Deep Pelagic Nekton Dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico (DEEPEND) Consortium (Sutton, Director and Principal Investigator; Supported by GoMRI). The DEEPEND Consortium is a 5-year program of sampling, sensing, laboratory analysis, and numerical modeling that builds on the synergy developed during two intensive NOAA-supported programs.The DEEPEND Consortium is characterizing the oceanic ecosystem of the northern Gulf of Mexico to infer baseline conditions in the water column. This information will establish a time-series with which natural and anthropogenic changes can be detected.

DEEPEND is investigating deep-pelagic communities (0-1500 m depth) on short-term (sub-generational) and long-term (evolutionary) timescales to appraise extant recovery and future recovery of these communities from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (DWHOS) using a suite of integrated approaches. These approaches include:

1. a direct assessment of GoM deep-pelagic community structure, with simultaneous investigation of the physical and biological (including microbial) drivers of this structure, in order to document biodiversity and 'natural' variability;
a time-series, 'hindcast', comparison of biophysical data from 2015-2017 (DEEPEND sampling) to 2010-2011 DWHOS data;
an examination of differences in genetic diversity among key species; and
an assessment of the extant and potential future consequences of the DWHOS on the shallow and deep-pelagic biota.

Fishes are analyzed in Sutton's Oceanic Ecology lab at NSU's Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center. The ecological research in Sutton's lab investigates community ecology, trophic ecology, taxonomy/systemics, abundance/distribution, nearshore/offshore connectivity, depth zone connectivity, and pelagic/benthic connectivity.

We collaborate with researchers at Nova Southeastern University, the University of South Florida, Florida International University, Texas A&M University at Galveston, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Florida Atlantic University, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the National Systematics Laboratory, the San Antonio Zoo and Whale Times.


Gulf of Mexico Offshore Nekton Sampling and Analysis Program
(Sutton, Principal Investigator; Supported by NOAA). A three-vessel, 220-shipday, water column (0-1800 m) survey was designed and conducted in 2010-2011 in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Fishes, shrimps, cephalopods, and large gelatinous zooplankton were sampled both acoustically and with three types of midwater trawls. The 2000+ sample set generated from sampling is believed to be the largest of its kind ever collected. Samples are first sorted in Sutton’s lab by major taxon, and then distributed to colleagues at various institutions for further quantitative processing according to taxon:

Fishes: analyzed in Sutton’s lab at the NSU's Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center, with collaborating assistance from Dr. Jon Moore (Florida Atlantic University). Additional collaborators include Dr. Ted Pietsch (Univ. of Washington), Dr. David Johnson (Smithsonian Institution), Dr. David Wells (Texas A&M Univ.), and Dr. John Paxton (Australian Museum). Dr. Kevin Boswell (Florida International University) leads the acoustics component.

Macrocrustaceans: Shrimps, euphausiids and mysids are being analyzed in Dr. Tamara Frank’s lab at Nova Southeastern University, with collaborating assistance from Dr. Martha Nizinski (NOAA National Systematics Lab).

Cephalopods: Squid and pelagic octopods are being analyzed in Dr. Heather Judkins’ lab at the Univ. of South Florida – St. Petersburg, with collaborative assistance from Dr. Michael Vecchione (NOAA National Systematics Lab).

Gelatinous zooplankton: Cnidarians and ctenophores are being analyzed in Sutton’s lab at Nova Southeastern Universityby Dr. Marsh Youngbluth (emeritus, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution).


DEEP SEARCH (Deep-Sea Research on Coral/Canyons/Cold-seep Habitats) Research Consortium As deep-sea communities along our continental margins become discovered and explored we can begin to ask questions about the processes that contribute to the rich diversity of life found in these ecosystems. The DEEP SEARCH program has been established to conduct research on these processes. One such process involves the ecological connection between organisms living on or near the seafloor (the benthos) and organisms within the water column (the pelagos). Studies of seamount and continental slope ecology have found that the intersection of pelagic animals and deep-reef assemblages provides important trophic subsidies that support enhanced biodiversity and biomass. In addition to the provision of food, the pelagic habitat also provides critical habitat for early life-history stages of near-bottom organisms. In short, the development and maintenance of outer continental shelf ecosystems are undoubtedly related to water column processes. Dr. Sutton’s part of DEEP SEARCH is to investigate the biodiversity, abundance, and distribution of pelagic animals relative to deep coral, canyon and cold seep communities along the US Atlantic continental slope.

Global Biogeographic Classification of the Deep-Pelagic Ocean (Sutton, Dr. Malcolm Clark, NIWA New Zealand, and Dr, Daniel Dunn, Duke Univ., co-PIs; Supported by the Lenfest Ocean Program through a grant to the Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab at Duke University, and in conjunction with INDEEP). Recent global biogeographies are the backbone of efforts toward meeting objectives for representative protection of the world’s biomes (e.g., Aichi Target 11), but they concentrate on the upper water or the seafloor. With a group of experts in distributional patterns of pelagic fauna or regions, we recently constructed a classification of the world’s deep-pelagic biomes (Sutton et al.  2017. A global biogeographic classification of the mesopelagic zone. Deep Sea Research I 126: 85-102.).

Trophic and Community Structure of the Pelagic Mid-North Atlantic (Sutton, PI, with support from the National Science Foundation, Sloan Foundation, and other agencies). A multi-institutional collaboration using an array of traditional (microscopical), biochemical (stable isotope) and molecular (genetic fingerprinting) techniques to characterize and model the food web linkages and energy flow between multiple trophic levels in the deep Gulf of Mexico, with emphasis on fishes as predators and prey. 

Taxonomic and Systematic Revision of Various Deep-Sea Fish Taxa (Sutton and colleagues, with support from NOAA and other agencies). The ultra-deep (>1000 m) pelagic sampling conducted during several Census of Marine Life projects and expeditions in the Gulf of Mexico have provided material for detailed morphological and genetic systematic studies, along with a host of new species descriptions.

Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) (Dr. Lisa Levin, SIO, Director; T. Sutton Steering Committee Member). DOSI comprises an international and interdisciplinary group of natural scientists, social scientists, and representatives of civil society and industry.  The inaugural activity of DOSI took place 15-17 April 2013 at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City with support from INDEEP, the Kaplan Foundation, and UNAM (participants: A Ascencio, J Ardron, M Baker, B Currie, J Dean, E Escobar, A Figueroa, K Gjerde, P Holthus, T Koslow, A Lara-Lopez, L Levin, M Lodge, K Mengerink, L Menot, C Neumann, L Pendleton, F Pfirter, E Ramirez-Llodra, D Squires, A Sweetman, A Tawake, P Tyler, V Sierra, T Sutton, C Van Dover, H Yamamoto, U Witte).