Stakeholder perspectives on the importance of rare-species research for deep-sea environmental management
The apparent prevalence of rare species (rarity) in the deep sea is a concern for environmental management and conservation of biodiversity. Rare species are often considered at risk of extinction and, in terrestrial and shallow water environments, have been shown to play key roles within an ecosystem. In the deep-sea environment, current research focuses primarily on abundant species and deep-sea stakeholders are questioning the importance of rare species in ecosystem functioning. This study asks whether deep-sea stakeholders (primarily scientists) view rare-species research as a priority in guiding environmental management. Delphi methodology (i.e., an iterative survey approach) was used to understand views about whether or not ‘deep-sea scientists should allocate more resources to research on rare species in the deep sea, even if this means less resources might be available for abundant-species research.’ Results suggest little consensus regarding the prioritization of resources for rare-species research. From Survey 1 to Survey 3, the average participant response shifted toward a view that rare-species research is not a priority if it comes at a cost to research on abundant species. Participants pointed to the need for a balanced approach and highlighted knowledge gaps about even the most fundamental questions, including whether rare species are truly ‘rare’ or simply under-sampled. Participants emphasized the lack of basic biological knowledge for rare and abundant species, particularly abundant meio- and microscopic species, as well as uncertainty in the roles rare and abundant species play in ecosystem processes. Approaches that jointly consider the role of rare and abundant species in ecosystem functioning (e.g., biological trait analysis) may help to clarify the extent to which rare species need to be incorporated into deep-sea environment management in order to maintain ecosystem functioning.