The deep oceans are more biologically diverse than previously thought according to recent research.

NIOZ marine biologist Coral Diaz-Recio Lorenzo recently presented her dissertation for defence at Utrecht University, which revealed a previously underestimated level of biological diversity in the deep oceans, particularly around hydrothermal vents and manganese nodule fields.

“This research – again – shows that we should be extremely careful before allowing commercial deep-sea mining for minerals that are found in these habitats,” marine ecologist Sabine Gollner of NIOZ says.

Diaz-Recio Lorenzo’s study focused on copepods gathered from hydrothermal vents in the Lau Basin, near Tonga, using large underwater robots. Despite their small size, these shrimp-like creatures dominate these vent habitats. DNA analysis unveiled isolated populations with minimal interaction between them, even within the same basin.

Remarkably, specimens from distant basins, though morphologically similar, exhibited genetic distinctions significant enough to classify them as separate species.

The dissertation’s second segment investigated manganese nodules from the Clarion Clipperton Zone, a vast region in the Pacific Ocean at depths of 4,000 to 5,000 meters. Diaz-Recio Lorenzo discovered these nodules harboured a surprising abundance of life, including nematodes, copepods, and other organisms, with individual nodules hosting up to hundreds of individuals. Many of these species seemed exclusive to the nodules, absent from sediment samples collected nearby.

Notably, Diaz-Recio Lorenzo even found evidence suggesting some animals utilise the nodules for reproduction, as indicated by the presence of eggs within them.

Sabine Gollner, a NIOZ marine ecologist and Diaz-Recio Lorenzo’s co-supervisor, expressed astonishment at the richness and uniqueness of life thriving around hydrothermal vents and within manganese nodules.

“The locations that were studied are areas that are currently explored for minerals. But this research shows that we should be extremely careful with regards to potential future deep-sea mining, as these unique species carry high extinction risk.”

This research underscores the need for further exploration and understanding of these deep-sea ecosystems.



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