One Fish, Two Fish

fish1 One Fish, Two FishThe great count is nearing its end. Marine researchers have unveiled the first tidal wave of data from the Census of Marine Life, a decade-long effort to survey all sea life. The dozen papers, published by PLOS One, begin to detail the thousands of known species – from fish to flatworms — that live in 25 regions, ranging from the icy waters of Antarctica to warm tropical seas. The data dump comes as Census researchers prepare to present a global tally in October; it is expected to include more than 230,000 marine species.

The Census, hatched by a small group of funders and scientists in the 1990s, has grown into a global effort involving hundreds of researchers. It has helped launch numerous expeditions that have documented numerous new marine species, from microscopic algae to hulking fish. Now, census takers are totaling up and mapping the finds.

The first batch of results, published August 2, report that the 25 regions each hold from 2,600 to 33,000 known, named species. Crustaceans are the most common kind of organisms, accounting for about one-fifth of the total. About 17% are mollusks, and 12% are fish. Some species were widely distributed, including the predatory manylight viperfish (Chauliodus sloani), which was found in the inky depths of more than one-quarter of the world’s marine waters. The Mediterranean earned a dubious distinction: It ranked first in alien, invasive species, with more than over 600. Most arrived from the Red Sea via the Suez Canal.

Despite the intensive survey, “most ocean organisms still remain nameless and their numbers unknown,” says marine biologist Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institution, leader of the Census’ coral reef project. “This is not an admission of failure. The ocean is simply so vast that, after 10 years of hard work, we still have only snapshots, though sometimes detailed, of what the sea contains.” – David Malakoff

Source: O’Dor, R., Miloslavich, P., & Yarincik, K. (2010). Marine Biodiversity and Biogeography – Regional Comparisons of Global Issues, an Introduction PLoS ONE, 5 (8) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011871

Image Julian Finn Museum Victoria

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