Image courtesy of Rutgers University's Richard Lutz
Though they may not be the most charismatic species (check out this angler's toothy grin), deep-sea organisms such as tube worms and giant crustaceans need our attention too - maybe even more so than others. A new study to be published in the journal Current Biology has suggested that the loss of deep-sea biodiversity could pose a serious threat to the world's oceans.
The international team of scientists, led by Roberto Danovaro of Italy's Polytechnic University of Marche, said that the "negative consequences" of losing biodiversity "could be unprecedented"; because ecosystem processes on the ocean floor - which are dependent on the number of species living there - are inextricably linked to those occurring in the surface waters, even the slightest change in species composition could have unforeseen effects. These processes include everything from the decomposition and consumption of organic matter to the regeneration of nutrients, which are crucial to ecosystem functioning.The deep sea covers almost 65% of the planet's surface area and, according to Danovaro, is "by far the most important ecosystem for the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus of the biosphere." In his study, Danovaro studied the biodiversity of nematode worms - the ocean floor's most abundant denizens (accounting for more than 90% of all life) - in conjunction with a few independent indicators of ecosystem functioning at 116 sites to determine if there was a relationship.
Indeed, Danovaro and his colleagues found that the more biodiverse sites were able to support both exponentially higher rates of ecosystem processes and higher rates of efficiency - the ecosystem's ability to exploit its various food sources - at which they occurred. "Our results suggest that a higher biodiversity can enhance the ability of deep-sea benthic systems to perform the key biological and biogeochemical processes that are crucial for their sustainable functioning," they concluded.
Given that we're already having so much trouble protecting charismatic terrestrial species, it's hard to imagine how industry and governments can be pressured into making deep-sea biodiversity conservation a priority.