UQAC marine ecology professor Dr. Mathieu Cusson and his colleagues from 13 Canadian institutions have just published the largest study to date on the biodiversity of Canada's seabed. The study, entitled "Seafloor biodiversity of Canada's three oceans: Patterns, hotspots and potential drivers", was published very recently in Diversity and Distributions, a leading journal in the field. The study assessed benthic marine biodiversity in Canada's three oceans; the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Arctic.
Dr. Mathieu Cusson orchestrated this study, which began in 2013. His postdoctoral fellow and first author of the study, Dr. Chih-Lin Wei – now a professor of oceanography at the National Taiwan University – says, "A huge effort was required to compile and analyze data from more than 13,000 samples, covering more than 6,000 sites in Canada's three oceans. We are pleased to be able to carry out this project. Finding, formatting, validating and standardizing diversity data has been difficult”. Dr. Wei adds that the most crucial step was to assure the data providers that their data was in good hands.
"Using field information compiled over several years by several laboratories, this team used data from nearly 3,400 species and taxa to identify biodiversity hotspots in Canadian marine ecosystems," said Dr. Ricardo Scrosati, co-author from St. Francis Xavier University.
The team used a state-of-the-art statistical method in biodiversity assessment. This method, developed by the renowned Taiwanese statistician Dr. Anne Chao, estimates biodiversity from a variety of sampling devices and then uses environmental information to explore the most likely causes of the observed biodiversity patterns. "With nearly 60% more taxa than previous studies, our study shows unprecedented biodiversity hotspots, including in the Canadian Arctic, showing that the dominant view of declining diversity with latitude is not always valid," explains the project leader Dr. Mathieu Cusson.
Dr. Scrosati says that overall, the results provide valuable information that should improve, among other objectives, the design of marine protected areas to preserve our rich and fascinating marine benthic biodiversity. "We are pleased to see the study published in this journal, as it has a very high impact factor, suggesting that the study will be widely seen in the scientific community around the world. In this way, we hope to attract talented colleagues and students to further their studies in marine biology and we also hope to see our approaches applied in other parts of the world towards a global synthesis that science is still searching for," said Dr Scrosati.
Why study the biodiversity of habitats we don't see? Dr. Mathieu Cusson points out that knowledge of the biodiversity of the seabed helps us understand how ecosystems function. Therefore, if in the near future ecosystems are going to be modified, these studies will urge researchers to consider the consequences on the ecosystem functioning and, ultimately, how these modifications could affect the ecosystem services they provide us with.