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Biology Articles » Biodiversity » Life's a beach

Life's a beach

Scientists at Plymouth Marine Laboratory are developing new methods to rapidly assess the biodiversity of living organisms on beaches and other marine environments. They have already found many new creatures which have not been classified in previous studies.

The research is part of a programme called RAMBLERS
(Rapid Assessment of Marine Biodiversity Linked to Environmental Remediation Studies.) One of the objectives is to create a comprehensive inventory of marine plants and animals. The research, funded by Defra, also investigates how elements of the flora and fauna within this small community can be used as a representative sample for total biodiversity.

Current and historical data will be incorporated into new statistical software to predict the future distribution of life over large areas and long timescales. They will help to distinguish between natural biodiversity changes and those that are due to human activities, such as fishing, dredging, and oil and gas exploration.

The Plymouth scientists have collected hundreds of species in just a few buckets of sand taken from a beach on the Isles of Scilly, an ideal location for biodiversity studies as the marine environment there is relatively clean and undisturbed.

Marine scientist Dr Paul Somerfield from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said: "Most of these new species are microscopic worms and shrimps, too small to be seen with the naked eye. It is truly amazing just how little we really know about the marine environment and the biodiversity it supports, even in familiar places where many studies have been done before. "

Head of Marine Science R&D, Paul Leonard, said, "Defra needs successful tools to determine biodiversity. I am delighted that we have been able to make such positive progress. The researchers have a good track record of determining environmental quality at pristine and historically contaminated sites. This is of great benefit to Defra when we are drawing up licensing conditions."

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). August 2004. 

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