To characterize the species richness, endemism and community structure of benthic macro-/megafauna in the deep-sea chemosynthetic ecosystems around the Japanese archipelago and determine the conservation priority for deep-sea chemosynthetic habitats.
Twenty-seven methane seeps from the Kuril–Japan Trench, Nankai Trough, Ryukyu Trench and Sagami Bay as well as 15 hydrothermal vents from the Izu–Bonin Arc and Okinawa Trough around the Japanese archipelago.
Species richness and the number of endemic species from 42 vents and seeps were examined using the distributional data of 155 mollusc, annelid and arthropod species. Multivariate analyses were performed to identify groups of sites with similar assemblage composition. Complementarity analysis was performed to determine the minimum number of sites required to conserve at least one population of all species for all 42 sites and for groups of sites detected by the multivariate analyses.
The species richness of the deep-sea chemosynthetic sites around the Japanese archipelago was higher in the Okinawa Trough and Sagami Bay where higher methane concentrations were observed. Eight distinct biogeographic regions were detected at the community level, and the community structure was classified according to the geological variables of depth and latitude. Complementarity analysis for all 42 sites indicated 21 sites for conservation, while that for each distinct biogeographic region indicated 30 sites for conservation.
As unique communities exist in each geographically isolated region around the Japanese archipelago, priority areas should be identified for each type of bioregion for effective conservation. At least 30 (17 seeps and 13 vents) of 42 sites should be conserved to avoid the extinction of the local populations of deep-sea chemosynthetic macro-/megabenthos.