Representing the most comprehensive and authoritative answer yet to one of humanity's most ancient questions -- "what lives in the sea?" -- Census of Marine Life scientists published an inventory of species distribution and diversity in key global ocean areas in a collection of new articles in the open access journal PLoS ONE on August 2nd.
The data obtained in the Census were combined with information collected over centuries to create a roll call of species in 25 biologically representative regions around the world. This species inventory, which is part of a PLoS ONE Collection entitled: Marine Biodiversity and Biogeography - Regional Comparisons of Global Issues, will help set a baseline for measuring any changes that humanity and nature may cause.
"To create this baseline, the Census of Marine Life explored new areas and ecosystems, discovering new species and records of species in new places," said Patricia Miloslavich co-senior scientist of the Census and leader of the regional studies.
This landmark collection of papers is a prelude to the final summary of the decade-long marine census which will be released on October 4th in London. The collection was compiled by 13 committees and over 360 scientists who assembled to create an initial profile of known marine biodiversity in Antarctica, Atlantic Europe, Australia, Baltic Sea, Brazil, Canada (East, West and Arctic), Caribbean Sea, China, Indian Ocean, Japan, Mediterranean Sea, New Zealand, South Africa, South America (Tropical East Pacific and Tropical West Atlantic), South Korea, the Humboldt Current, the Patagonian Shelf, and the USA (Northeast, Southeast, Hawaii, Gulf of Mexico, and California).
The scientists found that the number of named species contained in the 25 areas ranged from 2,600 to 33,000 with crustaceans comprising about one-fifth of all species found. Only two percent of the species inventoried comprised of vertebrates such as whales, sea lions, seals and turtles. However, for every known marine species (of all kinds) Census scientists estimate that at least four new species have yet to be discovered.
"This inventory was urgently needed for two reasons," says Dr. Mark Costello of the University of Auckland, New Zealand and lead author of the collection summary. "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."
According to the Census of Marine Life studies published in PLoS ONE, the main threats to marine life have been overfishing, lost habitat, invasive species and pollution. Emerging threats include rising water temperature and acidification of sea water.
"We must increase our knowledge of unknown biodiversity more quickly, lest much of it is lost without even being discovered," says Dr. Miloslavich. "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."
The PLoS ONE Collection: Marine Biodiversity and Biogeography - Regional Comparisons of Global Issues is freely available for anyone to read and includes two overview articles, links to maps and databases, and the first ten regional papers (with more papers to be added in weeks to come).
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Access the Census of Marine Life's full media resource center which includes:
The full press release, author contact information, high-res images and videos are available for media preview at: http://www.coml.org/embargo/what-lives-in-the-sea
Press preview copies of the two overview articles, summary and 10 regional papers can be found at: http://coml.org/embargo/what-lives-in-the-sea-appendix4
IN YOUR COVERAGE, PLEASE USE THIS URL TO LINK TO THE FREELY AVAILABLE COLLECTION OF ARTICLES (the link will go live when the embargo ends): http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/issue.pcol.v02.i09
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