A primer for use of genetic tools in selecting and testing the suitability of set-aside sites protected from deep-sea seafloor massive sulfide mining activities
Seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) mining will likely occur at hydrothermal systems in the near future. Alongside their mineral wealth, SMS deposits also have considerable biological value. Active SMS deposits host endemic hydrothermal vent communities, whilst inactive deposits support communities of deep water corals and other suspension feeders. Mining activities are expected to remove all large organisms and suitable habitat in the immediate area, making vent endemic organisms particularly at risk from habitat loss and localised extinction. As part of environmental management strategies designed to mitigate the effects of mining, areas of seabed need to be protected to preserve biodiversity that is lost at the mine site and to preserve communities that support connectivity among populations of vent animals in the surrounding region. These “set-aside” areas need to be biologically similar to the mine site and be suitably connected, mostly by transport of larvae, to neighbouring sites to ensure exchange of genetic material among remaining populations. Establishing suitable set-asides can be a formidable task for environmental managers, however the application of genetic approaches can aid set-aside identification, suitability assessment and monitoring. There are many genetic tools available, including analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences (e.g. COI or other suitable mtDNA genes) and appropriate nuclear DNA markers (e.g. microsatellites, single nucleotide polymorphisms), environmental DNA (eDNA) techniques and microbial metagenomics. When used in concert with traditional biological survey techniques, these tools can help to identify species, assess the genetic connectivity among populations and assess the diversity of communities. How these techniques can be applied to set-aside decision making is discussed and recommendations are made for the genetic characteristics of set-aside sites. A checklist for environmental regulators forms a guide to aid decision making on the suitability of set-aside design and assessment using genetic tools. This non-technical primer document represents the views of participants in the VentBase 2014 workshop.
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