Finding the hot spots of marine diversity

- July 28, 2010

Derek Tittensor
Dal's Derek Tittensor is the lead author of the Canada-U.S. study. (Nick Pearce Photo.)
Dalhousie researchers have spearheaded a groundbreaking study examining marine biodiversity in the world’s oceans. Led by Derek Tittensor, the study examines an unprecedented 11,000 marine species ranging from microscopic plankton to the whales and sharks.

The international project also includes Dal professors Camilo Mora, Heike Lotze, Daniel Ricard and Boris Worm, Edward Vanden Berghe from Rutgers University, and Walter Jetz from Yale University.

By studying a broad range of species, both big and small, researchers were able to draw conclusions and map certain “hot spots” of diversity.

“Areas that we identified as hot spots had higher numbers of multiple species,” says Dr. Tittensor, postdoctoral fellow with Dalhousie’s Department of Biology. “Unfortunately, these areas also tend to be more vulnerable to outside influences such as commercial fishing, pollution and other types of habitat interference.”

The one thing that areas of marine biodiversity appear to have in common is temperature. Typically, areas that are hot spots of diversity have higher temperatures, but this is not always the case. The areas around the North and South Poles are home to many species of marine life such as seals, whales and multiple species of fish. Even so, Dr. Tittensor warns we should still be very concerned about the rising temperature of our world’s oceans.

“The main goal of this research was to be able to better inform conservation and management of the environment in regards to the ocean and marine life. By highlighting areas of marine biodiversity we can hopefully better manage them,” he notes. “This study will also be able to provide a baseline for future research. Forty or 50 years from now, researchers will be able to use this study as a baseline measurement and track changes in the marine environment.”

The study authors point out the diversity of life in the global ocean is severely threatened. A steady onslaught of exploitation, habitat alteration, pollution and climate change auger a menace to the very makeup of the oceans. The authors suggest that limiting ocean warming and other human impacts is key to secure these hotspots of marine biodiversity in future.

The research findings are published in the July 28, 2010 edition of the scientific journal Nature.

SEE THE ARTICLE: Global patterns and predictors of marine biodiversity across taxa in Nature


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