In a context of increasing anthropogenic pressure on deep-sea ecosystems with fishing, mining and pollution now reaching the largest environment on the planet, protection measures have to be implemented to preserve this fragile environment. Conservation of biodiversity relies on a sound and comprehensive understanding of species distribution and ecosystems composition and dynamics. Currently, our knowledge of many marine ecosystems, particularly in the deep sea, is insufficient to anticipate changes over time and design appropriate strategies. Among the many challenges that have long impeded the efficient conservation of deep-sea ecosystems, the understanding of fine scale species distribution drivers and how that knowledge can be applied to conservation is of particular importance.
Deep-sea ecological surveys are logistically complex, time consuming and costly. Thus, increasing the sampling effort cannot be the solution and researchers have to make the best possible use of their time at sea to gather enough data. While, the most commonly used sampling systems have largely evolved and improved since the early days of deep-sea exploration, they still haven’t been able to tackle that specific challenge.
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) offer numerous opportunities to collect large amount of data with a wide range of instrument to survey deep-sea benthic ecosystems and their direct environments. However, the technology is new and has yet to be widely applied to ecological datasets. To be more than theoretical promises, AUV-based methodologies have to be implemented in field studies with objectives to only develop new tools but explore the results and include then within the much wider frame of ecological research, where their results need to be comparable to other methodologies, available structures, gears, budgets and skills.