Deep-water chemosynthetic ecosystem research during the Census of Marine Life decade and beyond : a proposed deep-ocean road map
German, Christopher R.,
Baker, Maria C.,
Tyler, Paul A.,
ChEss Scientific Steering Committee
The ChEss project of the Census of Marine Life (2002–2010) helped foster internationally-coordinated studies worldwide focusing on exploration for, and characterization of new deep-sea chemosynthetic ecosystem sites. This work has advanced our understanding of the nature and factors controlling the biogeography and biodiversity of these ecosystems in four geographic locations: the Atlantic Equatorial Belt (AEB), the New Zealand region, the Arctic and Antarctic and the SE Pacific off Chile. In the AEB, major discoveries include hydrothermal seeps on the Costa Rica margin, deepest vents found on the Mid-Cayman Rise and the hottest vents found on the Southern Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It was also shown that the major fracture zones on the MAR do not create barriers for the dispersal but may act as trans-Atlantic conduits for larvae. In New Zealand, investigations of a newly found large cold-seep area suggest that this region may be a new biogeographic province. In the Arctic, the newly discovered sites on the Mohns Ridge (71°N) showed extensive mats of sulfur-oxidisng bacteria, but only one gastropod potentially bears chemosynthetic symbionts, while cold seeps on the Haakon Mossby Mud Volcano (72°N) are dominated by siboglinid worms. In the Antarctic region, the first hydrothermal vents south of the Polar Front were located and biological results indicate that they may represent a new biogeographic province. The recent exploration of the South Pacific region has provided evidence for a sediment hosted hydrothermal source near a methane-rich cold-seep area. Based on our 8 years of investigations of deep-water chemosynthetic ecosystems worldwide, we suggest highest priorities for future research: (i) continued exploration of the deep-ocean ridge-crest; (ii) increased focus on anthropogenic impacts; (iii) concerted effort to coordinate a major investigation of the deep South Pacific Ocean – the largest contiguous habitat for life within Earth's biosphere, but also the world's least investigated deep-ocean basin.