Eleventh Annual Grant Winners 2010-2011
Title: Student Research in Coral Reef Taxonomy & Genomics: The Moorea Biocode Project
Richard Dodge, Ph.D. (OSC)
Don Rosenblum, Ph.D. (FAR)
Faculty and Students:
James Thomas, PhD (OSC)
Despite increasing concerns of the effects of multiple global impacts and threats in marine environments, very little is actually known about the status and trends of marine biodiversity at all spatial and temporal scales. To date most efforts to document marine biodiversity have focused on charismatic vertebrate megafauna, and macro-invertebrates (>20mm in size) whose larval stages undergo potential long distance dispersal. Recent multidisciplinary work in marine biodiversity combining classical taxonomy and modern genomics suggest concentrations on smaller invertebrate groups that lack dispersive pelagic larval stages are warranted. Often these small (<10mm) cryptic invertebrate species are the most diverse and abundant taxonomic units in marine ecosystems. Because of their ecological importance, numerical abundance, and sensitivity to a variety of toxicants and pollutants, peracarid crustaceans are increasingly being considered for use as bioindicators.
While support is building to use small cryptic invertebrates as “ecosystem exemplars” a variety of constraints preclude their widespread use as indicators. These constraints include among others the so-called “Taxonomic Impediment” - high numbers of undiscovered and undescribed species, a diminishing pool of taxonomic expertise, and the lack of readily available identification mechanisms.
Juxtaposed on these constraints are the following emerging issues: 1. the lack of skilled field taxonomists with specialized collecting skills; 2. the availability new Z-stacking computer imaging systems capable of whole animal 3D imaging; and; 3. the growing need for young scientists in these fields. Because of the PI's specialized expertise in cryptic invertebrate taxonomy, long history in marine biodiversity research, and record of student-involved research the Moorea BioCode Project has extended and invitation and support for the PI and two student researchers to join the “Peracarid Research Team” at the Gump Marine Station in Moorea. This is an unparalleled opportunity for the PI and students to work in cutting-edge, large scale science.