Research Topic

Monitoring Marine Biodiversity from Microbes to Apex Predators: Why, What, and How

About this Research Topic

Biodiversity (for our purposes, genetic diversity and species richness) underpins the capacity of ecosystems to provide services valued by society and, consequently, is considered to be the “master indicator” of ecosystem health. Thus, managing human activities to sustain marine biodiversity is likely to become the primary parameter for ecosystem based approaches to managing and mitigating the impacts of human activities.

There is evidence that we may be on the cusp of the 6th mass extinction on Earth. While there is strong evidence for a rapid decline in the biodiversity of terrestrial ecosystems as a consequence of human expansion, the evidence for a similar decline in the oceans is equivocal largely because of under sampling, i.e., of the estimated 2.2 million species of eukaryotic organisms in the oceans, up to 90% have yet to be discovered. This of particular concern given that the oceans contain over 90% of the Earth’s endemic phyla and habitable space.

These realities underscore the importance of the recent initiative to implement a globally coordinated, sustained, end-to-end observing system to assess changes in marine biodiversity (the collaboration between GOOS, OBIS and MBON1). Given the challenges of establishing such an observing system in a 3-dimensional ocean that covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface and the limitations of remote sensing, achieving the goals of this collaboration will be an ongoing process for many years.

Here we propose a set of analyses to assess current operational capabilities and enhancements to these capabilities that will be needed to observe and assess the impacts of changes in biodiversity on local, regional and global scales. “Current capabilities” will emphasize near real-time, sustained, and autonomous (including remotely operated) observations (in situ and remote sensing), modelling, and big data management (an end-to-end system). Questions to be addressed in this context include:

(1) What is the evidence for a global scale decline in marine biodiversity and can local scale observations be scaled up to the oceans as a whole?
(2) What are the most critical essential marine biodiversity variables that should be monitored in perpetuity (including the rationale for selecting them)?
(3) Where are the most critical sentinel sites (including Marine Protected Areas and Large Marine Ecosystems) that should be monitored in perpetuity and how big should they be (including the rationale for selecting them)?
(4) What are the observing system requirements for remote and in situ observations, linking observations and models, managing and disseminating big data, and translating big data into useful information for end users (monitoring and assessing changes in biodiversity, the drivers of change, and consequences of change)?
(5) To what extent do existing operational capabilities meet these requirements, i.e., what is operational and what is not? What enhancements are needed to meet these requirements?
(6) What procedures should be implemented to integrate MBON into existing ocean observing systems (e.g., GOOS, EuroGOOS, Australia’s IMOS and U.S. IOOS)?



1 Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) and the Marine Biodiversity Network (MBON) of the Group on Earth Observations.


Keywords: Global Ocean Observing System, biodiversity, Ocean Biogeographic Information System, Marine Biodiversity Network


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Biodiversity (for our purposes, genetic diversity and species richness) underpins the capacity of ecosystems to provide services valued by society and, consequently, is considered to be the “master indicator” of ecosystem health. Thus, managing human activities to sustain marine biodiversity is likely to become the primary parameter for ecosystem based approaches to managing and mitigating the impacts of human activities.

There is evidence that we may be on the cusp of the 6th mass extinction on Earth. While there is strong evidence for a rapid decline in the biodiversity of terrestrial ecosystems as a consequence of human expansion, the evidence for a similar decline in the oceans is equivocal largely because of under sampling, i.e., of the estimated 2.2 million species of eukaryotic organisms in the oceans, up to 90% have yet to be discovered. This of particular concern given that the oceans contain over 90% of the Earth’s endemic phyla and habitable space.

These realities underscore the importance of the recent initiative to implement a globally coordinated, sustained, end-to-end observing system to assess changes in marine biodiversity (the collaboration between GOOS, OBIS and MBON1). Given the challenges of establishing such an observing system in a 3-dimensional ocean that covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface and the limitations of remote sensing, achieving the goals of this collaboration will be an ongoing process for many years.

Here we propose a set of analyses to assess current operational capabilities and enhancements to these capabilities that will be needed to observe and assess the impacts of changes in biodiversity on local, regional and global scales. “Current capabilities” will emphasize near real-time, sustained, and autonomous (including remotely operated) observations (in situ and remote sensing), modelling, and big data management (an end-to-end system). Questions to be addressed in this context include:

(1) What is the evidence for a global scale decline in marine biodiversity and can local scale observations be scaled up to the oceans as a whole?
(2) What are the most critical essential marine biodiversity variables that should be monitored in perpetuity (including the rationale for selecting them)?
(3) Where are the most critical sentinel sites (including Marine Protected Areas and Large Marine Ecosystems) that should be monitored in perpetuity and how big should they be (including the rationale for selecting them)?
(4) What are the observing system requirements for remote and in situ observations, linking observations and models, managing and disseminating big data, and translating big data into useful information for end users (monitoring and assessing changes in biodiversity, the drivers of change, and consequences of change)?
(5) To what extent do existing operational capabilities meet these requirements, i.e., what is operational and what is not? What enhancements are needed to meet these requirements?
(6) What procedures should be implemented to integrate MBON into existing ocean observing systems (e.g., GOOS, EuroGOOS, Australia’s IMOS and U.S. IOOS)?



1 Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) and the Marine Biodiversity Network (MBON) of the Group on Earth Observations.


Keywords: Global Ocean Observing System, biodiversity, Ocean Biogeographic Information System, Marine Biodiversity Network


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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18 February 2018 Manuscript

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Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

18 February 2018 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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