Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles


Vertical Structure, Biomass and Topographic Association of Deep-Pelagic Fishes in Relation to a Mid-Ocean Ridge System

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Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography


Vertical distribution, Mesopelagic zone, Bathypelagic zone, Mid-ocean ridges, Topography, Benthic boundary layer







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The assemblage structure and vertical distribution of deep-pelagic fishes relative to a mid-ocean ridge system are described from an acoustic and discrete-depth trawling survey conducted as part of the international Census of Marine Life field project MAR-ECO. The 36-station, zig-zag survey along the northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR; Iceland to the Azores) covered the full depth range (0 to >3000 m), from the surface to near the bottom, using a combination of gear types to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the pelagic fauna. Abundance per volume of deep-pelagic fishes was highest in the epipelagic zone and within the benthic boundary layer (BBL; 0–200 m above the seafloor). Minimum fish abundance occurred at depths below 2300 m but above the BBL. Biomass per volume of deep-pelagic fishes over the MAR reached a maximum within the BBL, revealing a previously unknown topographic association of a bathypelagic fish assemblage with a mid-ocean ridge system. With the exception of the BBL, biomass per volume reached a water column maximum in the bathypelagic zone between 1500 and 2300 m. This stands in stark contrast to the general “open-ocean” paradigm that biomass decreases exponentially from the surface downwards. As much of the summit of the MAR extends into this depth layer, a likely explanation for this mid-water maximum is ridge association. Multivariate statistical analyses suggest that the dominant component of deep-pelagic fish biomass over the northern MAR was a wide-ranging bathypelagic assemblage that was remarkably consistent along the length of the ridge from Iceland to the Azores. Integrating these results with those of previous studies in oceanic ecosystems, there appears to be adequate evidence to conclude that special hydrodynamic and biotic features of mid-ocean ridge systems cause changes in the ecological structure of deep-pelagic fish assemblages relative to those at the same depths over abyssal plains. Lacking terrigenous input of allochthonous organic carbon, increased demersal fish diversity and biomass over the MAR relative to the abyssal plains may be maintained by increased bathypelagic food resources. The aggregation of bathypelagic fishes with MAR topographic features was primarily a large adult phenomenon. Considering the immense areal extent of mid-ocean ridge systems globally, this strategy may have significant trophic transfer and reproductive benefits for deep-pelagic fish populations.


©2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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NSF grant #s: OCE 0623551, OCE 0623568





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