The most recent issue of Oceanography includes a paper by a team of marine scientists from around the nation on a framework for a Marine Biodiversity Observing Network (MBON). The keys to building an effective MBON will be to:

  1. Determine the minimum set of observations needed to define ocean biodiversity, and
  2. Establish connections between existing international ecological time-series programs and standardize methodologies to enable comparison of data.

The authors suggest that an effective approach for monitoring ecosystem function is to monitor the abundance and diversity of marine microbes. Microbes, including bacteria and phytoplankton, are fundamental pillars of marine ecosystems. Many of the ecosystem services supporting human activities in coastal ocean waters depend on these microorganisms. The abundance of many fish species, sea birds, and marine mammals on continental shelves is critically tied to fluctuations in the abundance of these smaller planktonic organisms. These organisms respond to local oceanographic changes, which are driven both by local variations and climate change, and also by direct and indirect human pressures.

One advantage of measuring tiny microorganisms is that their number in the ocean is orders of magnitude larger than that of consumers, and their total biomass is far larger than that of all larger animals combined. Modern technologies, including ships, buoys, and sensors looking at Earth from satellites make it possible to monitor the biodiversity and productivity of these organisms over large areas of the ocean quickly, repeatedly, and over long periods of time.

The citation for the paper is:

Muller-Karger, F.E., M.T. Kavanaugh, E. Montes, W.M. Balch, M. Breitbart, F.P. Chavez, S.C. Doney, E.M. Johns, R.M. Letelier, M.W. Lomas, H.M. Sosik, and A.E. White, 2014: A framework for a marine biodiversity observing network within changing continental shelf seascapes, Oceanography, 27(2), 18-23, http://dx.doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.56.

Dr. Muller-Karger, lead author, is from the University of South Florida, College of Marine Science, Institute for Marine Remote Sensing (IMaRS). IMaRS is a local data node of the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) and is funded, in part, through the GCOOS Regional Association.

Featured image courtesy of Oceanography. This Figure and others appear in Oceanography 27(2), 18-23.