Habitat heterogeneity, disturbance, and productivity work in concert to regulate biodiversity in deep submarine canyons


  • Corresponding Editor: A. L. Shanks.


Habitat heterogeneity is a major structuring agent of ecological assemblages promoting beta diversity and ultimately contributing to overall higher global diversity. The exact processes by which heterogeneity increases diversity are scale dependent and encompass variation in other well-known processes, e.g., productivity, disturbance, and temperature. Thus, habitat heterogeneity likely triggers multiple and cascading diversity effects through ecological assemblages. Submarine canyons, a pervasive feature of the world's oceans, likely increase habitat heterogeneity at multiple spatial scales similar to their terrestrial analogues. However, our understanding of how processes regulating diversity, and the potential for cascading effects within these important topographic features, remains incomplete. Utilizing remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) for coring and video transects, we quantified faunal turnover in the deep-sea benthos at a rarely examined scale (1 m–1 km). Macrofaunal community structure, megafaunal density, carbon flux, and sediment characteristics were analyzed for the soft-bottom benthos at the base of cliff faces in Monterey Canyon (northeast Pacific Ocean) at three depths. We documented a remarkable degree of faunal turnover and changes in overall community structure at scales <100 m, and often <10 m, related to geographic features of a canyon complex. Ultimately, our findings indicated that multiple linked processes related to habitat heterogeneity, ecosystem engineering, and bottom-up dynamics are important to deep-sea biodiversity.