Infinite Diversity

Photo courtesy of Infinite Diversity Project

Photo courtesy of Infinite Diversity Project

It all started when…

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a multi-million dollar grant called PIRE: Understanding marine biodiversity along geographic and anthropogenic stress gradients. The Infinite Diversity group was established in pursuit of the grant's goals to study diversity in both coral reef systems and in the people who study them. 

As the site will tell you, this project uses Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) to measure marine biodiversity gradients. ARMS are standardized (minimizing investigator bias), highly efficient, and statistically robust platforms. We primarily employ metagenomics, DNA barcoding and metabolomics to analyze the ARMS. Some of the main questions to be answered are:

  1. Do visual surveys of conspicuous groups like fish, corals, and snails (the subjects of traditional surveys) reliably capture biodiversity patterns for the groups that comprise the vast majority of marine biodiversity like viruses, microbes, protists and smaller animals?
  2. Does marine biodiversity vary predictably as a function anthropogenic stress?

I participated in one of their summer research cruises, diving to retrieve and process ARMS during our month at sea. The cruise was part of a partnership with NOAA aboard their ship the Hi'ialakai. The samples I took are currently being processed to study the metabolomes and transcritomes of competing sessile colonies of sponges, tunicates, and bryozoans.