Published July 3, 2017 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Functional response to food limitation can reduce the impact of global change in the deep-sea benthos

  • 1. Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita e dell'Ambiente, Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, 60131, Italy
  • 2. Scienze e Ingegneria della Materia, dell'Ambiente ed Urbanistica, Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, 60131, Italy
  • 3. Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita e dell'Ambiente, Università degli Studi di Cagliari, Cagliari, 09126, Italy
  • 4. Dipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro, Bari, 70125, Italy
  • 5. Dipartimento per lo Studio del Territorio e delle sue Risorse, Università di Genova, Genova, 16132, Italy
  • 6. Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita e dell'Ambiente, Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, 60131, Italy; Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Napoli, 80121, Italy


Aim: A key paradigm of deep-sea ecology is that the ocean interior is a food-limited environment,
which limits the faunal growth. Here, we estimated the efficiency of deep-sea fauna in exploiting
resources to assess the potential response of deep-sea organisms to changes in the food inputs
expected with global change.

Location: Mediterranean Sea.

Time period: 1989–2010.

Major taxa studied: Viruses, prokaryotes, meiofauna, macrofauna and megafauna.

Methods: Using the largest data set spanning from microbes to megafauna produced synoptically so far, we investigated patterns of abundance, biomass and ecosystem efficiency across depth-related and longitudinal gradients of food availability in both Western and Eastern Basins of the Mediterranean Sea.

Results: Our results revealed that prokaryotes dominated benthic biomass at depths > 2,000 m. Contrary to what has been reported at a global scale, meiofaunal biomass decreased with increasing water depth more rapidly than macrofauna and megafauna. Meiofauna showed a significant negative log-linear relationship with increasing water depth in the whole Mediterranean Sea,
whereas the other benthic components, from viruses to megafauna, did not decrease significantly, decreased or even increased (e.g., prokaryotes) with increasing water depth. Taking all components together, the efficiency of benthic ecosystems in exploiting organic carbon (OC) inputs increased with increasing depth, in both mesotrophic and ultra-oligotrophic conditions of the deep Mediterranean

Main conclusions: Changes in ecological efficiency in exploiting the energy available in food limited conditions suggest that deep-sea ecosystems can show a responsive adaptation to changes in OC inputs from the photic zone. Our results contribute to explaining the high efficiency of resource exploitation by consumers in limited trophic conditions and allow us to hypothesize that
the consequences of a potential reduction of food supply in deep-sea ecosystems induced by global changes could be less severe than expected.


This document is the accepted Authors' Copy of the paper published in Global Ecology and Biogeography, 26:1008–1021.; doi: 10.1111/geb.12608 . The original manuscript was received on 17 February 2016, accepted on 10 May 2017 and published on 3 July 2017. This research was supported by the EU H2020 MERCES (Marine Ecosystem Restoration in Changing European Seas) project (Grant Agreement No. 689518).


Gambi_et_al_ 2017_ pre-print version.pdf

Files (1.1 MB)

Name Size Download all
1.1 MB Preview Download

Additional details


MERCES – Marine Ecosystem Restoration in Changing European Seas 689518
European Commission