Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Bright life on the ocean bed: Predators may even color code food

06.09.2012
Bioluminescence on the ocean bed and the creatures that see it

Sinking through the inky ocean, it would seem that there is little light at depth: but you'd be wrong. 'In the mesopelagic realm [200 m] bioluminescence [light produced by animals] is very common', says Sönke Johnsen from Duke University, USA, explaining that many creatures are capable of producing light, yet rarely do so. But how much light do the inhabitants of the ocean floor (benthos) generate?

Explaining that some bioluminescence is generated when organisms collide, Johnsen says, 'In the benthos you have a current moving over complicated ground with all the things in the water banging into it, so one idea was that there would be a fair amount of bioluminescence.' However, few people have visited this remote and inhospitable habitat. Intrigued by the animals that dwell there and the possibility that bioluminescent bacteria coating the ocean floor might glow faintly, long time collaborators Tamara Frank, Sonke Johnsen, Steven Haddock, Edith Widder and Charles Messing teamed up to find out just how much light is produced by seabed residents. The team discovered that bioluminescent animals are relatively rare but blue-green bioluminescence produced when plankton collide with obstacles is relatively common. They also found that deep-sea predators have incredibly sensitive colour vision and they publish their discoveries in a pair of papers in the Journal of Experimental Biology at http:/jeb.biologists.org.

Descending to the bottom of the ocean near the Bahamas in Harbor Branch Oceanographic's Johnson- Sea-Link submersible, switching off all the lights and adapting to the darkness, the group were amazed to find themselves continually surrounded by tiny flashes of light as bioluminescent plankton collided with coral and boulders strewn across the floor. However, there was no evidence of the all-pervasive glow produced by bioluminescent bacteria that the team had hoped to find. 'We weren't in regions where the currents were slow enough to allow for collection of detritus,' says Frank, adding, 'it's not that this phenomenon doesn't exist…we just weren't able to observe it on these dives.'

Next the submariners began searching for bioluminescent inhabitants, gently tapping coral, crabs and anything else they could reach with the submersible's robotic arm to see whether any of the organisms emitted light. The team found that only 20% of the species that they encountered produced bioluminescence (Johnsen et al. 2012). Collecting specimens and returning to the surface, Johnsen and Haddock then photographed the animals' dim bluish glows – ranging from glowing corals and shrimp that literally vomit light (spewing out the chemicals that generate light where they mix in the surrounding currents) to the first bioluminescent anemone that has been discovered – and carefully measured their spectra. The duo found that most of the species produced blue and blue-green spectra, peaking at wavelengths ranging from 455 to 495nm. However, a family of soft corals known as the pennatulaceans produced green light, with spectra peaking from 505 to 535nm. 'We were working at the absolute limits of what the equipment can do', remembers Johnsen, recalling the frustration of working in the cramped, pitch-dark conditions on the boat. 'It gives you respect for our vision, we can see the bioluminescence fine, but getting it recorded on an instrument or a camera is much harder', he adds. And as if that wasn't challenging enough, proving that anything living down there could even see the spectacular light display was even trickier.

Devising a strategy for collecting crustaceans ranging from crabs to isopods under dim red light – to protect their sensitive vision – by luring or gently sucking them into light-tight boxes, the submersible's crew then sealed the animals in boxes to protect their vision from harsh daylight when they reached the surface. Back on the RV Seward Johnson, Frank painstakingly measured the weak electrical signals produced by the animals' eyes in response to dim flashes of light ranging from 370nm to over 600nm and found that the majority of the creatures were most sensitive to blue/green wavelengths, ranging from 470nm to 497nm (Frank at al. 2012). Most surprisingly, two of the animals were capable of detecting UV wavelengths. Even though there is no UV left from the sun at this depth, Johnsen explains, 'Colour vision works by having two channels with different spectral sensitivities, and our best ability to discriminate colours is when you have light of wavelengths between the peak sensitivities of the two pigments.' He suspects that combining the inputs from the blue and UV photoreceptors allows the crustaceans to pick out fine gradations in the blue-green spectrum that are beyond our perception, suggesting, 'These animals might be colour-coding their food': they may discard unpleasant-tasting green bioluminescent coral in favour of nutritious blue bioluminescent plankton.

Finally, after recording the crustacean's spectral sensitivity, Frank – from Nova Southeastern University, USA – measured how much light the animals' eyes had to collect before sending a signal to the brain (the flicker rate). She explains that there is a trade-off between the length of time that the eye collects light and the ability to track moving prey. Eyes that are sensitive to dim conditions lower the flicker rate to gather light for longer before sending the signal to the brain. However, objects moving faster than the flicker rate become blurred and their direction of motion may not be clear. The crustaceans' flicker rates ranged from 10 to 24Hz (human vision, which is sensitive to bright light, has a flicker rate of 60Hz) and the team were amazed to find that one crustacean, the isopod Booralana tricarinata, had the slowest flicker rate ever recorded: 4Hz. According to Frank, the isopod would have problems tracking even the slowest-moving prey. She suggests that as it is a scavenger, it is possible that it may be searching for pockets of glowing bacteria on rotting food and it might achieve the sensitivity required to see this dim bioluminescence with extremely slow vision.

Having shown that bioluminescent benthic species are scarce but the phenomenon itself is not, Johnsen is keen to return to the ocean floor to discover more about the exotic creatures that reside there. 'We would love to go back, get more basic data. We've only scratched the surface', he says, adding, 'When you are down there you are cramped and cold and stiff, but at the end of a dive I never want to come back up.'

IF REPORTING ON THESE STORIES, PLEASE MENTION THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY AS THE SOURCE AND, IF REPORTING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A LINK TO: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/215/19/3335.abstract AND http://jeb.biologists.org/content/215/19/3344.abstract

REFERENCES: Johnsen, S., Frank, T. M., Haddock, S. H. D., Widder, E. A. and Messing, C. G. (2012). Light and vision in the deep-sea benthos: I. Bioluminescence at 500m depth in the Bahamian Islands. J. Exp. Biol. 215, 3335-3343.

Frank, T. M., Johnsen, S. and Cronin, T. W. (2012). Light and vision in the deep-sea benthos: II. Vision in deep-sea crustaceans. J. Exp. Biol. 215, 3344-3353.

This article is posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to report on this story. Full attribution is required, and if reporting online a link to jeb.biologists.com is also required. The story posted here is COPYRIGHTED. Therefore advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full. PLEASE CONTACT permissions@biologists.com

Kathryn Knight | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.biologists.com

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
18.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>