DNA barcoding and cryptic diversity of deep-sea scavenging amphipods in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (Eastern Equatorial Pacific)
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The Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), located in the abyssal equatorial Pacific, has been subject to intensive international exploration for polymetallic nodule mining over the last four decades. Many studies have investigated the potential effects of mining on deep-sea ecosystems and highlighted the importance of defining environmental baseline conditions occurring at potential mining sites. However, current information on biodiversity and species distributions in the CCZ is still scarce and hampers the ability to effectively manage and reduce the potential impacts of mining activities. As part of the regulatory regimes adopted by the International Seabed Authority, concession holders are required to conduct an environmental impact assessment and gather baseline data on biodiversity and community structure in relation to their license areas. In the present study, we used an integrative molecular and morphological approach to assess species richness and genetic variation of deep-sea scavenging amphipods collected in two nodule-mining exploration areas (UK-1 and OMS-1 areas) and one Area of Particular Environmental Interest (APEI-6) in the eastern part of the CCZ. We analyzed the DNA sequences of the cytochrome c oxidase subunit I gene of 645 specimens belonging to ten distinct morphospecies. Molecular data uncover potential cryptic diversity in two investigated species, morphologically identified as Paralicella caperesca Shulenberger & Barnard, 1976 and Valettietta cf. anacantha (Birstein & Vinogradov, 1963). Our study highlights the importance of using molecular tools in conjunction with traditional morphological methods for modern biodiversity assessment studies, particularly to evaluate morphologically similar individuals and incomplete specimens. The results of this study can help determine species identity and ranges, information which can feed into environmental management.
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