Research Needs and Recommendations

The vast majority of marine sedimentary organisms are undescribed and unknown (e.g., 10 million macrofaunal species are estimated in Grassle & Maciolek 1992), with the diversity of the smaller organisms much less well understood than that of larger organisms. There is a fundamental need to document the taxonomic composition of sedimentary biota through biodiversity surveys of representative marine habitats. Although the large area of marine sedimentary habitat precludes a comprehensive biodiversity survey, it is reasonable to survey representative areas in order to generate diversity estimates for different habitat types and biogeographic maps for relatively common species. This information is critical to manage and conserve the functional properties of marine ecosystems for the long term, particularly in areas that are vulnerable to human activities (see Snelgrove et al., Chapter 7; Wall et al. 2001). A significant obstacle to the study of biodiversity is the "taxonomic impediment"—a worldwide shortage of taxonomists (Hoagland 1995; Environment Australia 1998).

The role of marine sediment biodiversity in the regulation of ecosystem processes and services is poorly understood, particularly for groups such as the fungi, protists, and meiofauna. Even for macrofauna and megafauna, the role of biodiversity has been examined in only a few studies. Levels of functional redundancy within and across groups and their relative importance must be characterized to offer predictive capabilities concerning controls on, and threats to, ecosystem processes. Given the many abiotic variables that influence biodiversity patterns and the linkages between different sedimentary ecosystems, studies of ecosystem processes and services must consider marine sediments and their biodiversity when establishing and implementing marine conservation strategies. Finally, efforts to value sedimentary biota are effectively nonexistent. Lack of direct experience alone limits our capacity to value marine sedimentary services. Aside from coral reefs, sandy beaches, and wetlands, most sedimentary habitats generate little public concern and hence often rate low in conservation priority. This situation can be altered as both scientists and the public improve their understanding of the critical roles and services provided by marine sediments in the biosphere.

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