BIOdiversity and ecosystem FUNctioning in contrasting southern European deep-sea environments: from viruses to megafauna
The deep-sea, the largest habitat on Earth, is likely the largest reservoir of biodiversity, but still the least explored. The important natural resources available in the deep oceans are being exploited increasingly by fisheries and oil, mineral and gas industries. We know little of the effects of anthropogenic and climate change in deep-sea ecosystems, of special concern because they affect an unknown habitat where many species display long lifespans and delayed maturity, resulting in long recovery times of the damaged populations. Because of technological and resource challenges, deep-sea investigations require major coordination of efforts only possible through multidisciplinary and international initiatives such as EUROCORES. In this framework, the overall aim of BIOFUN is to characterise, through an ecosystemic approach, two deep-sea habitats – the mid-slope and abyssal plain – to understand the linkages between biodiversity patterns and ecosystem functioning in relation to environmental conditions along a trophic gradient, from Eastern Atlantic to the Western, Central and Eastern Mediterranean, enabling the simulation of their potential response to changing trophic conditions. This is the first proposal aiming at a complete investigation of the entire food web, from viruses and microbes to megafauna, including commercial species. In particular, BIOFUN is structured in 4 major work-packages: 1) physical and geochemical habitat conditions; 2) community structure: biodiversity and biogeography; 3) ecosystem functioning: food web processes and life-history patterns; and 4) linkages between ecosystem functioning and biodiversity: tools for disturbance evaluation. BIOFUN is a consortium of 10 European partners leading deep-sea research at the international level and with wide expertise in the use of large platforms and state-of-the art methods. Results gathered in this project will provide new and essential information for a correct management of the biodiversity and natural resources of the deep sea and for understanding the importance of these biological components on global biogeochemical cycles.