Ocean Fish Species

Counting the Ocean's Diversity">

These zooplankton collected on a research cruise include a jellyfish, a lanternfish, a snipe eel, two large orange shrimp, a fuzzy pyrosome (which is bioluminescent), and several smaller animals.

CREDIT:

Exploring the Inner Space of the Celebes Sea 2007 Exploration, NOAA-OE.

My father once told me that the world is divided into two kinds of people: those who believe that the world is divided into two kinds of people and those who don’t. Wherever you come down on this particular issue, it’s clear that there is a common—if not always healthy—human impulse to classify objects into groups. In biology, this falls to taxonomists, whose job it is to classify living (and once-living) organisms into species, species into genera, genera into families, and so on. They do this not only to satisfy an impulse to classify, but also because it tells us something about the pace of evolution and the factors controlling it.

Taxonomists are an admirably careful and modest lot. Many spend a career sorting out the taxonomy of one or two groups. In recent years, however, there has been an effort to go further and say something about the total number of species within large groups like fishes or in large parts of the planet like the ocean. This effort goes beyond traditional taxonomy: it asks about species that have not yet been discovered.

Surprisingly, even the number of species in the ocean that have already been identified is uncertain. This is because, until recently, no one has tried to systematically catalogue the many thousands of papers, monographs, and other reports stashed in labs and libraries around the world—some quite hard to find—that describe new species. One benefit of the effort to estimate the total number of species in the ocean has been a move to consolidate these records into databases like the (WoRMS) that now contains around 226, 000 species names (excluding bacteria, viruses, and archaea). But how can the number of undiscovered species be estimated?

CREDIT:

© David Liittschwager/National Geographic

One approach is based on the species-area curve, which summarizes how the number of species in a region increases with the area of the region. By seeing how species accumulate as the area covered by taxonomic surveys increases, biologists can make estimates about how many species are in a region with an area as large as the ocean. A big problem with this approach is that the total area covered by taxonomic surveys is a miniscule part of the ocean, and thus different prediction methods can give vastly different answers.


The University of North Carolina Press Fishing North Carolina's Outer Banks: The Complete Guide to Catching More Fish from Surf, Pier, Sound, and Ocean (Southern Gateways Guides)
Book (The University of North Carolina Press)

Incorrect

2007-03-08 10:07:50 by random_handle

One study, extrapolating current rates of growth in seafood use, found that by 2048 90% of ocean fish species would be "depleted" meaning there would be insufficient quantities to depend on as a significant source of human food.
Of course, conservation efforts have already started in many countries. In the pacific NW, this issue is very well-studied with the salmon runs, which have leveled off and may actually be increasing once again.


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