Reef Life Survey diver surveying for fish along the reef.
An academic of The University of the South Pacific (USP) has contributed towards the internationally acclaimed Science Advances journal through his research titled: Abundance and local-scale processes contribute to multi-phyla gradients in global marine diversity.
Dr Stuart Kininmonth, who recently joined the University as a Senior Lecturer at the School of Marine Studies, is already influencing the University’s position in the international academia through his research.
Science Advances journal is an online-only gold open access journal from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s oldest and largest general science organisation.
It is the fourth peer-reviewed journal to join the Science family and publishes high-impact original research in fields from computer science and engineering to environmental, life, mathematical, physical, and social sciences.
In the first systematic worldwide survey of marine life by scuba divers, Dr Kininmonth found that large mobile invertebrates (such as crabs, lobsters, sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, snails, and octopus) were relatively abundant in colder latitudes while fishes were abundant in the tropics.
Fish, he said, appear to be superior predators in warm waters, but not in colder conditions.
“In other words, the latitudinal gradient in biodiversity reflects not only species’ preferences for particular temperatures and environmental conditions but also ecological interactions,” Dr Kininmonth noted.
He further stated that the effects of climate change on marine life vary greatly between geographic regions. For instance, “tropicalisation” of marine life in South East Australia and Tasmania is already underway, but similar effects have not yet been detected in New Zealand.
Research to date, Dr Kininmonth emphasised, has suggested this is a simple change in the range of species with temperature, and that the number of marine species declines from the tropics to polar seas.
“As fishes extend their ranges away from the equator with ocean warming, they are likely to cause a decrease in the diversity of large invertebrates, affecting food webs, ecosystems and fisheries,” Dr Kininmonth said.
Therefore, he commented that monitoring of marine life at local and regional scales is needed for early detection of such changes and to enable adaptation of fisheries and conservation management to minimise social and economic impacts.
USP, Dr Kininmonth said is in a prime position to lead research on marine diversity and conservation.
“Not only are the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) offering a diverse and magnificent environment to study but the people in each country offer a rich and stimulating cultural setting for marine science,” he said.
According to Dr Kininmonth, Monitoring of the environment is very critical to understanding of the long and short term management priorities.
He added that by requesting only trained community members to participate in monitoring, he hopes to achieve a sustainable solution for the marine environment.
He acknowledged the wonderful contributions of the citizen scientist divers around the world who have contributed to this research through the Reef Life Survey program.
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