The earth has four spheres and they all interact with one another. They are the biosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere, and hydrosphere.
The hydrosphere (water) consists of groundwater, glacial water, surface water, freshwater, and oceans. While some living things live on land, some fly in the sky, and others live in the waters.
Living organisms living in the sea include invertebrates like clams, starfish, octopi, plants like red algae, seaweed, and kelp as well as vertebrates like sharks, bony fish, whales, among others.
These living organisms in the seas are affected by many conditions. These conditions determine their distribution and population. Climate change like increased temperature can result in decreased oxygenation, especially in near-surface waters. It can also cause coral bleaching which can result in increased mortality among coral-dwelling populations.
In response to increased temperature, mobile animals like fish can move towards the cooler polar regions or deeper into the water for preferred oxygen levels and temperature range. Inconsistencies in ocean currents can also adversely affect marine organisms. Young organisms may be carried into areas where they may not survive, and adults may be bathed in water whose salinity, chemistry, and temperature are intolerable.
Other factors that could affect marine organisms include acidification of the seas which can cause faster breakdown of the shells of shell-producing animals. This in turn hampers the animals’ ability to grow and reproduce.
The factors above and many more determine the distribution of the organisms in the oceans and seas. Knowledge of the distribution pattern and factors affecting the distribution of species in space and time is important for the conservation and management of marine species. This knowledge will also help in improving recreational fishing and the economies of communities that rely on fishing.
Bridging the knowledge gap
To provide knowledge about the distribution of marine species, NOAA fisheries in collaboration with the Global Change Ecology and Evolution Lab at Rutgers University produced the NOAA Fisheries distribution mapping and analysis portal (DisMAP), which emerged from the OceanAdapt website. The OceanAdapt website was produced by a collaboration between Rutgers University, NOAA fisheries, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
DisMAP displays data from the bottom trawl surveys of NOAA fisheries in five regions in the United States ( West Coast, Northeast, Southeast, Alaska, and the Gulf of Mexico) and incorporates a map viewer and graphing capabilities for more than 800 marine fishes and species of invertebrates caught during the surveys.
The portal permits users to visually examine the changes in the distribution of selected species of interest over time. This is achieved by looking at both the location maps and the graphs showing the key indicators of a species distribution like depth, range limits, and change in latitude.
Regional level distribution changes can also be viewed by the user which can indicate broader community-level changes.
The continued changes in climate and oceans impact marine species. Understanding the distribution of marine species over time will help the management in making decisions like spatial closures and allocations and also prepare the nation for climate changes.
The consolidation of species distribution data into a user-friendly and interactive website by DisMap provides enlightenment and the needed information for decision-making and education.
The uncertainty in marine species distribution has been solved by the DisMAP in five regions in the United States. This shows a glimpse of hope that species distribution in other seas and oceans of the world can be studied as well with further research.