Understanding the diversity and species patterns of the deep sea will have an extensive impact on the accurate assessment of global biodiversity. The observed number of species in sediments suggests that a huge diversity could exist, but a coordinated program of exploration is required.
Dr. Verena Tunnicliffe has established herself as one of the leading authorities on deep-water life, particularly associated with the hydrothermal vents on mid-ocean ridges and cold seeps on continental margins. Both types of formations are excellent ecosystems to address current issues in diversity regulation because of several distinct features.
Dr. Tunnicliffe's research program will examine patterns of species distribution in the deep sea and processes that affect biodiversity. Animal communities of hydrothermal vents provide an unusually rich setting to study diversity. Dr. Tunnicliffe will focus on two key objectives. The first will be to define the major diversity regulating mechanisms in marine benthic communities. The second objective is to assess responses in diversity of benthic and hyperbenthic faunal communities to predictable/seasonal processes in the upper ocean, and unpredictable food inputs and upper ocean events.
New techniques in deep-sea research will be developed through the establishment of the Victoria Experimental Network UnderSea (VENUS) observatory. This underwater array of fibre optic cables will connect instruments placed at strategic nodes to the scientist ashore. The array will be deployed in water channels between Vancouver Island and the mainland where a team of researchers will investigate water column, seafloor and sub-seafloor phenomena. Using VENUS, Dr. Tunnicliffe's team and other ocean scientists will be able to observe remote events as they happen and initiate sampling or experimentation in response.