Monday December 19, 2022

Alaska Native News

Deep beneath the waves, tiny clams with shells usually about as big as a pea bore into pieces of sunken wood. The wood is food for them, as well as a home. These rare, scattered, sunken pieces of wood support miniature ecosystems where different wood-boring clam species can live in harmony for years. But in a new paper in Marine Biodiversity, researchers found that one group of wood-boring clams has evolved a unique way to get the wood all for itself: building chimneys made of poop.

“There are two challenges every sea creature has to face: getting pure water in, so you can get oxygen to your gills, and getting rid of your waste. Because nobody wants to live in their poop. But here are these clams living with theirs, and actually thriving,” says Janet Voight, Associate Curator of invertebrate zoology at the Field Museum and the study’s lead author.

Scientists can put wood on the seafloor, return months or even years later, and recover it with “an amazing array of animals,” says Voight; other times wood that has been submerged for the same amount of time comes up so gnawed and bored-through that you can crumble it in your hand. This difference was a mystery, and Voight wanted to know why.

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