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Marine biology is the scientific study of organisms in the ocean or other marine or brackish bodies of water. Given that in biology many phyla, families and genera have some species that live in the sea and others that live on land, marine biology classifies species based on the environment rather than on taxonomy. Marine biology differs from marine ecology as marine ecology is focused on how organisms interact with each other and the environment, and biology is the study of the organisms themselves.

Marine life is a vast resource, providing food, medicine, and raw materials, in addition to helping to support recreation and tourism all over the world. At a fundamental level, marine life helps determine the very nature of our planet. Marine organisms contribute significantly to the oxygen cycle, and are involved in the regulation of the Earth's climate.[1] Shorelines are in part shaped and protected by marine life, and some marine organisms even help create new land.[2]

Marine biology covers a great deal, from the microscopic, including most zooplankton and phytoplankton to the huge cetaceans (whales) which reach up to a reported 30 meters (98 feet) in length.

The habitats studied by marine biology include everything from the tiny layers of surface water in which organisms and abiotic items may be trapped in surface tension between the ocean and atmosphere, to the depths of the oceanic trenches, sometimes 10,000 meters or more beneath the surface of the ocean. It studies habitats such as coral reefs, kelp forests, tidepools, muddy, sandy and rocky bottoms, and the open ocean (pelagic) zone, where solid objects are rare and the surface of the water is the only visible boundary.

A large proportion of all life on Earth exists in the oceans. Exactly how large the proportion is unknown, since many ocean species are still to be discovered. While the oceans constitute about 71% of the Earth's surface, due to their depth they encompass about 300 times the habitable volume of the terrestrial habitats on Earth.

Many species are economically important to humans, including food fish. It is also becoming understood that the well-being of marine organisms and other organisms are linked in very fundamental ways. The human body of knowledge regarding the relationship between life in the sea and important cycles is rapidly growing, with new discoveries being made nearly every day. These cycles include those of matter (such as the carbon cycle) and of air (such as Earth's respiration, and movement of energy through ecosystems including the ocean). Large areas beneath the ocean surface still remain effectively unexplored.

Subfields Edit

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The marine ecosystem is large, and thus there are many sub-fields of marine biology. Most involve studying specializations of particular animal groups, such as phycology, invertebrate zoology and ichthyology.

Other subfields study the physical effects of continual immersion in sea water and the ocean in general, adaptation to a salty environment, and the effects of changing various oceanic properties on marine life. A subfield of marine biology studies the relationships between oceans and ocean life, and global warming and environmental issues (such as carbon dioxide displacement).

Recent marine biotechnology has focused largely on marine biomolecules, especially proteins, that may have uses in medicine or engineering. Marine environments are the home to many exotic biological materials that may inspire biomimetic materials.

Related fields Edit

Marine biology is a branch of oceanography and is closely linked to biology. It also encompasses many ideas from ecology. Fisheries science and marine conservation can be considered partial offshoots of marine biology (as well as environmental studies).

Animals Edit

Birds Edit

Main article: Seabird

Birds adapted to living in the marine environment are often referred to as seabirds. Examples include albatross, penguins, gannets, and auks. Although they spend most of their lives in the ocean, species such as gulls can often be found thousands of miles inland.

Fish Edit

Main article: Fish

Fish anatomy includes a two-chambered heart, operculum, swim bladder, scales, fins, lips, eyes and secretory cells that produce mucous. Fish breathe by extracting oxygen from water through their gills. Fins propel and stabilize the fish in the water.

Well known fish include: sardines, anchovy, ling cod, clownfish (also known as anemonefish), and bottom fish which include halibut or ling cod. Predators include sharks and barracuda.

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InvertebratesEdit

Main article: Marine invertebrates

As on land, invertebrates make up a huge portion of all life in the sea. Invertebrate sea life includes Cnidaria such as jellyfish and sea anemones; Ctenophora; sea worms including the phyla Platyhelminthes, Nemertea, Annelida, Sipuncula, Echiura, Chaetognatha, and Phoronida; Mollusca including shellfish, squid, octopus; Arthropoda including Chelicerata and Crustacea; Porifera; Bryozoa; Echinodermata including starfish; and Urochordata including sea squirts or tunicates.

