Taxonomy, biodiversity and population connectivity in the world’s largest deep-sea mining frontier – the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, central Pacific abyss

Giant vent mussel

Specimen of the giant vent mussel (Bathymodiolus elongatus). These huge mollusc are know only the north Fiji basin where they live in hydrothermal vents at a depth of 2800m © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

A critical scientific knowledge gap for the successful regulation of deep sea mining is an understanding of the baseline taxonomy, biodiversity and population connectivity of the animals that live in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone.

Project rationale

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone, central Pacific abyss, is the world’s largest frontier for the seabed mining of metals critical to a future green economy transition (e.g nickel and cobalt). There are currently 16 contracted licences for exploration in this 6 million sq km region, at depths of 4000-5000m.

A critical scientific knowledge gap for the successful regulation of this potentially vast new industry is an understanding of the baseline taxonomy, biodiversity and population connectivity of the animals that live there (Glover et al 2018), which are dominated by abyssal invertebrates such as polychaetes, echinoderms, molluscs and crustaceans (Wiklund et al 2019).

The student on this project will contribute to a large 5m GBP funded NERC highlight topic ‘SMARTEX’, taking part in research expeditions to the Pacific and undertaking detailed scientific work on the macrofauna and megafaunal invertebrates collected.

This will include chapters on the detailed taxonomy and phylogenetics of species new to science, analysis of regional-scale phylogenetic, functional and beta diversity across the CCZ, analysis of population-level connectivity in target taxa and modelling the impacts of potential seabed mining. The work will be of broad interest to scientific journals as well as have direct policy impacts through UK Government and with the International Seabed Authority.

Methodology

The candidate will take part in at least one high-seas oceanographic research cruise with the NERC fleet to the CCZ to collect the materials for their study. The candidate will gain experience of a range of the latest sampling methods including core sampling, live at-sea identification and study, ROV sampling and AUV imagery.

They will also have access to a vast library of existing samples collected by Glover’s research group from the ABYSSLINE project, JPI-Oceans project, MIDAS project and Deep Green project, several of which are ongoing and may also offer additional cruise opportunities.

The candidate will use at-sea cold-chain processing methods (Glover et al 2016), the latest phylogenetic DNA-based taxonomic methodologies to identify and classify fauna, and describe species new to science.

They will also study regional-scale diversity patterns using a large library of published and unpublished DNA sequences available in Glover and Dahlgren’s research labs. This will include detailed analyses of biogeography, phylogenetic and functional diversity.

Through collaboration with Copley and Jones labs they will have the options for further analyses of megafaunal taxonomy, phylogenetics, distributions and modelling impacts of mining, alongside potential life-history studies.

Training

The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted primarily at the Natural History Museum.

Specific training will include:

At-sea research cruise sampling with a variety of gears (e.g box core, epibenthic sledge, ROV and imagery systems), at-sea sample processing including sieving and live-sorting, photography, light and scanning electron microscopy, dissection, high-resolution specimen photography, data management (DarwinCore, OBIS, WoRMS), molecular barcoding techniques, phylogenetic analysis, population genetic analysis, next-generation sequencing, bioinformatics and the latest analytical packages in R.

It is likely the student will be able to participate in further deep-sea research cruises to support the activities of the #NHMDeepSea group.

The student will also contribute to a wide-range of public and stakeholder communication activities, including events at the Natural History Museum and direct policy involvement through national governments and inter-governmental bodies.

Eligibility and how to apply

Read how to apply on the INSPIRE website.

The deadline for applications is 4 January 2021.

Apply for this project

Please check the INSPIRE website for details on how to apply.

Application deadline: 4 January 2021.

Any questions ?

Natural History Museum

Main supervisor: Dr Adrian Glover

Supervisors

Natural Histroy Museum

Dr Adrian Glover

University of Southampton

Dr Daniel Jones

Dr Jon Copley

References

Glover AG, Dahlgren TG, Wiklund H, Mohrbeck I, Smith CR. An end-to-end DNA taxonomy methodology for benthic biodiversity survey in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, central Pacific abyss. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering. 2016 Mar;4(1):2.

Glover AG, Wiklund H, Chen C, Dahlgren TG. Point of View: Managing a sustainable deep-sea ‘blue economy’ requires knowledge of what actually lives there. ELife. 2018 Nov 27;7:e41319.

Wiklund H, Neal L, Glover AG, Drennan R, Rabone M, Dahlgren TG. Abyssal fauna of polymetallic nodule exploration areas, eastern Clarion-Clipperton Zone, central Pacific Ocean: Annelida: Capitellidae, Opheliidae, Scalibregmatidae, and Travisiidae. ZooKeys. 2019;883:1.

Interdisciplinary Southampton Partnership for Investigators Researching the Environment

This a joint PhD training partnership between the Natural History Museum and INSPIRE a NERC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) creating an innovative multi-disciplinary experience for the effective training of future leaders in environmental science, engineering, technology development, business, and policy.

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