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Title: Under pressure : macro-ecological patterns in the benthic macrofauna in the northwest Atlantic deep sea
Author: van der Grient, Jesse
ISNI:       0000 0004 6494 7113
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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Deep-sea systems are understudied compared to any other ecological system on Earth, but they are important for ecosystem functioning and services. The deep sea is important in the climatic regulation of Earth, and it is a new frontier for resource provisioning for humanity. Impacts, such as increased carbon emissions and deep-sea fishing and mining will likely influence the system, but these effects are not well understood. To recognise these impacts, common patterns in community structure need to be understood. This study aims to assess community structure in the deep sea by looking at patterns in body size and biodiversity. It uses polychaetes (bristle worms) as a study group as they are the most abundant group in the benthic macrofauna in terms of density and play key roles in the food web. Body size is an important component of the community structure, as body size is correlated with many other traits of the organism, from physiological rates (e.g. heart or breathing rates) to population dynamics (e.g. production rates or population abundances) and species richness. It is thought that body size of deep-sea (endo)benthic organisms declines with increasing depth, which is often related to food availability which itself declines with increasing depth. Many contradictory results on body-size change with increasing depth, however, have been reported, including no change, increasing, or a parabolic relationship. It is demonstrated here (Chapter 2) that there is much variety in body-size estimates between different geographic regions and taxonomic groups. These differences can ultimately influence the predictions of other traits, and might hint at what might happen in changing climatic conditions. It sets the basis to argue that there should be a focus on explaining why there are differences, instead of focusing on finding a general trend for organisms in all geographical regions. Furthermore, it is unlikely that food availability alone can explain a change in body size. An alternative explanation is offered (Chapter 3), where habitat complexity is shown to influence body size. Sponge density, in the form of habitat complexity, can have a structuring effect on the community potentially through the loss of spicules that add complexity to soft-sediments, and this in turn can influence body size of organisms. Deep-sea community structure in terms of family richness has been studied at local spatial scale. Fewer studies have been performed on regional spatial scale and these studies lack extensive sampling coverage of environmental gradients. Here (Chapter 4), the first study is presented on the maintenance of deep-sea family composition on regional scale with high sampling coverage along a variety of environmental gradients. It is shown that energy (food) availability, habitat complexity, and long-term temperature are important in influencing the polychaete distribution in this region. It is shown that there is an unusual high proportion of an opportunistic group, the Capitellidae, present in the study area. Biodiversity is important for the maintenance of ecosystem functioning, but human impacts result in the restructuring of biodiversity. The first deep-sea biodiversity - ecosystem functioning relationship for macrofauna is presented (Chapter 5). It is shown that there is a positive and saturating relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. However, fishing intensity seems to influence this relationship by potentially affecting secondary biomass production, abundance and taxonomic and functional diversity measures. It is suggested that as the disturbance of fishing negatively impacts taxonomic and functional evenness, a system is created where opportunistic species are dominant, like communities found in disturbed areas such as under fish farms. This will have consequences for the state of the system and energy transfer to trophic levels higher up.
Supervisor: Kenny, Andrew ; Rogers, Alex Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Marine biology ; Biodiversity ; Body size ; Deep sea