Using traditional species counts, tropical coral reefs have long been considered the areas of greatest biodiversity for fish and other marine life. In the new study, an international team led by Rick Stuart-Smith of the University of Tasmania used data collected through the Reef Life Survey programme, a ‘citizen science’ initiative developed in Tasmania, to analyse ecosystems based on a detailed matrix of ‘functional traits’.
These included what the fish eat, how they eat it, where they live, whether they’re active at night or during the day, and how gregarious they are.
The result was a biodiversity map quite different to the traditional view, including hotspots in nutrient-rich temperate areas. ‘Determining the biology and ecology of these fishes – noting what they do and how they do it – alters hotspots of diversity,’ said one of the study’s co-authors, Jon Lefcheck of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. ‘Coral reefs remain the most species- rich habitats on Earth, but a trait-based view reveals new areas where the diversity of ways in which fishes function is even higher.’
‘Functional biodiversity is highest in places such as the Galápagos with only moderate species counts,’ added Duffy, ‘whereas functional biodiversity is low in many classical hotspots with high species counts, such as the iconic coral triangle of the west Pacific.’
This story was published in the November 2013 edition of Geographical Magazine