Marine biodiversity: global patterns, problems and solutions

This week at QAECO we’ve been talking about global patterns of marine biodiversity.

Our discussion this week focused on the paper by Tittensor et al. (2010) that tested six hypotheses relating to global patterns of marine biodiversity. The authors concluded that sea surface temperature – a variable selected to represent the kinetic energy hypothesis – is the primary driver of marine biodiversity at a global scale. They argued that global changes in temperature, especially those driven by anthropogenic impacts, could dramatically alter the distributions of marine taxa.

Moon Jelly

We thought that undertaking this global analysis was a massive feat. Tittensor et al. (2010) modeled the species richness of an impressive number of groups including: fishes, sharks, pinnipeds, mangroves, squids and corals! Overall, the statistical methodology was robust and neatly accounted for spatial correlation in the data. However, we would have liked to have seen the predictive ability of models explored in more detail, in addition to reporting the explanatory power of each model.

The issue of scale is one that we kept coming back to. Selecting an appropriate spatial grain of data is key to global analyses, and several of us felt that testing drivers such as oxygen depletion at an 880-km grid resolution was problematic. Future studies could build on the work of Tittensor et al. (2010) by increasing the resolution of data and thereby reducing the grain size of cells. This could help to make accurate regional-scale predictions and also help us to understand the relative roles of drivers at different scales.

In Finland they call this the “Fat Fish”

As the authors acknowledge, the data for several taxonomic groups was relatively sparse and detailed distribution records were unavailable for large areas of the globe. This stands especially true in marine systems, which are typically under-sampled and often focused on economically harvested species, in comparison to their terrestrial counterparts. For example, marine scientists know very little about deep sea biodiversity. We need to do a better job of monitoring marine biodiversity.

QAECO doesn’t only have a terrestrial focus. In fact, we even have a few marine focused scientists floating around. Reflecting the broad range of marine diversity out there we have a broad range of interests:

  • Deep-sea biodiversity. Skipton Woolley is undertaking a PhD that aims to combine correlative and mechanistic analyses to determine patterns and processes of bathyal species at oceanic scales.
  • Invasive marine species. Kimberley Millers is studying the detection and search efficiency for a marine invasive seastar, Asturias amurensis, in Victoria.
  • Marine connectivity. Michael Bode has completed several studies on the connectivity patterns of coral reef fish and the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef.

By Skipton, Heini, Luke and team

Tittensor, D.P., Mora, C., Jetz, W., Lotze, H.K., Ricard, D., Vanden Berghe, E. & Worm, B. (2010) Global patterns and predictors of marine biodiversity across taxa. Nature, 466, 1098-1101.

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