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Marine Biodiversity

Healthy  Tubeworms (Ridgeia piscesae) thrive at the hot vents of the Endeavour MPA. © Verena TunnicliffeObjective: to understand how species and groups of species are related to habitat characteristics.

Understanding and evaluating biodiversity in marine ecosystems are necessary for sustainable ocean management but also challenging. Canada has the longest shoreline in the world and includes 15 distinctly different marine ecoregions, waters to ice-covered areas. Habitat diversity develops from physical gradients and other factors, including organisms such as corals and sponges that create habitat for other species.  Habitat provides both food and shelter, and changes in habitat typically alter biodiversity.

Our knowledge gaps on the diversity of marine taxa are significant, particularly for small organisms such as microbes, phytoplankton, and zooplankton, as well as for habitats such as the deep sea and the Arctic Ocean. One of the most urgent science needs regarding ocean health in Canada is to characterize the relationship between biodiversity and habitat diversity in the Arctic, given observed and projected rates of polar ice cap shrinkage and increasing industrial activities in this frontier area.

CHONe’s Marine Biodiversity projects will establish benchmarks in biotic diversity at key locations in the ocean prior to expected changes in ocean chemistry and climate. We will also characterize cryptic diversity, and uncover ecological and evolutionary relationships of organisms to understand how biodiversity of Canada’s Oceans has changed over evolutionary time and may change in the future.

Pangnirtung, Nunavut (Baffin Island) © Jon Grant
CHONe pursues research through a wide range of strategies that include:

  • Extensive field research,-  using DFO’s CCGS Hudson and ArcticNet’s Amundsen research vessels, the underwater observatories VENUS and NEPTUNE, the remotely operated vehicle ROPOS;
  • Developing new observation (e.g. DAL Blimb) and image analysis tools; Genetic analyses and barcoding;
  • Laboratory and field experiments to determine diversity and function and linkages to habitat diversity.  


Projects will provide knowledge of:

  •  Diversity in Space: Strength and form of the relationship between species and functional diversity and habitat diversity at multiple scales, particularly for frontier areas such as the Arctic and the deep sea;
  • Diversity in Time: Rate of divergence as revealed by genetic barcoding, and morphological data that provide benchmarks to understand potential impacts of Arctic warming;
  • Diversity in Society: CHONe embraces eco-informatics infrastructure and meta-data standards, data management and scientific workflow practices to ensure comprehensive and long-term accessibility of new knowledge and application in policy and management decisions.


We will synthesize results to provide: 

  • New tools and methods to analyse species and habitat relationships over time and space; 
  • Publicly accessible benchmarks/baseline data of current status and trends over time of a wide range of species and habitats;
  • Assessments of cryptic diversity and the role of Arctic history in generating biodiversity;
  • Guidelines for biodiversity monitoring programs, to continue moving from single species to ecosystem based management of marine resources in Canada.


See project list, for more information on individual projects within this theme.

See publications list for research publications and presentations within this theme.


Read the PLoS One summary report on marine biodiversity knowledge in Canada: From Sea to Sea: Canada’s Three Oceans of Biodiversity.


Watch a video of MSc student, Emily Wilson, discussing her research aboard the CCGS Hudson.

Listen to Kathleen Robert, MSc student, discussing her research of deep-sea habitats with underwater cameras.

Read Maeve Gauthier's report on her bottom trawling research:  click here  (pg 5)


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