Benthos are the organisms which live on, in, or near the seabed, also known as the benthic zone. They live in or near marine sedimentary environments, from tidal pools along the foreshore, out to the continental shelf, and then down to the abyssal depths.
Many organisms adapted to deep-water pressure cannot survive in the upper parts of the water column. The pressure difference can be very significant (approximately one atmosphere for each 10 meters of water depth).
Because light does not penetrate very deep ocean-water, the energy source for deep benthic ecosystems is often organic matter from higher up in the water column which drifts down to the depths. This dead and decaying matter sustains the benthic food chain; most organisms in the benthic zone are scavengers or detritivores.
The term benthos comes from the Greek noun βένθος "depths of the sea". Benthos is also used in freshwater biology to refer to organisms at the bottom of freshwater bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and streams.
The main food sources for benthos is algae and organic runoff from land. The depth of water, temperature and salinity, and type of local substrate all affect what benthos is present. In coastal waters and other places where light reaches the bottom, benthic photosynthesizing diatoms can proliferate. Filter feeders, such as sponges and bivalves, dominate hard, sandy bottoms. Deposit feeders, such as polychaetes, populate softer bottoms. Fish, sea stars, snails, cephalopods, and crustaceans are important predators and scavengers.
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