Seaweed and two chitons in a tide pool

Benthos is the community of organisms which live on, in, or near the seabed, also known as the benthic zone.[1] This community lives 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 metres 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 scavengers or detritivores.

The term benthos comes from the bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and streams.[3]

Food sources

Effect of eutrophication on marine benthic life

The main food sources for the benthos are photosynthesizing diatoms can proliferate. Filter feeders, such as sponges and bivalves, dominate hard, sandy bottoms. Deposit feeders, such as polychaetes, populate softer bottoms. Fish, such as dragonets, as well as sea stars, snails, cephalopods, and crustaceans are important predators and scavengers.

Benthic organisms, such as sea stars, oysters, clams, sea cucumbers, brittle stars and sea anemones, play an important role as a food source for fish, such as the California sheephead, and humans.

By size


Macrobenthos comprises the larger, more visible, benthic organisms that are greater than 1 mm in size. Some examples are polychaete worms, bivalves, echinoderms, sea anemones, corals, sponges, sea squirts, turbellarians and larger crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters and cumaceans.
Seagrass growing off the coast
A sea squirt being used as a substrate for a nudibranch's spiral egg
Microphotograph of typical macrobenthic animals, (from top to bottom) including amphipods, a polychaete worm, a snail, and a chironomous midge larvae


nematodes, foraminiferans, water bears, gastrotriches and smaller crustaceans such as copepods and ostracodes.


Microbenthos comprises microscopic benthic organisms that are less than 0.1 mm in size. Some examples are bacteria, diatoms, ciliates, amoeba, flagellates.

By type

"A variety of marine worms": plate from Das Meer by M. J. Schleiden (1804–1881).


Zoobenthos comprises the animals belonging to the benthos.


Phytobenthos comprises the plants belonging to the benthos, mainly benthic diatoms and macroalgae (seaweed).

By location


Endobenthos lives buried, or burrowing in the sediment, often in the oxygenated top layer, i.e., a sea pen or a sand dollar.


Epibenthos lives on top of the sediments, i.e., like a sea cucumber or a sea snail crawling about.


Hyperbenthos lives just above the sediment, i.e., a rock cod.

See also

Contrast the terms neuston (the organisms that float on the water).


  1. ^ a b Benthos from the Census of Antarctic Marine Life website
  2. ^ βένθος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  3. ^ North American Benthological Society website


  • Benthos. (2008) Encyclopædia Britannica. (Retrieved May 15, 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online.)
  • Ryan, Paddy (2007) Benthic communities Te Ara - the Encyclopædia of New Zealand, updated 21 September 2007.
  • Yip, Maricela and Madl, Pierre (1999) Benthos University of Salzburg.

External links

  • Benthos