In April 1991, submarine volcanic eruptions initiated the formation of numerous hydrothermal vents between 9 degrees 45' and 9 degrees 52'N along the crest of the East Pacific Rise (EPR). Dramatic changes in biological community structure and vent fluid chemistry have been documented throughout this region since the eruptive event. By April 2004, mussels (Bathymodiolus thermophilus) dominated the faunal assemblages at several of the vent sites formed during of after the 1991 eruptions, whereas other habitats within the region were dominated by the vestimentiferan Riftia pachyptila. In the present paper, we build upon the extensive data sets obtained at these sites over the past decade and describe a manipulative experiment (conducted at 9 degrees 49.94'N; 104 degrees 14.43'W on the EPR) designed to assess interrelationships between vent fluid chemistry, temperature, biological community structure, and seismic activity. To this end, in situ voltammetric systems and thermal probes were used to measure H2S/HS- and temperature over time in a denuded region of an extensive mussel bed in which an exclusion cage was placed to inhibit the subsequent migration of mussels into the denuded area. Fluid samples were taken from the same locations to characterize the associated microbial constituents. Basalt blocks, which were placed in the cage in April 2004 and subsequently recovered in April 2005, were colonized by more than 25 different species of invertebrates, including numerous vestimentiferans and remarkably few mussels. Recorded temporal changes in vent fluid chemistry and temperature regimes, when coupled with microbiological characterization of the vent fluids and seismic activity data obtained from ocean bottom seismometers, shed considerable light on factors controlling biological community structure in these hydrothermal ecosystems.
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