Ecosystems

Loki: Chapter 9

Ecosystems on the planet Loki can be divided up into two main categories: those on the sea floor and those near the surface of the ocean. Very little, if any, life exists between these two layers, and the only communication is caused by sporadic eruptions and other similar violent events which sweep microorganisms into the upper reaches. Because of this, animals and plants above and below are related only on a microbiological level.

Life above tends to be more sparse than that below. Ecosystems here generally consist of producers-plants which thrive on IR radiation and those things which eat them. Because Loki is tidally locked with Thor, these plants only live on one side of the planet. The amount of radiation they receive through the ice above is reduced enough that activity here is generally reduced due to the lack of energy. Most plants are single-celled, with a very few tiny microscopic ones. All documented animal life is single-celled. Communities here generally appear as dark blotches below the ice when seen from above, or darker-colored water when seen from below. They also have a reddish or purple tint.

Life below has access to much more intense energy sources -- the volcanoes. In between volcanoes and vents, however, there is little energy and life is sparse. Communities have several general appearances:

Around a newly-formed volcano, the single-celled producers will gather first. They are joined by their predators, ranging in size from microscopic to barely visible. At this stage, the community will appear as a vent with its gas bubbles; and a darker purple color may be noticeable.

After a short time, the coral-like animals will begin to collect and build various small structures in the vicinity of the vent. By this time, seeds of larger plants have been transported in, and larger, herbivorous animals will inevitably have followed. The community will appear as several large plants, surrounded by multiple smaller ones and an occasional animal darting about seeking cover. The coral structures are only small protuberance on the rocks.

Some time later, the plants will have grown to a more respectable size. They will have well-developed symbiotes living on or around them, transforming their waste products. Many smaller plants will inhabit a zone extending as much as a kilometer out. Larger herbivores will have moved in to eat the larger and more abundant plants, and carnivores will have come in to feed on the herbivores. The most noticeable features at this point are the large plants, extending out of sight into the upper reaches, and the tangled network of smaller plants around and on them. In addition, the coral structures have grown to a size much more noticeable -- up to a meter across. Herbivores can be seen munching on plants or watching for predators.

The last stage of the vent ecosystem is the most interesting. Now, the coral has grown into a sort of upside-down bowl covering the vent, with large ragged holes where the water or gas pressure has ruptured it. The plants, lacking the energy now taken by the coral, have grown as far as possible into the holes left in the structure. The largest of the plants still survive, but they are fewer, and their foliage is concentrated on the higher parts of their stalks. The plants which remain close to the dome are all greedily trying to thrust themselves into the warm interior against the other plants and the force of the current. Other coral structures are well-formed by now, and are being used by the herbivores for shelter. The carnivores cruise around looking for an unwary morsel, or hover silently in cover of their own, waiting for a possible ambush. Once in a great while, a chunk of the dome will be torn off and go spinning up into the water, followed by a stream of plants and sessile animals falling off, only to crash down again into the sea floor a short distance away.





Chris Jones
Sat Feb 18 00:31:33 MST 1995