Scientists Create Framework for Identifying Most Endangered Marine Species

Conservation and policy efforts across the globe to protect marine species would be boosted by being able to spot those at most risk. A framework that will help in that regard has now been developed.

Fish

Fish

In collaboration with marine and taxonomic experts from across the globe, University of Queensland researchers put together the framework after a review of marine biology literature. They looked into a variety of threats that confront more than 45,000 marine species, ranging from fishing to pollution and climate change. The research appeared in the journal Ecosphere.

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Endangered species

Researchers noted that the uniqueness of this framework lies in its use of biological traits or characteristics. It relies on these qualities to evaluate marine species’ vulnerability to particular stressors or threats, including climate change, fishing, and pollution.

The analysis brought to light species that are under most threats from different sources, researchers noted.

Molluscs, corals, and echinoderms, such as sea urchins, were found, in particular, to be subject to a wide variety of threats.

“They’re affected by fishing and bycatch, pollution, and climate change,” said Dr. Nathalie Butt of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Queensland.

The research also showed that flowerpot corals – native to the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Persian Sea – were being threatened by stressors. These species are, in particular, impacted by stressors linked to climate change, including acidification of the ocean.

Similar climate change-linked stressors, which exist in marine environments across the globe, more and more threaten flying fish, starfish, and sea snails.

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“Roughly fishes are quite vulnerable to the effects of pollution, including organic, inorganic, and nutrient pollution, which was quite a surprise, as they live at a range of depths, including deep sea, which demonstrates how far the effects of pollution are spreading,” Butt said.

Protection of most vulnerable species

Actions taken by humans are ever more causing the environment to change for the worse. The rising rate of environmental change made this project necessary, the researchers stated.

Butt said that all information existing needs to be put into use to know and protect animals that are at risk. This new framework will offer some help in that regard.

By enabling the identification of specific stressors, the framework will guide conservationists and policymakers on the most fitting courses of action.

Carissa Klein, a fellow researcher, noted that it would promote more informed decisions and better allocation of resources to protect the most at-risk marine species.

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According to the UQ associate professor, the research probed all currently known marine species and threats.

“The exciting thing is that we built the framework so that we could accommodate new information, whether that be about new species or information about threatening processes,” Klein said.

What this implies is that the framework could be applied in different places using specific species and threat information in these places to preserve the ocean.

References

A trait-based framework for assessing the vulnerability of marine species to human impacts

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