Systematics and ecology of deep-sea chemosynthetic ecosystems

Tubeworms at a hydrothermal vent

Many polychaetes, such as these tubeworms, are adapted to living in chemosynthetic ecosystems. Credit: ROV Isis team, NERC.

Principal Investigator

Dr Adrian Glover

Project summary

We are studying the biodiversity of annelid worms (polychaetes) in rare, chemically-rich ocean environments.

The work aims to determine how highly-specialised animals such as the tubeworms of vents or the bone-eating worms at whale-falls disperse across the vast distances of the abyssal plains.

By creating phylogenetic trees of their relationships, we can also assess how and when these animals evolved their remarkable adaptations to life in the deep sea.

Because hydrothermal vents are potential sources of valuable mineral deposits, our work will inform future studies on the potential opportunities and risks of extracting valuable minerals from these areas.

Many polychaetes are adapted to living in chemosynthetic ecosystems, which include deep-sea hydrothermal vents, cold seeps and whale-falls.

We are joining research cruises to these areas, to study the genetics of the polychaetes. We use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) or manned submersibles, undertake taxonomic studies of the animals, and study their DNA and degrees of connectivity across different sites.

We are also using evidence from the Museum's Earth Sciences collection to put dates on the emergence of life at deep-sea vents.

An ROV dive to the Beebe Vent Field, which lies 5 kilometres below the surface

UK biodiversity research

We are creating molecular and digital tools to explore undiscovered biodiversity.

Invertebrate research

Our scientists are investigating the taxonomy, systematics and biodiversity of groups of invertebrates.

Zoology collections

Our zoology collection has 29 million animal specimens and is rich in voucher, type and historical specimens.