August 3, 2010

Census Of Marine Life Highlights Most Biodiverse Waters

The waters surrounding Australia and Japan are home to the greatest variety of aquatic lifeforms, and crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, crayfish and shrimp are the most common species in the world's seas, according to the findings of the Census of Marine Life.

The information, which was disclosed in a series of articles published Monday in the open access journal PLoS ONE, comes from a decade-long effort by more than 360 scientists to catalog species in 25 different regions, ranging from tropical and temperate seas to the waters of the Arctic and Antarctic.

"Australian and Japanese waters, which each feature almost 33,000 forms of life that have earned the status of 'species' (and thus a scientific name such as Carcharodon carcharias, a.k.a. the great white shark), are by far the most biodiverse," Census officials said in a press release dated August 2.

The oceans near China, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico rounded out the top five most diverse areas, according to the Census press release.

Furthermore, of the known species that they observed, 19-percent were Crustaceans, 17-percent were Mollusca (squids, clams, slugs, etc.), and 12-percent were classified as Pisces (fish, including sharks). Protozoa and Algae were tied for the fourth most common slot with 10-percent each.

"This inventory was urgently needed for two reasons," Dr. Mark Costello of New Zealand's University of Auckland, New Zealand, the lead author of the collection summary, said in Monday's press release. "First, dwindling expertise in taxonomy impairs society's ability to discover and describe new species. And secondly, marine species have suffered major declines... due to human activities."

The Census notes that the primary threats to marine life have come from overfishing, habitat loss, the emergence of invasive species, and pollution, with rising water temperature and sea water acidification being listed as "emerging threats" to aquatic creatures throughout the world.

"We must increase our knowledge of unknown biodiversity more quickly, lest much of it is lost without even being discovered," added Patricia Miloslavich, co-senior scientist of the Census and leader of regional studies. "The Census has made a tremendous contribution by bringing order to chaos. This previously scattered information is now all reviewed, analyzed and presented in a collection of papers at an open access journal."


Image Caption: Hydatinidae gen. sp. (red-lined paper bubble) Off Cape Nomamisaki, Kagoshima Whale Fall. This new species of hydatinid gastropod was discovered from a sperm whale carcass in the deep sea. Its tiny eyes are protected by cephalic shields. Photo Credit: Yoshihiro FUJIWARA/JAMSTEC


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