Letter | Published:

Deep-sea diversity patterns are shaped by energy availability

Nature volume 533, pages 393396 (19 May 2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

The deep ocean is the largest and least-explored ecosystem on Earth, and a uniquely energy-poor environment. The distribution, drivers and origins of deep-sea biodiversity remain unknown at global scales1,2,3. Here we analyse a database of more than 165,000 distribution records of Ophiuroidea (brittle stars), a dominant component of sea-floor fauna, and find patterns of biodiversity unlike known terrestrial or coastal marine realms. Both patterns and environmental predictors of deep-sea (2,000–6,500 m) species richness fundamentally differ from those found in coastal (0–20 m), continental shelf (20–200 m), and upper-slope (200–2,000 m) waters. Continental shelf to upper-slope richness consistently peaks in tropical Indo-west Pacific and Caribbean (0–30°) latitudes, and is well explained by variations in water temperature. In contrast, deep-sea species show maximum richness at higher latitudes (30–50°), concentrated in areas of high carbon export flux and regions close to continental margins. We reconcile this structuring of oceanic biodiversity using a species–energy framework, with kinetic energy predicting shallow-water richness, while chemical energy (export productivity) and proximity to slope habitats drive deep-sea diversity. Our findings provide a global baseline for conservation efforts across the sea floor, and demonstrate that deep-sea ecosystems show a biodiversity pattern consistent with ecological theory, despite being different from other planetary-scale habitats.

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Acknowledgements

We thank all collectors and taxonomists involved for providing biodiversity data. This work is an output of the project ‘National maps of biodiversity and connectivity’ of the Marine Biodiversity Research Hub and Environmental Decisions Hub, funded through the Commonwealth National Environmental Research Program (NERP) and administered through the Australian Government’s Department of Environment. This work is also a product of the International Network for Scientific Investigations of Deep-Sea Ecosystems (INDEEP) working group on biogeography. We also thank the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) for travel funding that enabled collaboration between the University of Melbourne, Museum Victoria and Dalhousie University.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Museum Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne, Victoria 3001, Australia

    • Skipton N. C. Woolley
    •  & Timothy D. O’Hara
  2. Quantitative and Applied Ecology Group, School of Biological Sciences, BioSciences Building 2, The University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia

    • Skipton N. C. Woolley
    • , Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita
    • , José J. Lahoz-Monfort
    •  & Brendan A. Wintle
  3. Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, 1355 Oxford Street, Halifax B3H 4J1, Canada

    • Derek P. Tittensor
    •  & Boris Worm
  4. United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 219 Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0DL, UK

    • Derek P. Tittensor
  5. CSIRO, Wealth from Oceans Flagship, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia

    • Piers K. Dunstan

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Contributions

S.N.C.W., T.O., D.T. and B.W. conceived the study. T.O. collected, refined and managed the biological dataset. S.N.C.W., T.O., D.T., B.A.W., G.G.A. and J.J.L.M. performed analyses. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Skipton N. C. Woolley.

Extended data

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains ophiuroid biological data sources used to construct species richness patterns.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature17937

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