The Second World That Forms On Sunken Trees

by Ed Yong

Some of the most uncharted parts of our planet aren’t particularly hard to get to. They aren’t unreachable, like the deepest oceans or the darkest caves. They are unexplored because they are fleeting. They blink in and out of existence, appearing unpredictably and vanishing quickly.

Craig McClain, a deep-sea marine biologist and writer at Deep Sea News, studies one of these temporary worlds. They’re called woodfalls. They’re the odd bits of rotting wood that sink to the ocean floor when ships are capsized or trees are uprooted by storms. These sunken timbers provide a glut of food, and a solid surface upon which to anchor. They soon become filled and encrusted by animals—relatives of clams, lobsters, starfish, and more.

Woodfalls mean that trees get two chances to support vast webs of life—once on land and again at sea, once while alive and again while dead.

And the animals that accumulate on these sunken logs aren’t generic bottom-dwellers. If you search for them on other parts of the ocean floor, or even in the surrounding sediment, you won’t find them. They are woodfall specialists. McClain estimates that around 90 % of these species are found on sunken wood, and nowhere else…

(read more:  Not Exactly Rocket Science - National Geo)

photos: Craig McClain

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