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Beyond sunlight: Explorers census 17,650 ocean species between edge of darkness and black abyss

rs (~.62 miles) and 17,650 species for which all recorded observations are deeper than 200 meters, the depth where darkness stops photosynthesis.

Scientists working on the deep-sea Census number 344 and span 34 nations.

By the time the 10-year Census concludes in October, 2010, the five deep-sea projects will have collectively fielded more than 210 expeditions, including the first ever MAR-ECO voyage in October-November this year, to explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge south of the Equator, a scientific collaboration between Russia, Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay.

Each voyage is hugely expensive and challenged by often extreme ocean conditions and requirements that have kept the remotest reaches of Neptune's realm impenetrable until recently.

While the collective findings are still being analyzed for release as part of the final Census report to be released in London on October 4, 2010, scientists say patterns of the abundance, distribution and diversity of deep-sea life around the world are already apparent.

"Abundance is mostly a function of available food and decreases rapidly with depth," says Robert S. Carney of Louisiana State University, co-leader (with Myriam Sibuet of France) of the Census project COMARGE, studying life along the world's continental margins.

"The continental margins are where we find the transition from abundant food made by photosynthesis to darkened poverty. The transitions display the intriguing adaptations and survival strategies of amazing species," says Dr. Carney.

Abundance in the deep sea requires one or more of the following:

  • Swift current, which increases an animal's chance of encountering food;
  • Long-lived animals, populations of which grow numerous even on a meager diet;
  • Abundant food in higher layers that either settles to the depths or to which deep animals can migrate;
  • An alternative to photosynthesis of food, such as chemosynthetic

Contact: Terry Collins
Census of Marine Life

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