Characterization of deep-sea benthic invertebrate megafauna of the Galapagos Islands
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The deep sea represents the largest and least explored biome on the planet. Despite the iconic status of the Galapagos Islands and being considered one of the most pristine locations on earth, the deep-sea benthic ecosystems of the archipelago are virtually unexplored in comparison to their shallow-water counterparts. In 2015, we embarked on a multi-disciplinary scientific expedition to conduct the first systematic characterization of deep-sea benthic invertebrate communities of the Galapagos, across a range of habitats. We explored seven sites to depths of over 3,300 m using a two-part Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) system aboard the E/V Nautilus, and collected 90 biological specimens that were preserved and sent to experts around the world for analysis. Of those, 30 taxa were determined to be undescribed and new to science, including members of five new genera (2 sponges and 3 cnidarians). We also systematically analysed image frame grabs from over 85 h of ROV footage to investigate patterns of species diversity and document the presence of a range of underwater communities between depths of 290 and 3,373 m, including cold-water coral communities, extensive glass sponge and octocoral gardens, and soft-sediment faunal communities. This characterization of Galapagos deep-sea benthic invertebrate megafauna across a range of ecosystems represents a first step to study future changes that may result from anthropogenic impacts to the planet's climate and oceans, and informed the creation of fully protected deep-water areas in the Galapagos Marine Reserve that may help preserve these unique communities in our changing planet.
author list (cited authors)
Salinas-de-León, P., Martí-Puig, P., Buglass, S., Arnés-Urgellés, C., Rastoin-Laplane, E., Creemers, M., ... Marsh, L.