The Benthic Census Meeting
Benthic Census Meeting Report
The Census of the Fishes concept
Original Proposal to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
In October 1997, a meeting at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences brought together expert marine systematists and ecological statisticians from around the world. They were asked to consider the future of taxonomy and systematics in ocean science, and to decide what single project, achievable within a couple of years, would most advance the state of the science.
It was decided that the greatest need was to consolidate existing information about marine diversity. Many systematists have already gathered together information about the distributions of species within their taxa of specialty, yet this information has never been sythesized to provide a comprehensive understanding of global patterns.
As they exist now, in individual collections, the data on distributions are difficult to access, and are stored in such a variety of formats and media that searches across datasets are virtually impossible. The distribution data are also at risk of being lost as systematists move or retire.
As a result, basic questions about the oceans have never been answered: Where are the areas of highest diversity? Where are the boundaries between communities of different types? What determines those boundaries? For the coastal areas, several attempts have been made to define biogeographic realms. See Les Watling's marine biogeography map for a recent example. Others include maps of Large Marine Ecosystems (Sherman,K., L.M. Alexander and B.D. Gold (eds). 1993. Large Marine Ecosystems. AAAS Press, Washington) and maps of the pelagic realm (Longhurst, E.R..1998. Ecological Geography of the Sea. Academic Press, Inc, USA).
But for the the deep oceans, and the deep benthos in particular, little work has been done.
At its conclusion, the Benthic Census meeting participants unanimously recommended a project to bring together existing distribution data into a common, searchable format. They formalized this recommendation in a meeting report. This report, together with a concept paper on "the census of the fishes" written by Jesse Ausubel of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation became the guiding principle for OBIS.