Research Topic

The Azores marine ecosystem: an open window into North Atlantic open ocean and deep-sea environments

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The Azores is an oceanic archipelago in the mid North Atlantic Ocean, between the continental Europe and North America. The seafloor is mostly deep but over 100 seamounts, a fraction of the Mid Atlantic Ridge, and the slopes of the islands compose the shallowest parts. After the first expeditions to the open ...

The Azores is an oceanic archipelago in the mid North Atlantic Ocean, between the continental Europe and North America. The seafloor is mostly deep but over 100 seamounts, a fraction of the Mid Atlantic Ridge, and the slopes of the islands compose the shallowest parts. After the first expeditions to the open ocean and the deep sea in the late 19th century, extensive scientific research based in the Azores has opened a window on the functioning of large oceanic, deep-sea and seamount ecosystems and on the impacts of human activities in such ecosystems.
Research centred in the Azores helped describing new large scale currents in the Atlantic Ocean, characterizing the distribution of seamounts and clarifying how their food-webs are supported, demonstrated the importance of seamounts as essential habitats for many species and as aggregating points for pelagic biodiversity, understanding migration patterns of large baleen whales that suspend their migration to forage at mid-latitude areas, and demonstrating that large pelagic migratory elasmobranchs link surface, mesopelagic and deep-sea habitats. Research in the Azores hydrothermal vent fields have demonstrated that these are not isolated ecosystems and have produced the first transcriptome of a vent animal. The Azores was central in the development of a framework for applying the CBD criteria to locate potential ecologically or biologically significant seamount areas. Research efforts have also led to the discovery of new species and biotopes such as a new deep-sea oyster considered to be a ‘living fossil’ and the presence of 2,000 years old black deep-sea corals.
These discoveries have helped raising awareness to the need of protecting seafloor habitats. Some of the scientific evidence about the ecological importance of oceanic and deep-sea ecosystems in the Azores has passed on to conservation and fisheries management. An example is the regulation that prohibited deep-sea trawling and more recently, the Azores pioneered the designation of protected areas outside of the national EEZ as was the case of Rainbow hydrothermal vent field.
This research topic aims at producing an extensive review of the current knowledge of the marine ecosystem of the Azores; highlighting the importance of these ecosystems to wider north Atlantic. Topics to be covered include the history of deep-sea and open ocean marine research; geological processes of seamounts and mid oceanic ridges; large and small scale patterns of oceanic currents; biogeography and biodiversity of Azores marine life; status and impacts of the Azores marine alien species; the influence of climate variability and climate change on biodiversity; connectivity patterns of deep-sea and open ocean fauna; food web of the Azores marine ecosystem; the history of exploitation of the Azores; wealth from the ocean; the impact of human activities on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning; the future of marine science in the Azores: a mid-Atlantic observatory.
We expect to attract an international multidisciplinary team of senior and early-career scientists. We anticipate this research topic to be of global relevance since it will address some of the most relevant and hot scientific topics regarding open-ocean and deep-sea ecosystems.


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