Study of shrimp eyes opens window into life in the deep sea

Date: April 11, 2022

Source: Coastal Review

Author: Trista Talton

Tiny, glowing shrimp that live in oceans’ darkest depths are shedding light on how life operates in one of the final frontiers, the deep sea.

“We don’t know very much about the deep sea because it’s incredibly difficult to study,” said Lorian Schweikert, an assistant professor of biology and marine biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “A really good place to start is by looking at vision, light and vision and that’s because, from what we understand, vision and the detection of light is critical to deep sea survival.”

Schweikert was part of a three-week research expedition funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research in June 2019 that afforded groups of researchers to focus on their particular areas of deep-sea study in the Gulf of Mexico. Coincidentally, this was the same expedition where one of those groups of researchers captured a giant squid on video, a sighting that made national news.

The research team targeted sergestid shrimp because they swim in large numbers in the water column throughout the world’s oceans.

Sergestid shrimp take part in a nightly phenomenon called diel vertical migration, the largest mass migration of animals on Earth, when creatures of the deep leave the safety of the cold, darkest depths of the ocean to avoid predators and rise closer to the surface to feed in better light conditions.

This makes the case, Schweikert said, that species with smaller, and therefore potentially dimmer organs, had to evolve larger eyes to detect subtle glimmers of light at a distance.

Their findings now give biologists an understanding, because these crustaceans’ eyes match the brightness emitted from their organs, they use their bioluminescence to communicate with one another.

Still, this is a mere glimpse into the mysterious world of the deep sea, the tip of the iceberg.

Schweikert said continuing research will ultimately help people better manage plans for how humans tap resources of the deep sea, including fish, gas and oil, and rare minerals.

“These are having an impact on the environment that we don’t fully understand,” she said.

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