JC010: Mud volcanoes and submarine canyons


Meet...Teresa Amaro, researcher

What do sea cucumbers eat? How can they digest food? What is their role in deep sea food webs?

Before explaining to you the aims of Teresa’s research I am going to give you some information about holothurians or sea cucumbers.


Holothurians or sea cucumbers

Holothurians or sea cucumbers are an abundant and diverse group of worm-like and usually soft-bodied animals. They are found in nearly every marine environment (in coastal seaweed and algae, mussel settlements, on rocky ground and in muddy or sandy sediments), but are most commonly found on tropical shallow-water coral reefs. Some species can also live on the floor of the deepest ocean trenches. They can occur in groups settled locally and can migrate seasonally.

The sea cucumber´s body can reach dimensions of 40 cm long and 9 cm wide. Some have rows of legs, and special feelers around the mouth located at the top of the body. They use these special feelers around the mouth to feed from the sea bed, or to filter food from water near the sea bottom.

Some deep-sea environments don´t provide much food. Dead plants and animals sinking from surface waters arrive at the seafloor in a fairly patchy manner, creating some areas that are food rich, and some that are food poor. So some researchers think that the deep-sea holothurians have completely opportunistic behaviour, eating whatever they encounter, whenever they find it. Others think that holothurians have the ability to distinguish the quality of food patches rather than just the simple presence of food.

Teresa is carrying out a number of experiments to investigate her aims.  One experiment involves looking at sea cucumber poo! She will look at bacteria in the poo, inside the sea cucumber, and on the sea floor, and use this to work out the job of the bacteria (are they food? Do they help digestion? Do they feed on the sea cucumber poo?). Her results will allow her to start drawing a food web that will include the sea cucumbers and bacteria.


The species of sea cucumber studied by Teresa and used in her experiment.


Teresa will be using a special device in which the poo will be collected at the bottom of the sea floor:

Teresa’s experiment seen in the screen of the main laboratory

Someone is visiting Teresa’s experiment...

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