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KAPLAN is a project on biodiversity, species ranges, and gene flow in the abyssal Pacific nodule province: predicting and managing the impacts of deep seabed mining


Project leader: Craig Smith, University of Hawaii at Manoa


The KAPLAN project s investigating biodiversity, species ranges, and gene flow in the world’s largest ocean, the Pacific, in a region targeted for Manganese nodule mining (Clipperton Clarion Fracture Zone). During three major cruises, special “DNA-friendly techniques” were used to conduct the first combined molecular and morphological studies of biodiversity in the tropical abyssal ocean.


The results indicate high and still poorly sampled levels of species diversity it the Pacific abyss, as demonstrated for foraminiferans. For example, of more than 250 morphospecies recognised from one of the sampling sites, only 17 were shared by the other two sites.  


In addition, cryptic species appear to be common and there is evidence of abyssal species radiation in all the animal groups studied.




Investigations with molecular methods of nematodes revealed two important results: first, barcoding can reveal novel lineages in small invertebrates that are hidden by cryptic morphology. Second, results suggest that the abyss has sustained adaptive radiation, and is not primarily a sink for non-reproductive nematode individuals derived from slope habitats.

In the case of polychaetes, molecular heterogeneity and cryptic speciation were higher than expected, and no evidence was found for high levels of gene flow between morphologically similar but geographically separated populations. While morphological traits may be slow-evolving in abyssal polychaetes, speciation and isolation with distance is still occurring. 

Polychaete Intercalibration

Polychaetes were also used to establish a procedure of taxonomic intercalibration of working species, i.e., species recognised as such but not yet formally described. A database was created to facilitate comparison of the different suites of working species (commonly named “sp. 1, 2, 3” or “sp. A, B, C”) generated separately by different projects. A workshop called APIP (Abyssal Polychaete Intercalibration Project) took place in January 2007 at the Natural History Museum London where deep-sea polychaete specialists from several CeDAMar projects met and compared reference specimens.


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