Invertebrate population genetics across Earth's largest habitat: the deep-sea floor

Michelle Taylor*, C. N. Roterman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Despite the deep sea being the largest habitat on Earth, there are just 77 population genetic studies of invertebrates (115 species) inhabiting non-chemosynthetic ecosystems on the deep-sea floor (below 200 m depth). We review and synthesize the results of these papers. Studies reveal levels of genetic diversity comparable to shallow-water species. Generally, populations at similar depths were well connected over 100s–1,000s km, but studies that sampled across depth ranges reveal population structure at much smaller scales (100s–1,000s m) consistent with isolation by adaptation across environmental gradients, or the existence of physical barriers to connectivity with depth. Few studies were ocean-wide (under 4%), and 48% were Atlantic-focused. There is strong emphasis on megafauna and commercial species with research into meiofauna, “ecosystem engineers” and other ecologically important species lacking. Only nine papers account for ~50% of the planet's surface (depths below 3,500 m). Just two species were studied below 5,000 m, a quarter of Earth's seafloor. Most studies used single-locus mitochondrial genes revealing a common pattern of non-neutrality, consistent with demographic instability or selective sweeps; similar to deep-sea hydrothermal vent fauna. The absence of a clear difference between vent and non-vent could signify that demographic instability is common in the deep sea, or that selective sweeps render single-locus mitochondrial studies demographically uninformative. The number of population genetics studies to date is miniscule in relation to the size of the deep sea. The paucity of studies constrains meta-analyses where broad inferences about deep-sea ecology could be made.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4872-4896
Number of pages25
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number19
Early online date22 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017


  • benthic
  • deep sea
  • genetic connectivity
  • marine
  • population genomics
  • vulnerable marine ecosystems


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