Chemosynthetically-driven ecosystems south of the Polar Front: biogeography and ecology

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Zoology

Abstract

We propose an analysis of the chemosynthetic ecosystems in Antarctica south of the Polar Front. We will conduct a detailed investigation and analysis of four contrasting types of chemosynthetically-driven communities, together with their regional tectonic setting. The communities chosen for our investigation comprise: those associated with high-temperature, bare-rock hydrothermal vents (East Scotia Ridge), high-temperature, sediment-hosted hydrothermal activity (Bransfield Strait), mud volcanoes (South Sandwich fore-arc basin) and methane hydrates (north of King George Island). We propose three cruises and subsequent laboratory-based programmes. Cruise 1 will be to the East Scotia Sea where we will examine the tectonic setting and sample the hydrothermal discharge using autonomous underwater vehicles and the hydrothermal sampler BRIDGET. Cruise 2 will be to the same area and will use the UK Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Isis to dive on, sample and characterise the biological and physical environment surrounding vent and seep sites identified during Cruise 1. Cruise 3 will be a combined geophysical, chemical and biological cruise, using the ROV Isis to dive upon and examine hydrothermal and cold seep environments both north and south of King George Island, Antarctic Peninsula. Subsequent analysis will compare the hydrothermal and seep chemistry among these four sites. We will use morphological, molecular, lipid and stable isotope analyses of microbial and metazoan populations to determine the phylogeography of species, and understand the food web processes. Our programme will determine whether colonisation of vents and seeps, in these most isolated of chemosynthetically-driven ecosystems, is driven by oceanographic or tectonic processes or whether any site is, instead, host to completely isolated evolution.

Publications

10 25 50

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/D010470/1 13/05/2008 12/10/2010 £124,521
NE/D010470/2 Transfer NE/D010470/1 26/11/2010 30/09/2013 £69,666
 
Description The key findings for the CHESSO project in which the University of Oxford team played a key role are:

• The discovery, sampling and description of the first deep-sea hydrothermal vent communities from the Southern Ocean located on the East Scotia Ridge.

• An analysis of the global biogeography of hydrothermal vents in the light of the newly-discovered Antarctic vent communities, suggesting 11 distinct vent "provinces".

• Isolation of genetic markers for analysis of connectivity in three key vent species from the East Scotia Ridge and a vent site located in submerged volcanic crater off the South Sandwich Islands. These species were a new species of yeti crab, a peltospiroid gastropod and a vent limpet.

• Identification of high levels of genetic connectivity between populations located on the East Scotia Ridge separated by ~440km but significant genetic differentiation in populations of limpets between the East Scotia Ridge and the volcanic crater. In the latter case limited gene flow is from west to east, consistent with the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.

• A close phylogenetic relationship (sister species) between yeti crabs and peltospiroid gastropods species pairs located on the East Scotia Ridge and the South West Indian Ridge (Dragon vent field).

• Identification of low genetic connectivity between the Dragon hydrothermal vent field and the Central Indian Ridge vents in the scaly-foot gastropod.

• Discovery and description of a new genus and two new species of peltospiroid gastropods, one from the East Scotia Ridge and one from the Dragon vent field.

• The first phylogenetic tree describing the evolutionary relationships of the yeti crabs (Family Kiwaidae).
Exploitation Route We see the use of the results from the CHESSO project having impact in three primary non-academic areas: management of marine mining; marine spatial planning for conservation purposes; education.



Management of marine mining

The refinement of the current understanding of the distribution of the biota endemic to deep-sea hydrothermal vents is relevant in the mining of seabed massive sulphides which are associated with vents. The first deep-sea mining operations targeting these types of deposits will take place within the next few years and it is notable that the Dragon hydrothermal vent field lies within an area licensed for exploration for mining by the State of China. Data gathered and synthesised during CHESSO is of direct relevance to understanding both the direct impacts of future mining operations on biodiversity and also the capacity for recovery via larval recruitment to impacted vent fields. It is notable that poor connectivity amongst Indian Ocean hydrothermal vents, for example, makes the potential for recovery low compared to highly connected vent ecosystems such as those along the East Scotia Ridge or on sections of the East Pacific Rise.



Marine spatial planning for conservation

The South Sandwich Trench and associated islands are unique features in the Southern Ocean. The vent communities found on the East Scotia Ridge and submerged volcanic crater near the South Sandwich Islands are also the only known to date, although other high temperature deep-sea vent ecosystems are likely to exist. It is important that these areas are protected both as a part of the unique biodiversity of UK overseas territories but also in the context of a wider network of protected areas within the Southern Ocean. CHESSO project data has fed directly into decision making on the intiation of protected areas in the waters of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, including direct protection of the submerged crater near the South Sandwich Islands from bottom fishing and the prohibition on bottom fishing deeper than 2,000m. In a wider context the Oxford team has directly communicated the findings of the CHESSO project to colleagues advising governments internationally (i.e. China) and also through CCAMLR and other international for a.



