An international team of researchers from the University of Zurich led by Professor Catalina Pimiento has unveiled the intricate dimensions of elasmobranch biodiversity, encompassing sharks and rays, the most endangered vertebrate group in the oceans. Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study employed a unique global trait dataset to assess elasmobranch functional diversity, presenting a diverse array of ecological roles played by endangered species.
Elasmobranch functional diversity plays a crucial role in preserving the oceans by revealing the intricate web of ecological roles that sharks and rays fulfil. As the most threatened vertebrate group in the oceans, understanding the functional diversity of elasmobranchs becomes paramount for effective conservation strategies. By identifying the specific ecological functions carried out by different species, researchers can pinpoint key endangered species essential for maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems. Preserving elasmobranch functional diversity is not just about safeguarding individual species but about ensuring the resilience and health of entire marine ecosystems, ultimately contributing to the long-term well-being of our oceans.
The research identified key endangered species crucial for upholding the structure of elasmobranch functional diversity, such as the longfin mako shark, Ganges shark, daggernose shark, shortfin mako shark, and scalloped hammerhead shark.
By comparing functional diversity with previously studied facets like taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity, the researchers established a new hierarchy of species and spatial conservation priorities. Spatial analyses indicated that elasmobranch functional richness is concentrated along continental shelves and around oceanic islands, unveiling 18 distinct functional diversity hotspots that only partially coincide with those of other biodiversity facets.
Dr. John Griffin of Swansea University, a co-author of the study, highlighted that many crucial hotspots for elasmobranch biodiversity coincide with fishing pressure, particularly along the coast of China and around oceanic islands and high seas. Despite the urgency of conservation efforts, the study revealed that various facets of elasmobranch biodiversity are inadequately protected within the global Marine Protected Area network, leaving these highly threatened species insufficiently protected to multiple threats.
The research emphasises the necessity of incorporating functional diversity into conservation strategies for elasmobranchs and other highly endangered species. Given the integral role elasmobranchs have played in marine ecosystems for millions of years, safeguarding their biodiversity is essential for the ongoing health of our oceans.