Xenophyophores, giant, fragile, agglutinated foraminifera (protists), are major constituents of the abyssal megafauna in the equatorial Pacific Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a region where seabed mining of polymetallic nodules may occur in the future. As part of a baseline study of benthic communities we made extensive collections of xenophyophores in two areas (UK-1 and OMS) licensed for exploration by the International Seabed Authority. Based on test morphology, we distinguished 36 morphospecies (34 new to science) among 130 specimens. Twenty of these morphospecies yielded 184 DNA sequences, a 14-fold increase in genetic data for xenophyophores that confirms their high diversity in the eastern CCZ. A further 15 morphospecies (8 new to science) were recognised in samples from two other areas (APEI-6 and Russian exploration license area) within or adjacent to the CCZ. This large number of species confirms that the CCZ is a focal area for xenophyophore diversity. More broadly, it represents an unprecedented increase in the known global diversity of xenophyophores and suggests that many species remain undiscovered in the World's oceans. Xenophyophores are often sessile on nodules in the CCZ, making these delicate organisms particularly vulnerable to mining impacts. They can also play a crucial role in deep-sea ecosystems, providing habitat structures for meiofaunal and macrofaunal organisms and enhancing the organic content of sediments surrounding their tests. The loss of xenophyophores due to seabed mining may therefore have wider implications for the recovery of benthic communities following major human disturbances on the abyssal seafloor.
voir sur le site externe