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Deep-sea species' loss could lead to oceans' collapse, study suggests
Date:12/27/2007

The loss of deep-sea species poses a severe threat to the future of the oceans, suggests a new report publishing early online on December 27th and in the January 8th issue of Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press. In a global-scale study, the researchers found some of the first evidence that the health of the deep sea, as measured by the rate of critical ecosystem processes, increases exponentially with the diversity of species living there.

For the first time, we have demonstrated that deep-sea ecosystem functioning is closely dependent upon the number of species inhabiting the ocean floor, said Roberto Danovaro of the Polytechnic University of Marche, in Italy. This shows that we need to preserve biodiversity, and especially deep-sea biodiversity, because otherwise the negative consequences could be unprecedented. We must care about species that are far from us and [essentially] invisible.

Ecosystem functioning involves several processes, which can be summarized as the production, consumption, and transfer of organic matter to higher levels of the food chain, the decomposition of organic matter, and the regeneration of nutrients, he explained.

Recent investigations on land have suggested that biodiversity loss might impair the functioning and sustainability of ecosystems, Danovaro said. However, the data needed to evaluate the consequences of biodiversity loss on the ocean floor had been completely lacking, despite the fact that the deep sea covers 65% of the Earth and is by far the most important ecosystem for the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus of the biosphere. The deep sea also supports the largest biomass of living things, including a large proportion of undiscovered species.

In the new study, Danovaros team examined the biodiversity of nematode worms and several independent indicators of ecosystem functioning and efficiency at 116 deep-sea sites. Nematodes are the most abundant animals on earth and accou
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Contact: Cathleen Genova
cgenova@cell.com
617-397-2802
Cell Press
Source:Eurekalert

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