Life, as most people understand it, is driven by the sun, but deep sea organisms have no access to sunlight, so they must depend on nutrients found in the dusty chemical deposits and hydrothermal fluids they live in. Previously, marine biologists assumed that vent organisms were dependent on a "rain" of detritus from the upper levels of the ocean, like deep sea organisms are. This would leave them dependent on plant life and thus the sun. Some hydrothermal vent organisms do consume this "rain," but with only such a system, life forms would be very sparse. Compared to the surrounding sea floor, however, hydrothermal vent zones have a density of organisms 10,000 to 100,000 times greater.
Hydrothermal vent communities are able to sustain such vast amounts of life because vent organisms depend on chemosynthetic bacteria for food. The water that comes out of the hydrothermal vent is rich in dissolved minerals and supports a large population of chemoautotrophic bacteria. These bacteria use sulfur compounds, particularly hydrogen sulfide, a chemical highly toxic to most known organisms, to produce organic material through the process of chemosynthesis.