A survey of more than 100 of the world’s leading deep-sea biologists, presented in a Perspective in Nature Ecology & Evolution, identifies key areas on which future conservation and management strategies should be focused. The article highlights priorities for monitoring, including large animals and habitat-forming species like corals, and the impact of human activities such as mining on these vulnerable ecosystems.
The deep sea (defined here as below 200 metres depth) represents the largest, but least explored, type of environment, or biome, on Earth. It is home to many ecologically rare, unique and unknown species that are increasingly under multiple threats from industrial deep-sea mining, deep-sea fishing, climate change and plastic pollution.
To classify the most important ecological and biological components of the deep sea, Roberto Danovaro and colleagues sent a questionnaire-based survey to deep-sea scientists from around the world. They analysed responses from 112 scientists in order to create an expert-led list of priorities covering all aspects of deep-sea conservation.
The results of the survey indicated that habitat-forming species such as corals were considered most important for conservation efforts. Large and medium-bodied organisms were considered the top priority for biodiversity monitoring in deep-sea habitats. Other important factors for monitoring the deep-sea environment include habitat degradation and recovery as a measure of ecosystem health, and classification of the food-web structure of deep-sea communities to monitor the functioning of whole ecosystems. Identifying shifts in the depth ranges of different species was also a priority for monitoring responses to climate change.
The results could be used to guide future deep-sea research, conservation and monitoring. Their adoption by industry, governments and non-governmental organizations would also help guide more sustainable management of oceans, the authors conclude.
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