Marine Sedimentary Biota as Providers of Ecosystem Goods and Services

Jan Marcin Weslawski, Paul V.R. Snelgrove, Lisa A. Levin, Melanie C. Austen, Ronald T. Kneib,Thomas M. Iliffe, James R. Garey, Stephen J. Hawkins, and Robert B.Whitlatch

Marine sediments cover more of the Earth's surface than all other ecosystems combined (Snelgrove 1999), yet direct human experience is limited largely to the narrow zone at the interface between land and sea. Although 62 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by water greater than 1,000 m deep, only approximately 2 km2 (Paterson 1993) has been quantitatively sampled for macrofauna (invertebrates greater than 300 microns but not identifiable in photographs) and only 5 m2 (Lambshead 1993) has been sampled for meiofauna (invertebrates greater than 300 microns but retained on a 44-micron sieve). With most of the ocean sedimentary biota out of sight, we tend to ignore their role in regulating rates and processes that maintain the integrity of marine systems (Snelgrove et al. 1997), instead focusing on biologically generated products or consequences that are of direct economic benefit. The publicity associated with the Kyoto Protocol (United Nations 1992), particularly with respect to atmospheric carbon dioxide increases and carbon sequestration, has helped to broaden public concern about the role of the sea in climate regulation, but even here, the primary focus has been on the water column above the seafloor and its processes (Martin et al. 1994; Hanson et al. 2000). Public outcry in the United States and elsewhere has driven major changes in environmental policy over the last 20 years, resulting in significant improvement in environmental standards for air, land, and drinking water, and improved protection for species that are considered endangered. Unfortunately, oceans have not received similar levels of protection. Seaward deposition of waste materials generated in the terrestrial domain continues generally without regard for effects on sediments and marine benthos. Most marine sedimentary organisms are undescribed (Grassle & Maciolek 1992) and have no degree of protection.

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