Antarctic marine biodiversity and deep-sea hydrothermal vents20 February 2013
The diversity of many marine benthic groups is unlike that of most other taxa. Rather than declining from the tropics to the poles, much of the benthos shows high diversity in the Southern Ocean. Moreover, many species are unique to the Antarctic region. Recent work has shown that this is also true of the communities of Antarctic deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Vent ecosystems have been documented from many sites across the globe, associated with the thermally and chemically variable habitats found around these, typically high temperature, streams that are rich in reduced compounds and polymetallic sulphides. The animal communities of the East Scotia Ridge vent ecosystems are very different to those elsewhere, though the microbiota, which form the basis of vent food webs, show less differentiation. Much of the biological significance of deep-sea hydrothermal vents lies in their biodiversity, the diverse biochemistry of their bacteria, the remarkable symbioses among many of the marine animals and these bacteria, and the prospects that investigations of these systems hold for understanding the conditions that may have led to the first appearance of life. The discovery of diverse and unusual Antarctic hydrothermal vent ecosystems provides opportunities for new understanding in these fields. Moreover, the Antarctic vents south of 60uS benefit from automatic conservation under the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the Antarctic Treaty. Other deep-sea hydrothermal vents located in international waters are not protected and may be threatened by growing interests in deep-sea mining.