With millions of species in the oceans, each with its own ecological role and environmental needs,
the challenge of understanding marine biodiversity is both paramount and immense.
Staff of the National Systematics Lab, and other biologists around the world, are
undertaking the fundamental task of systematizing life in the oceans.
Our knowledge of marine biological diversity is much less than that
of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. This is especially true for deep-sea and polar regions,
even though these regions comprise over 95% of the biosphere. Fisheries agencies are uniquely
situated to contribute to advancement of knowledge about marine biodiversity because of mandatory
broad-scale and long-term sampling required for marine resource management. The agency also
develops management plans based on understanding of marine ecosystems, for which
biodiversity is a fundamentally important aspect.
The graphic of the NSL front page reflects the important job undertaken by its staff. It highlights
some of the tools that we use to document marine biodiversity, specifically sampling, museum collections,
scientific illustrations, molecular sequence data,
and in situ observations. It also shows representation of some of the specific tasks that we conduct, such as
exploration, scientific description, museum curation, and phylogenetics (inferring evolutionary relationships).
Finally, the graphic is meant to convey some fo the magnitude of marine biodiversity.
Why the "hairy" tree of evolutionary relationships? The
"hairiness" is meant to give one the
impression of the enormous number of different organisms out there, each the living
representative of lineages that go back in geologic time. The
portions of marine biodiversity that our specific scientists address are highlighted.
We study tiny fragments of the tree of life.