Marine Biodiversity

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 271–286 | Cite as

Invertebrate diversity of the unexplored marine western margin of Australia: taxonomy and implications for global biodiversity

  • Gary C. B. PooreEmail author
  • Lynda Avery
  • Magda Błażewicz-Paszkowycz
  • Joanna Browne
  • Niel L. Bruce
  • Sarah Gerken
  • Chris Glasby
  • Elizabeth Greaves
  • Anna W. McCallum
  • David Staples
  • Anna Syme
  • Joanne Taylor
  • Genefor Walker-Smith
  • Mark Warne
  • Charlotte Watson
  • Alan Williams
  • Robin S. Wilson
  • Skipton Woolley
Original Paper


However derived, predictions of global marine species diversity rely on existing real data. All methods, whether based on past rates of species descriptions, on expert opinion, on the fraction of undescribed species in samples collected, or on ratios between taxa in the taxonomic hierarchy, suffer the same limitation. Here we show that infaunal macrofauna (crustaceans and polychaetes) of the lower bathyal depth range are underrepresented among available data and documented results from Australia.

The crustacean and polychaete fauna (only partially identified) of the bathyal continental margin of Western Australia comprised 805 species, representing a largely novel and endemic fauna. Overall, 94.6% of crustacean species were undescribed, while 72% of polychaete species were new to the Australian fauna, including all tanaidaceans, amphipods, and cumaceans, as well as most isopods. Most species were rare, and the species accumulation rate showed no sign of reaching an asymptote with increasing area sampled. Similar data are likely for the largely unexplored bathyal regions. This leads us to conclude that the numbers upon which extrapolations to larger areas are based are too low to provide confidence. The Southern Australian and Indo-West Pacific deep-sea regions contribute significantly to global species diversity. These regions and bathyal and abyssal habitats generally are extensive, but are so-far poorly sampled. They appear to be dominated by taxonomically poorly worked and species-rich taxa with limited distributions. The combination of high species richness among infaunal taxa—compared to better known taxa with larger individuals, higher endemism than presently acknowledged because of the presence of cryptic species, the low proportion of described species in these taxa, and the vast extent of unexplored bathyal and abyssal environments—will lead to further accumulation of new species as more and more deep sea regions are explored. It remains to be tested whether ratios of 10 or more undescribed to described species, found in this study for the dominant taxa and for the deep Southern Ocean and the Indo-West Pacific, are replicable in other areas. Our data and similar figures from other remote regions, and the lack of faunal overlap, suggest that Appeltans et al.’s (Current Biology 22:1–14, 2012) estimate that between one-third and two-thirds of the world’s marine fauna is undescribed is low, and that Mora et al.’s (PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001127. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127, 2011) of 91% is more probable. We conclude that estimates of global species, however made, are based on limited data.


Marine diversity Species estimates Australia Crustacea Polychaetes Annelida Taxonomy Endemism 



We are grateful to many colleagues from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research for their contributions to the Voyages of Discovery research program. We thank Nic Bax for help in securing funds, Rudy Kloser for his part in leadership of the surveys, Franzis Althaus who prepared the map, and Mark Lewis, Bruce Barker, and Karen Gowlett-Holmes for taking the samples while on board the FRV Southern Surveyor. They were assisted by Julian Finn (Museum Victoria). We acknowledge the Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population, and Communities, and the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship for financial support and the field and laboratory components of the Voyages of Discovery program. We appreciate the valuable contribution of Jim Lowry (Australian Museum) who identified some amphipods, Jean Just (Copenhagen) who commented on some asellote isopod identifications, Kamille Hammerstrom (Moss Landing Marine Laboratories) who provided data from the Californian study, and anonymous referees for commentary on earlier versions of this paper.

This work has been funded through the National Environmental Research Program (NERP) program, an Australian Government initiative supporting world class, public good research. The NERP Marine Biodiversity Hub is a collaborative partnership between the University of Tasmania, CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship, Geoscience Australia, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Museum Victoria, Charles Darwin University, and the University of Western Australia ( The contribution of M. Błażewicz-Paszkowycz was supported by the National Science Centre, Poland (contract 7984/B/P01/2011/40). The paper is a contribution to COMARGE (Continental Margin Ecosystems) (, one of 14 Census of Marine Life (CoML field projects, dedicated to the description and understanding of biodiversity patterns on continental margins.

Contributions of the authors

G. Poore prepared the first draft of the manuscript and saw it to publication; he and N. Bruce identified and commented on the isopods, M. Błażewicz-Paszkowycz contributed data on tanaidaceans, A. Syme on myodocopid ostracods, G. Walker-Smith on amphipods, cumaceans, and leptostracans with help from J. Taylor for Phoxocephalidae and S. Gerken on cumaceans, M. Warne on podocopid and platycopid ostracods; E. Greaves, C. Glasby, C. Watson, S. Woolley and R. Wilson identified polychaetes and R. Wilson contributed to the discussion of global diversity; J. Browne and D. Staples extracted specimens from sediments and sorted to major taxon; Anna McCallum calculated the species accumulation curves; and A. Williams initiated and organised the sampling, managed the research program and provided valuable insights into the discussion.

Supplementary material

12526_2014_255_MOESM1_ESM.docx (28 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 27 kb)
12526_2014_255_MOESM2_ESM.docx (58 kb)
ESM 2 (DOCX 57 kb)


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary C. B. Poore
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lynda Avery
    • 1
  • Magda Błażewicz-Paszkowycz
    • 2
  • Joanna Browne
    • 1
  • Niel L. Bruce
    • 3
    • 9
    • 10
  • Sarah Gerken
    • 4
  • Chris Glasby
    • 5
  • Elizabeth Greaves
    • 1
  • Anna W. McCallum
    • 1
  • David Staples
    • 1
  • Anna Syme
    • 1
  • Joanne Taylor
    • 1
  • Genefor Walker-Smith
    • 1
  • Mark Warne
    • 6
  • Charlotte Watson
    • 5
  • Alan Williams
    • 7
  • Robin S. Wilson
    • 1
  • Skipton Woolley
    • 1
    • 8
  1. 1.Museum VictoriaMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Polar Biology and Ocean biologyUniversity of ŁódźŁódźPoland
  3. 3.Museum of Tropical QueenslandQueensland MuseumTownsvilleAustralia
  4. 4.Department of Biological Sciences and Liberal Studies ProgramUniversity of AlaskaAnchorageUSA
  5. 5.Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern TerritoryDarwinAustralia
  6. 6.School of Life and Environmental SciencesDeakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia
  7. 7.CSIRO Wealth from Oceans FlagshipMarine LaboratoriesHobartAustralia
  8. 8.Quantitative and Applied Ecology Group, The School of BotanyThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  9. 9.School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  10. 10.Water Research Group (Ecology)North-West UniversityPotchefstroomSouth Africa

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