Deep Sea News

It’s not over!

How does Coral Week end? With a bang or a whimper? Can you tell? I still don’t know.
Three stories still sit on my desktop. While I polish them off, consider this:

Coral reefs are in decline around the world, and species are disappearing every day. But new species are being discovered, too. So, can society mitigate species loss by investing in species discovery? Below the fold is a graphic illustrating coral species discovery rates since the 1750′s.



Cairns, SD. 2007. Deep-water corals: an overview with special reference to diversity and distribution of deep-water scleractinian corals. Bulletin of Marine Science, 81(3): 311-322.


  1. #1 Lassi Hippeläinen
    May 3, 2008

    “So, can society mitigate species loss by investing in species discovery?”

    No. What we know is irrelevant to biosystems.

  2. #2 Peter
    May 3, 2008

    But our understanding of a biosystem is a function of the species we know. For example, oceanographers recently discovered most primary production in the ocean is from cyanobacteria.

  3. #3 kevin z
    May 3, 2008

    In the graph, you could almost see where the Beagle and Challenger expeditions were by the slight jumps in # of species between 1839-1849, around the time when the Beagle’s inventory was being described, and between 1889-1909, about the time Challanger expedition’s collections would be described. Does that make sense? Does Dr. Cairns offer any other explanations in his paper?

  4. #4 Peter Etnoyer
    May 7, 2008

    Steve Cairns says: “I do indeed offer explanation for these four “pulses” of species descriptions, as I call them. That is the bulk of my paper in 2001 on “A brief history of taxonomic research on azooxanthellate Scleractinia”… The 1849 pulse was due to Milne Edwards and Haime, not the Beagle. The later pulse (#3) was due to nationalistic deep-water dredging cruises published upon by Alcock (Investigator), Marenzeller (Siboga), and Vaughan (Albatross).”

  5. #5 kevin
    May 7, 2008

    Peter, your question doesn’t make sense. Discovery of new species does not mitigate the loss except in a purely mathematical sense. As long as the rate of discovery exceeds the rate of loss the total number of known species increases. I don’t understand how this mitigates the loss to the ecosystem. I must be missing your point entirely. Would you mind giving a fuller explanation?

  6. #6 kevin z
    May 7, 2008

    I agree “other” kevin, when a species goes extinct its function or service in the ecosystem goes extinct too. Not every species web has other players that pick up those functions necessarily to the ability of the extinct one. This can have cascading effects in a community or ecosystem. There are many examples of this.

    Additionally, we can’t even make that argument in the first since there will inevitably be more species unknown than we can rapidly identify in comparison to those already described. There is unknowable, but definite amount of species on this planet. Thinking about it mathematically, subtraction is ocurring at a faster rate the addition, but we never know what that other side of the equals sign is…

  7. #7 Peter
    May 7, 2008

    Ok, lemme try again.

    Is it worth it for society to invest in species discovery? Perhaps searching for cryptic congeners or different genotypes that might be better adapted to new conditions?

    Knowlton’s discovery of different strains of zooxanthellae in reefs corals comes to mind. Don’t you feel better knowing more than one type of Symbiodinium will colonize a coral colony? Doesn’t that broaden your perspective about possible means of adaptation?

  8. @peter “Is it worth it for society to invest in species discovery?”

    Wow. If that was the point you try to make then I was really off base. Yes, it is worth it. A full justification would not fit easily into a blog comment so I’ll just leave it at that.

    @kevin z “…there will inevitably be more species unknown than we can rapidly identify in comparison to those already described.”

    Is there any support for that statement? Have good calculations been made of the current rate of discovery vs. speciation? I’m not up on the lit in this area so a citation would be appreciated.