'Popcorn of the sea' not missing, found in Galapagos Islands

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Washington, March 3 (ANI): A research team has found that the barnacle, which is known as the 'popcorn of the sea', is not missing, and can be found in vertical upwelling zones in moderately deep waters in the Galapagos Islands.

There's been a rich debate in marine ecological circles about what happens to the barnacle, a key thread in the marine food web, along rocky coastlines dominated by upwelling.

The literature is filled with studies suggesting that the larvae of simple prey organisms such as barnacles and mussels hitch a ride on the coast-to-offshore currents typical of upwelling and are thus mostly absent in the coastal tidal zones.

That theory is getting a major challenge.

Brown University marine ecologist Jon Witman and colleagues report that a key thread in the food web, the barnacle - the popcorn of the sea - flourishes in zones with vertical upwelling.

Working at an expansive range of underwater sites in the Galapagos Islands, Witman and his team found that at two subtidal depths, barnacle larvae had latched onto rock walls, despite the vertical currents.

In fact, the swifter the vertical current, the more likely the barnacles would colonize a rocky surface, the team found.

During three field seasons, the team bolted nearly 1,500 plates at depths of 6 and 15 meters to track the colonization of barnacle larvae and the growth of populations in areas with weak, intermediate and strong vertical upwelling.

The finding "is counter to the prevailing notion about how marine communities are influenced by upwelling," said Witman

The team also found that barnacle communities thrived in the vertical-current sites.

The group routinely found specimens that had grown from one field season to the next to 3 centimeters (about 1 inch) in diameter - "big enough to make soup out of," Witman said.

The researchers also documented the presence of whelks and hogfish, which feast on barnacles.

This predator-prey relationship shows that vertical upwelling zones are "much more dynamic ecosystems in terms of marine organisms than previously believed," Witman said. (ANI)

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