Findings indicate that the likely impacts of mining on microbial ecosystems vary substantially, from minimal disturbance to the irreversible loss of important ecosystem processes.
The essential roles that microbes play in deep-sea ecosystems are at risk from the potential environmental impacts of mining, a new paper in Limnology and Oceanography reports. The study reviews what is known about microbes in these environments and assesses how mining could impact their important environmental roles.
"The push for deep-sea mining has really accelerated in the last few years, and it is crucial that policy makers and the industry understand these microbes and the services they provide," said Beth Orcutt, a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and the lead author of the study. "This paper establishes what we know and suggests next steps for using the best science to evaluate the impacts of this new human activity in the deep sea."
Microbes across the seafloor are responsible for essential ecosystem services, from fueling the food web to powering global nutrient cycles. Environments that are promising for mining are also often the sites of globally-important microbial processes and unusual animal communities – and they are very slow to recover from disturbance.
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