Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures

Vertical Ecology of the Pelagic Ocean: Classical Patterns, New Perspectives, and Future Research

Event Name/Location

Vetlesen Distinguished Lecture Series, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, Narragansett, Rhode Island, April 22, 2015

Presentation Date


Document Type



Bathypelagic, Diel Migration, Epipelagic, Mesopelagic, Nekton, Vertical Distribution


Applications of acoustic and optical sensing and intensive, discrete-depth sampling, in concert with collaborative international research programs, have substantially advanced knowledge of pelagic ecosystems. Although the epipelagic habitat is the best-known, ecological studies within the mesopelagic and deep-demersal habitats have begun to link lower and upper trophic level processes. Bathypelagic taxonomic inventories are far from complete, but recent projects (e.g. Census of Marine Life) have quantitatively strengthened previously described distribution patterns and have provided new perspectives. For example, synthesis of net and acoustic studies suggests that the biomass of deep-pelagic fishes is at least two orders of magnitude greater than the total global commercial fisheries landings. Also, discrete-depth net sampling has revealed relatively high pelagic faunal biomass below 1000m in some regions, and that gelatinous zooplankton may be key energy vectors for deep-pelagic production. But perhaps the most substantive paradigm shift is that vertical connectivity across classical depth zones is prevalent, suggesting that a whole-water column approach is warranted for deep ocean conservation and management. Such an approach has been recently applied in the Gulf of Mexico, and will be the basis of a new research initiative, DEEPEND, which will be briefly discussed.

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