Ecology

Don't Discount the Deep

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Science  06 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6090, pp. 14
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6090.14-b

The deep sea is one of the least-known regions on Earth. Its inaccessibility, however, should not be equated with a lack of biological relevance. Deep-sea corals, often referred to as cold-water corals (CWCs), are a case in point. Tropical coral habitats are known for their diversity, and they provide essential ecosystem functions for many marine taxa. As a result, they receive substantial conservation consideration. It has been suggested that CWC systems are also important biodiversity hot spots and may serve as essential fish nurseries, but without direct evidence, their protection is minimal. Baillon et al. searched marine research trawls conducted over 5 years off the eastern coast of Canada for evidence of a fish nursery role for CWCs. They found fish embryos associated with five species of sea pens and used genetic data to identify them as belonging to several species, including two species of redfish (Sebastes spp.), which are commercially important and listed as either endangered or threatened in Canada. Although much remains to be learned about CWC systems, these results confirm that they act as fish nurseries. Furthermore, they suggest that like tropical coral systems, CWCs deserve serious conservation and policy consideration.

Front. Ecol. Environ. 10, 10.1890/120022 (2012).

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