Logo der Universität Wien

Evolution driven by sulfur

Most life on Earth depends, directly or indirectly, on food produced through photosynthesis by plants or marine plankton. The only exception are the animals living at hydrothermal vents and methane seeps in the deep sea, which get their nutrition from bacteria that can use sulfur to produce biomass.

Fossil chemosymbiotic bivalves from an ancient methane-seep deposit.

An analysis of the fossil record of these ecosystems published by Steffen Kiel in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that the evolution of these animals is linked to the amount of sulfur dissolved in the oceans and is independent from that of the photosynthesis-based biosphere. These ecosystems might thus be save havens where animals are protected from extinction events that have periodically devastated the surface of planet Earth.  

Kiel, S. 2015. Did shifting seawater sulfate concentrations drive the evolution of deep-sea vent and seep ecosystems? Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282: 20142908.

Department for Geodynamics and Sedimentology
University of Vienna

Althanstrasse 14
A-1090 Vienna

T: +43-1-4277-534 01
F: +43-1-4277-95 34
University of Vienna | Universitätsring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43-1-4277-0