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Saving the Deep Sea Will Save the World
By Wendy Heller, January 27, 2008 @ 02:00 AM (EST)
Source: Scienceblogs.com
Got your attention? Good. Biodiversity is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. Sometimes its meaningful, sometimes not. How does one measure biodiversity and what does it tell you about the ecosystem? In a compelling new paper, Danovaro et al. (2008) set out to understand how loss of biodiversity affects ecosystem processes in the earth's largest environment. But have we explored enough of the deep ocean to really get a handle on this problem?

Admittingly, no. The authors acknowledge this as well so why bother putting together a paper on the matter? The deep sea is possibly one of the most important environments in terms of regenerating nutrients and keeping the ocean's biogeochemical cycles spinning. Ocean primary productivity is a vital link between the land and the air. All three domains depend on each other to keep life thriving.

So what types of organisms could so important to these ecosystem functions? Worms of course! Not just any worms either, nematodes. Peter Lambshead estimates that these charismatic meiofauna (critters less than 2 mm) account for 90% of the deep sea sediment's multicellular abundance. Thats a lot. But that is not why nematodes are great. Oh no! Not to brag or anything but the diversity of other critter groups tracks the diversity of nematodes. In other words, nematodes are a surrogate taxa for total species diversity in any given system (not just the deep sea).

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