Benthic zone

Benthic zone

The benthic zone is the ecological region at the lowest level of a body of water such as an ocean or a lake, including the sediment surface and some sub-surface layers. Organisms living in this zone are called benthos. They generally live in close relationship with the substrate bottom; many such organisms are permanently attached to the bottom. The superficial layer of the soil lining the given body of water is an integral part of the benthic zone, as it influences greatly the biological activity which takes place there. Examples of contact soil layers include sand bottoms, rock outcrops, coral, and bay mud.


The benthic region begins at the shore line (intertidal or eulittoral zone) and extends downward along the surface of the continental shelf out to sea. The continental shelf is a gently sloping benthic region that extends away from the land mass. At the continental shelf edge, usually about 200 metres deep, the gradient greatly increases and is known as the continental slope. The continental slope drops down to the deep sea floor. The deep-sea floor is called the abyssal plain and is usually about 4000 metres deep. The ocean floor is not all flat but has submarine ridges and deep ocean trenches known as the hadal zone.

For comparison, the pelagic zone is the descriptive term for the ecological region above the benthos, including the water-column up to the surface. Depending on the water-body, the benthic zone may include areas which are only a few inches below water, such as a stream or shallow pond; at the other end of the spectrum, benthos of the deep ocean includes the bottom levels of the oceanic abyssal zone.

For information on animals that live in the deepest areas of the oceans see aphotic zone. Generally, these include life forms that tolerate cool temperatures and low oxygen levels, but this depends on the depth of the water.


Benthos are the organisms which live in the benthic zone, and are different from those elsewhere in the water column. Many are adapted to live on the substrate (bottom). In their habitats they can be considered as dominant creatures. 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 the benthic ecosystem 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.


In oceanic environments, benthic habitats can be further subdivided based on depth. From the shallowest to the deepest are: the estuarine zone — less than 200 meters; then the bathyal zone — 200-2000 meters; the abyssal — 2000-6000 meters; and the deepest, the hadal zone — over 6000 meters.

All these zones are in deep, pressured areas of the ocean. Because of the high pressure and seclusion neither tidal changes nor human interference has had much of an effect on these areas, and the habitats have not changed much over the years. Many benthic organisms have retained their historic evolutionary characteristics; some organisms have significantly changed size.Fact|date=February 2008

Humans are not able to map or observe these organisms and their habitats easily, and most observation has been done through remote controlled submarines.

ee also

*Aphotic zone
*Armor (hydrology)
*Deep sea
*Intertidal zone
*Lake stratification
*Limnetic zone
*Neritic zone
*Pelagic zone
*Photic zone
*Profundal zone
*Sediment Profile Imagery (SPI)
*Stream bed
*Water column


* [ Fathom]
* [ Data Archive for Seabed Species and Habitats] from the UK Marine Data Archive Centre

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