How many species are there in the ocean? This simple question is difficult to answer because much of the ocean is unexplored, and a large fraction of the diversity is undescribed. My current research is motivated by the pressing need to document and understand biodiversity, and by the realization that many marine species, thought to be well-known, appear in the light of molecular data, to be cryptic complexes. I take advantage of large-scale biodiversity surveys to comprehensively document (both geographically and taxonomically) patterns of diversity, to estimate how much diversity is unrecognized, and understand the origin of these patterns.
Understanding the origins of biodiversity
My research interests are motivated by the diversity of life at all levels of organization. Why do species have the shape and the colors they have? Why are there more species in some areas than others? Why are some taxonomic groups more diverse than others? I strive to develop robust and comprehensive phylogenies and use the information they provide to understand the mechanisms and causes behind these ubiquitous patterns.
Sampling biodiversity is difficult because most species are rare and marine invertebrates inhabit difficult to sample habitats. Marine organisms are especially challenging as time that be spent underwater is limited. However, most invertebrates go through a dispersive planktonic stage, and because few reach the adult stage, many thousands of larvae are produced. Advances in DNA sequencing technology enable the identification of species that occur in community samples such as plankton tows, encrusting communities, and fish gut contents, through meta-barcoding. I am investigating how these technologies can be used to speed up the documentation of species diversity.