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Research on subtidal hydrothermal vent ecosystems at Milos, Hellenic Volcanic Arc (Aegean Sea), suggested that vent activity increased the species richness of sessile epibenthic assemblages. Based on 303 species found in 6 sites (3 close to vents, 3 farther away), the present paper uses correspondence analysis and species/samples curves to examine the species composition and richness of these assemblages. Differences due to vent proximity were more important than those due to bottom depth and distance from the shore. Diversity was confirmed to be higher near the vents, although none of the 266 species found at the vent sites can be considered as obligate vent-associated species. Seven different, although not mutually exclusive, hypotheses are discussed to explain the pattern of increased epibenthic species diversity at the vent sites, namely: (i) vents represent an intermediate disturbance, inducing mortality by the emission of toxic fluids; (ii) higher winter temperature allows for the occurrence of warm-water species, which add to the regional background; (iii) venting disrupts the homogeneity of the water bottom layer, increasing bottom roughness and hence habitat heterogeneity; (iv) deposition of minerals and enhanced bioconstruction by Ca enrichment increment habitat provision; (v) fluid emission induces advective mechanisms that favour recruitment; (vi) vents emit CO2, nutrients and trace elements that enhance primary productivity; and (vii) bacterial chemosynthesis add to photosynthesis to provide a diversity of food sources for the fauna.
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