29 July 2010

Marine Biodiversity Strongly Linked to Ocean Temperature

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In an unprecedented effort that will be published online on the 28th of July by the international journal Nature, a team of scientists mapped and analyzed global biodiversity patterns for over 11,000 marine species ranging from tiny zooplankton to sharks and whales

The researchers found striking similarities among the distribution patterns, with temperature strongly linked to biodiversity for all thirteen groups studied. These results imply that future changes in ocean temperature, such as those due to climate change, may greatly affect the distribution of life in the sea.

The scientists also found a high overlap between areas of high human impact and hotspots of marine diversity.

Much research has been conducted on diversity patterns on land, but our knowledge of the distribution of marine life has been more limited. This has changed through the decade-long efforts of the Census of Marine Life, upon which the current paper builds. The authors synthesized global diversity patterns for major species groups including corals, fishes, whales, seals, sharks, mangroves, seagrasses, and zooplankton. In the process, the global diversity of all coastal fish species has been mapped for the first time.

The researchers were interested in whether there are consistent "biodiversity hotspots" -- areas of especially high numbers of species for many different types of marine organisms simultaneously. They found that the distribution of marine life showed two fundamental patterns: coastal species such as corals and coastal fishes tended to peak in diversity around Southeast Asia, whereas open-ocean creatures such as tunas and whales showed much broader hotspots across the mid-latitude oceans.

The scientists also tested whether these global patterns could be consistently explained by one or more environmental factors. Temperature was the only factor found to be linked with the distribution of all species groups, with the availability of habitat also playing a role.


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