Education

During the CHESSO project the captivating and charismatic nature of the East Scotia Ridge vents and the animals that inhabit them have provided a strong vehicle for education. This has been achieved through a number of activities including:

Presentations to the public and to University and school students

High profile media releases associated with the publication of key papers for the project.

The creation of online teaching resources using materials from the CHESSO project. An example of this is the TED-Wiley-iTunes project (http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-816336.html) which between March and October, 2013, attracted 22,874 views, 5,643 subscriptions, 7,634 downloads and 6,275 streams.

Engagement with artists to produce a major exhibition "For Now We See" for the Invisible Dust Project.

Provision of the opportunity for two D.Phil. students and 4 undergraduates to complete their thesis or project dissertation.
This information has been or is in the process of being disseminated via publication in peer-reviewed journals. This is not only the main route of communication to other scientists but is also the gold standard in terms of credibility of the work to non-scientists, including environmental managers and industry stakeholders. The main use of the data is in furthering understanding of the biodiversity of the deep-sea vent biota and also its biogeography, the patterns of distribution of vent species and underlying mechanisms that have driven this overtime. It has also been important in furthering our understanding of the connectivity of vent ecosystems. Both of these areas are of direct relevance to management of deep-ocean resources and the protection of marine biodiversity. The routes to exploitation of these data have been several including:

• Publication of project results in peer-reviewed policy journals (e.g. Marine Policy) and reports targeted at marine conservation and management policy.

• Direct communication of results through workshops, talks at conferences and also public presentations.

• High profile media releases associated with major publications arising from the project.
Sectors Education,Environment,Other

URL http://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/group/oceans/research/vents.html
 
Description Our findings have been used by a wide variety of international media organisations, for example with HD ROV video footage featuring in documentaries produced by National Geographic and the BBC. Our integrated programme of public engagement with this research project has also delivered the societal benefits of "generating inspiration and curiosity about science", "raising awareness of research findings and their context", and "providing cultural enrichment by supporting lifelong learning", and we have captured evidence of those specific outcomes from our engagement activities through appropriate and innovative evaluation methods.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Exploring the deep-ocean ridges of the southern oceans 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation given to the British Sub-Aqua Club instructors conference at the Birmingham NEC with results from this project and another NERC project.

Talk on the work carried out under this project and the South West Indian Ocean seamounts project on deep-sea exploration and science. Showed information on the East Scotia Ridge vents.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description For Now We See 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Art exhibition based on the video images taken from the CHESSO project and another NERC project (seamounts project).

An art exhibition was created around the video from James Cook Cruise JC42. This was shown at the Church of St Thomas the Martyr, Newcastle. Alongside the exhibition there was an educational workshop. Mariele Neudekar and Alex Rogers also took part in a c
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Life in the dark and deep: exploring the deep-cean ridges of the Southern Oceans. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote presentation on the results of the project to the public at the Orkney International Science Festival, Town Hall, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, 5th September, 2013.

Talk describing the CHESSO project and the exciting discoveries of deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the Southern Ocean
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Talk at Bluedot Festival, Jul 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk about recent NERC deep-sea vent projects (x3) at Bluedot music/science festival, Joddrell Bank, July 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/jul/10/bluedot-festival-frontier-jodrell-bank-jean-michel-j...
 
Description Talk to UK U3A at Royal Institution, Oct 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk to UK University of the Third Age audience at Royal Institution, London, October 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.rigb.org/whats-on/events-2016/october/public-u3a-at-the-ri-language-and-oceans
 
Description The Southern Ocean: The challenges in managing a unique marine ecosystem. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Talk describing Antarctic ecosystems, including newly discovered hydrothermal vents, and the importance of their conservation to the public.

Talk was funded by Antarctic Ocean Alliance (travel). It was a public dissemination activity describing the importance of Antarctic marine ecosystems and the need for their conservation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Two new genera of hydrothermal vent gastropod in the Indian and Southern oceans and implications on connectivity between vent fields. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research or patient groups
Results and Impact Department of Biology Seminar presented at Faculty of Science, Hong Kong Baptist University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Use of deep-sea footage in BBC Natural History Unit documentary series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Use of deep-sea video footage in BBC Natural History Unit documentary series Atlantic: The Wildest Ocean On Earth, broadcast on BBC in Aug 2015
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02y7dd1
 
Description Use of deep-sea video footage in Channel 4 documentary series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Use of deep-sea video footage in Channel 4 series "Walking Through Time", broadcast summer 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.channel4.com/programmes/walking-through-time/on-demand/64143-003
 
Description Use of seafloor footage in BBC Four documentary 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The BBC Four documentary series "From Ice to Fire: The Incredible Science of Temperature" used footage of hydrothermal vents from these grants (Cayman and Southern Ocean), along with on-screen discussion of the Cayman hydrothermal vents by the PI.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09rzq05
 
Description Use of seafloor video footage from this grant in BBC Blue Planet II 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Footage of the East Scotia Ridge hydrothermal vents, from ROV dives as part of this grant, featured in the BBC's landmark Blue Planet II series (Episode 2: The Deep), along with information about the new species of crab discovered there by this grant. This series is expected to reach a total audience of more than 120 million people worldwide.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017