Conventional wisdom suggests that seamounts harbour high levels of biodiversity and endemism, play important roles in marine biogeography, are hotspots of biological carbon processing, and support substantial fisheries. However, since fewer than 300 seamounts have been thoroughly sampled, these generalizations remain largely untested. This has provided the motivation for a number of seamount-focused research projects in recent years, including CenSeam, a field project within the Census of Marine Life. This issue presents some of the research output facilitated by CenSeam. Here we summarize the main findings and provide a précis of future research directions highlighted by contributors to the issue. Recent studies show that seamounts can have comparable levels of benthic diversity and endemism to continental margins, but their communities also include a distinct composition of species that can attain higher biomass. Reported geographic differentiation among seamount communities suggests limited larval dispersal, local speciation, geographic isolation, or a combination of these processes. Genetic studies contained in the issue address these themes explicitly, documenting complex patterns of connectivity that depend on spatial scale and life history characteristics. Globally, seamount ecosystems are also under pressure from bottom-contact fishing and ocean acidification. Contributions detailing the footprint of trawling and a risk assessment confirm what has long been suspected: seamount ecosystems are highly vulnerable to disturbance by bottom trawling and recovery from fishing impacts is a lengthy process, likely requiring decades at a minimum. A predicted shallowing of the aragonite saturation horizon caused by ocean acidification is predicted to place deep-water corals at risk, but seamounts may yet provide a spatial/chemical refuge from these impacts. The issue concludes with a ‘myth-buster’ synthesis that updates the status of the various seamount ecological paradigms.