Pockmarks are crater-like depression on the seafloor associated with hydrocarbon ascent through muddy sediments in continental shelves around the world. In this study, we examine the diversity and distribution of benthic microbial communities at shallow-water pockmarks adjacent to the Middle Adriatic Ridge. We integrate microbial diversity data with characterization of local hydrocarbons concentrations and sediment geochemistry. Our results suggest these pockmarks are enriched in sedimentary hydrocarbons, and host a microbial community dominated by Bacteria, even in deeper sediment layers. Pockmark sediments showed higher prokaryotic abundance and biomass than surrounding sediments, potentially due to the increased availability of organic matter and higher concentrations of hydrocarbons linked to pockmark activity. Prokaryotic diversity analyses showed that the microbial communities of these shallow-water pockmarks are unique, and comprised phylotypes associated with the cycling of sulfur and nitrate compounds, as well as numerous know hydrocarbon degraders. Altogether, this study suggests that shallow-water pockmark habitats enhance the diversity of the benthic prokaryotic biosphere by providing specialized environmental niches.
The global scale of the biodiversity crisis has stimulated research into the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (BEF). Even though the deep sea is the largest biome on Earth, BEF studies in deep-sea benthic ecosystems are scant. Moreover, the small number of recent studies, which mostly focus on meiobenthic nematodes, report conflicting results that range from a very clear positive relationship to none at all. In this BEF study, the deep-sea macrofauna were used as a model to investigate the structural and functional diversity of macrofauna assemblages at three depths (1,200, 1,900, and 3,000 m) in seven open-slope systems from the North-Eastern Atlantic Ocean to the Central-Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The presence and nature of BEF relationships were studied considering two spatial scales, the large and the basin scale, in different environmental settings. Total benthic biomass and macrofaunal predator biomass were used as proxies to assess ecosystem functioning. Ecosystem efficiency was expressed as macrofaunal biomass to biopolymeric carbon content ratio, macrofaunal biomass to prokaryotic biomass ratio, macrofaunal biomass to meiofaunal biomass ratio, and meiofaunal biomass to prokaryotic biomass ratio. On both large and basin spatial scales, some significant relationships between macrofaunal diversity and ecosystem functioning and efficiency were reported. When significant, the nature of BEF relations was positive and exponential or linear supporting the general idea that a higher diversity can enhance ecosystem functioning. Other BEF relationships were explained by the effect of environmental variables. More data from different deep-sea systems are needed, to better elucidate the consequences of biodiversity loss on the ocean floor.