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Relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning proxies strengthen when approaching chemosynthetic deep-sea methane seeps.

Abstract

As biodiversity loss accelerates globally, understanding environmental influence over biodiversity-ecosystem functioning (BEF) relationships becomes crucial for ecosystem management. Theory suggests that resource supply affects the shape of BEF relationships, but this awaits detailed investigation in marine ecosystems. Here, we use deep-sea chemosynthetic methane seeps and surrounding sediments as natural laboratories in which to contrast relationships between BEF proxies along with a gradient of trophic resource availability (higher resource methane seep, to lower resource photosynthetically fuelled deep-sea habitats). We determined sediment fauna taxonomic and functional trait biodiversity, and quantified bioturbation potential (BPc), calcification degree, standing stock and density as ecosystem functioning proxies. Relationships were strongly unimodal in chemosynthetic seep habitats, but were undetectable in transitional 'chemotone' habitats and photosynthetically dependent deep-sea habitats. In seep habitats, ecosystem functioning proxies peaked below maximum biodiversity, perhaps suggesting that a small number of specialized species are important in shaping this relationship. This suggests that absolute biodiversity is not a good metric of ecosystem 'value' at methane seeps, and that these deep-sea environments may require special management to maintain ecosystem functioning under human disturbance. We promote further investigation of BEF relationships in non-traditional resource environments and emphasize that deep-sea conservation should consider 'functioning hotspots' alongside biodiversity hotspots.

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