Recent studies of the unexpectedly diverse assemblages of ainimals living either in, or on, deep sea sediments have revealed a community of extremely low standing crop—seemingly directly attributable to the low fallout of utilisable organic matter onto the bottom. This benthic community is also characterised by small organism size and probable low rates of biological activity measured as respiration or reproduction.
Strictly comparable sampling methods demonstrate a close similarity between Rockall Trough (NE Atlantic) and the central N Pacific in terms of the proportions of major faunal groupings present, even if the constituent species are different, despite considerable differences in standing crop. Therefore the relative proportions of the wide spectrum of small, but not necessarily simple, forms of life that comprise the deep sea benthos may vary, but little, over wide areas of the world ocean. Moreover, considerable affinity of this fauna in Rockall Trough to that of the soft muds of Scottish sea lochs is suggested, even to species common to both habitats.
The deep sea fauna seems homogeneously dispersed over large areas, the major variability occurring at the smallest possible scale—that of the size Of the organisms themselves: by structuring their habitat into a myriad of microniches these animals probably have evolved a biologically highly complex type of community, characteristically vulnerable to, and slow to recover from natural and anthropogenic perturbation. The effect on this fragile and still obscure natural community, in realizing proposals to harvest deep sea minerals, is thus likely to be local extinction of the community followed by extremely slow recovery by means of larval recruitment and immigration from surrounding areas.