Influence of population connectivity on depth-dependent diversity of deep-sea marine benthic biota
In the deep-sea (>200m) the bathyal region of the continental slope has been identified as an area where the rate of origination of new species is high. The reasons for this are not clear, but key to its understanding lies in understanding how populations are connected and if and how they become isolated. The aim of this NERC funded project is to elucidate patterns of population connectivity in the deep-sea utilising realised gene flow and larval dispersal models, coupled with analysis of community-scale patterns.
The JC136 expedition will focus on an area of the UKs deep-sea, west of Scotland. The aims of the expedition will be to obtain physical samples of selected animal species for molecular analysis, benthic biological survey data for community level analysis, and a small amount of oceanographic data to validate oceanographic models.
On the expedition will we will use the UK's remotely operated vehicle (ROV ISIS) to collect samples of test species from 6 key study sites and from 4 depth horizons (500m or summit depth, 1000m, 1500m, 2000m). We will then use a type of DNA fingerprinting to look at how closely related individuals of the same species are from populations at different sites and at different depths. These analyses will tell us how well connected the populations are.
Another part of the project will model the dispersal of larvae from the 6 sites in order to gain a mechanistic understanding of population connectivity and to see if this agrees with the genetic understanding. Another aim of the expedition will therefore be to deploy moorings at the Anton Dohrn Seamount (one of our study sites) to measure ocean currents at different depths to provide us with real data to check our ocean current models against.
Finally, we will use the Autosub6000 autonomous underwater vehicle to gather information on the benthic communities at each of the study sites. We are interested in asking whether sites that are more closely connected by ocean currents have more similar communities of species living on them, and if the degree of community similarity varies with depth.
This research not only has important implications for our understanding of population dynamics in the marine environment, it also has important implications for the future sustainable management of the marine environment because understanding how populations are connected helps us design better networks of protected areas.
Further information can be viewed here