Many hypotheses have been proposed to explain deep-sea species diversity including competition, predation, physical disturbance, patch mosaics, coarse-grained environmental heterogeneity, metapopulation dynamics mediated by dispersal, and a host of abiotic factors. Evidence supporting these ideas comes largely from spatio-temporal patterns of alpha- (local) diversity. This investigator and collaborators proposed an alternative explanation based on species depth ranges. Abyssal populations of mollusks do not comprise a unique assemblage, but are mainly deeper attenuated range extensions of bathyal populations. Densities of many abyssal populations are so extraordinarily low, especially for minute organisms with low mobility and separate sexes, that it is implausible they could be reproductively viable. Most have larval dispersal ability. This suggested that many abyssal populations are maintained by source-sink dynamics. They suffer chronic local extinction from vulnerabilities to Allee effects, and persist through continued immigration from more abundant bathyal source populations. Source-sink dynamics provides a broad synthetic framework within which other potential causes of diversity (above) can act. It also resolves the long-standing paradox of how abyssal diversity could be shaped by interactions when density is so low. The theory does not require that abyssal communities be ecologically structured. They may be mostly a passive consequence of dispersal.
This project will apply two tests for source-sink dynamics: 1. The investigators will perform a direct test by examining reproductive patterns in molluscan species whose bathymetric ranges span the lower bathyal zone and the abyss. Since rare abyssal populations are predicted not to be reproductively viable, they should show diminished gamete production, and no evidence of mating. 2. They will conduct an extensive new synthesis of geographic evidence for source-sink dynamics. Geographic patterns, are currently the primary evidence available on very large spatial scales, and are invaluable for identifying taxonomic and geographical scenarios for future reproductive studies. Recent advances in nested analysis allow us to determine statistically whether abyssal communities are nested subsets of bathyal communities as predicted by source-sink theory. Newly available large datasets include Pan Atlantic distributions of gastropods, bivalves, and cumaceans from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Benthic Sampling Program; mollusks, asteroids and holothurians from Southampton Oceanography Centre's sampling program in the Porcupine Seabight and Abyssal Plains, and macrofaunal taxa from Texas A&M's Deep Gulf of Mexico Benthic Program. The investigator makes specific predictions about which groups should show geographic evidence of source-sink dynamics based on their natural history and the productivity regime. This synthesis will also contribute significantly to documenting and understanding beta diversity, the most important remaining challenge in deep-sea community ecology.
Intellectual Merit. The source-sink hypothesis has the potential to unify and synthesize the large number of disparate theories of community structure in the deep-sea benthos. The research will also dramatically increase the number of computerized datasets on biogeographic distributions. The single greatest obstacle to expanding our understanding of macroecology in the deep sea is the near absence of data on species ranges. This also has vital implications for conservation and sustainable development of the deep-sea ecosystem. Without much more information on geographic ranges, it is currently impossible to gauge the extinction potential of deep-sea species.
Broader Impacts. At UMass-Boston, students and faculty have outstanding opportunities to be directly involved in science education and public outreach at all levels. Currently, the Biology Department has an NSF-Research Experience for Undergraduates Grant, an NIH-Initiative to Maximize Student Diversity Grant, and a NIH-Bridges to Baccalaureate Grant (with Bunker Hill and Roxbury Community Colleges). The campus has an NSF GK-12 Watershed Integrated Science Partnership 2(WISP2) Grant to upgrade high school science curricula, a McNair Grant, and a Lewis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Grant, all oriented toward assisting underrepresented minorities. Undergraduates, graduate students and teachers will be recruited into this research program, and topics in deep-sea biology will be incorporated into university and high school curricula.