Arctic sponges feast on fossils deep beneath the ice of the Arctic Ocean

(ORDO NEWS) — At the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, atop extinct underwater volcanoes, researchers have found vast gardens of sea sponges that survive by feeding on the fossils of extinct animals.

Scientists have discovered a unique ecosystem at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean

In a new study published in the journal Nature Communications , scientists have described a thriving and dense population of sponges in the central Arctic Ocean.

To find out how these sponges survived and thrived under the ice-covered Arctic Ocean, where normal food sources can’t reach, the scientists took samples from the Langset Ridge, an underwater mountain range near the North Pole, and closely studied the distribution of sponge gardens on the seafloor.

The analysis showed that the sponges got their food from the fossilized tubes of worms and the hardened detritus of other extinct animals.

“Our analysis showed that sponges have microbial symbionts capable of using old organic matter. This allows them to feed on the remains of former, now-extinct seamount inhabitants, such as worm tubes composed of protein and chitin, and other trapped detritus,” the researchers explain.

Sponges are extremely simple but successful life forms. They have no muscles, no nerves, no organs. But they maintain complex symbiotic relationships with the bacteria that live in them. These bacteria aid their hosts’ metabolism by helping sponges digest and dissolve the superhard fossil material.

“This is a unique ecosystem. We have never seen anything like this before in the high latitudes of the Central Arctic.

In the study area, the primary productivity of the overlying waters provides less than one percent of the carbon demand of the sponges. Thus, this sponge garden may be a temporary ecosystem, but it is rich in species, including soft corals,” the researchers conclude.

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