The Nazaré submarine canyon extends ~ 210 km westward from the coast of Portugal, down to a water depth of > 4300 m. The considerable habitat heterogeneity found throughout the canyon is affected by strong currents and high turbidity, especially in the upper parts of the canyon. The canyon morphology comprises steep slopes, scarps, terraces, and overhangs, and a deeply incised thalweg is found in the lower part of the canyon. The seabed within the canyon is composed of varying proportions of rock and sediments that range from sand to fine mud. This great variation in physical environment is reflected by the varied fauna inhabiting the canyon. Diversity tends to decrease with depth, but there is also continual replacement of species with increasing water depth. Certain groups, such as the gorgonians and sea lilies, tend to be found on rocky surfaces, while large protozoans dominate the sediments at 3400-m depth. In addition to describing the fauna of Nazaré Canyon, we discuss experiments undertaken as part of the HERMES project to elucidate the ecosystem function processes operating in the deeper parts of the canyon.
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