argument that the vents serve as a refuge for them." Nevertheless, some of the world's most isolated habitats appear to be at best an incomplete living museum of ancient life.