Census of Marine Life on Seamounts

A globabl study of seamount ecosystems, to determine their role in the biogeography, biodiversity, productivity, and evolution of marine organisms, and to evaluate the effects of human exploitation.

Project Leaders:
Malcolm Clark, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Wellington, New Zealand

Ashley Rowden, NIWA, Wellington, New Zealand

Karen Stocks, San Diego Supercomputer Center, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, USA

Seamounts are prominent features of the world's underwater topography. It is estimated that there are potentially up to 100,000, seamounts over 1 km high and many more of smaller elevation. Seamounts are known to support high biodiversity and special biological communities, with high levels of endemic (confined to a certain region) species. They may also play an important role in patterns of marine biogeography. Seamounts are often highly productive ecosystems, and act as feeding grounds for fishes, marine mammals and seabirds. They are the targets of human interest for fisheries and mining, and are vulnerable to exploitation. Relatively few seamounts have been studied, with only about 350 having been sampled, and less than 100 of these have been studied in any detail. On a global scale, seamount biodiversity is poorly understood due to lack of sampling and exploration.

CenSeam is a CoML programme launched in 2005. It is intended to provide the framework needed to prioritize, integrate, expand, and facilitate seamount research efforts to significantly reduce the unknown, and build toward a global understanding of seamount ecosystems, and the roles they have in the biogeography, biodiversity, productivity, and evolution of marine organisms. The science plan focuses on three questions that will help to increase our knowledge and understanding of these important but little known ecosystems: (1) What factors drive seamount community structure, diversity, and endemism, both at the scale of whole seamounts and individual habitats within seamounts? (2) What key processes operate to cause differences between seamounts, and between seamount and non-seamount regions? (3) What are the impacts of fisheries on seamount community structure and function?

CenSeam will coordinate existing and planned programs for maximum benefit, catalyze new seamount sampling activities, align research approaches and data collection where possible, ensure that opportunities for collaboration between programs are maximized, and integrate and analyze incoming information to create new knowledge. The program will work toward standardizing sampling methods and data reporting wherever possible, to facilitate comparisons of biodiversity between areas. Community networking will be encouraged, to help ensure that opportunities available under various seamount programs are maximized. Mini-grants will expand the scope of surveys or data collection or analysis. The program will help guide future sampling with a global perspective to fill critical knowledge gaps and target understudied regions and types of seamounts.

In addition to fostering new field expeditions and sampling, CenSeam will also consolidate and synthesize existing data. Significant historical seamount data are functionally inaccessible to the scientific community, and sample identification, and digitization of some of these data will be carried out. The existing open-access SeamountsOnline database will be expanded to include more physical and oceanographic data, and to add new data as they become available. This integrated seamount database will be the key to comprehensive synthesis and analysis of data as the program develops. Dissemination of information will involve web pages, an electronic bulletin board, printed materials for students, researchers, and general audiences, as well as scientific publications, and will be fully integrated with OBIS. By the end of the Census in 2010, much will remain unknowable given the large number of seamounts, their widespread distribution, and large variability in physical characteristics and habitat type. But under CenSeam much progress can be made to improve our understanding of these diverse and interesting ecosystems.

Visit the CenSeam website
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