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Mammals Edit

Main article: Marine mammal

There are five main types of marine mammals.

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Reptiles Edit

Main article: Marine reptile

Reptiles which inhabit or frequent the sea include sea turtles, sea snakes, terrapins, the marine iguana, and the saltwater crocodile. Most extant marine reptiles, except for some sea snakes, are oviparous and need to return to land to lay their eggs. Thus most species, excepting sea turtles, spend most of their lives on or near land rather than in the ocean. Despite their marine adaptations, most sea snakes prefer shallow waters nearby land, around islands, especially waters that are somewhat sheltered, as well as near estuaries.[3][4] Some extinct marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs, evolved to be viviparous and had no requirement to return to land.


Marine habitatsEdit

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Main article: Marine habitats

Marine habitats can be divided into coastal and open ocean habitats. Coastal habitats are found in the area that extends from the shoreline to the edge of the continental shelf. Most marine life is found in coastal habitats, even though the shelf area occupies only seven percent of the total ocean area. Open ocean habitats are found in the deep ocean beyond the edge of the continental shelf

Alternatively, marine habitats can be divided into pelagic and demersal habitats. Pelagic habitats are found near the surface or in the open water column, away from the bottom of the ocean. Demersal habitats are near or on the bottom of the ocean. An organism living in a pelagic habitat is said to be a pelagic organism, as in pelagic fish. Similarly, an organism living in a demersal habitat is said to be a demersal organism, as in demersal fish. Pelagic habitats are intrinsically shifting and ephemeral, depending on what ocean currents are doing.

Marine habitats can be modified by their inhabitants. Some marine organisms, like corals, kelp and seagrasses, are ecosystem engineers which reshape the marine environment to the point where they create further habitat for other organisms.

Intertidal and shoreEdit

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Intertidal zones, those areas close to shore, are constantly being exposed and covered by the ocean's tides. A huge array of life lives within this zone.

Shore habitats span from the upper intertidal zones to the area where land vegetation takes prominence. It can be underwater anywhere from daily to very infrequently. Many species here are scavengers, living off of sea life that is washed up on the shore. Many land animals also make much use of the shore and intertidal habitats. A subgroup of organisms in this habitat bores and grinds exposed rock through the process of bioerosion.

Reefs Edit

Main article: Coral reef

Reefs comprise some of the densest and most diverse habitats in the world. The best-known types of reefs are tropical coral reefs which exist in most tropical waters; however, reefs can also exist in cold water. Reefs are built up by corals and other calcium-depositing animals, usually on top of a rocky outcrop on the ocean floor. Reefs can also grow on other surfaces, which has made it possible to create artificial reefs. Coral reefs also support a huge community of life, including the corals themselves, their symbiotic zooxanthellae, tropical fish and many other organisms.

Much attention in marine biology is focused on coral reefs and the El Niño weather phenomenon. In 1998, coral reefs experienced the most severe mass bleaching events on record, when vast expanses of reefs across the world died because sea surface temperatures rose well above normal.[5][6] Some reefs are recovering, but scientists say that between 50% and 70% of the world's coral reefs are now endangered and predict that global warming could exacerbate this trend.[7][8][9][10]

Open oceanEdit

Main article: Pelagic zone

The open ocean is relatively unproductive because of a lack of nutrients, yet because it is so vast, in total it produces the most primary productivity. Much of the aphotic zone's energy is supplied by the open ocean in the form of detritus. The open ocean consists mostly of jellyfish and its predators such as the mola mola.

Deep sea and trenches Edit

The deepest recorded oceanic trenches measure to date is the Mariana Trench, near the Philippines, in the Pacific Ocean at 10,924 m (35,838 ft). At such depths, water pressure is extreme and there is no sunlight, but some life still exists. A white flatfish, a shrimp and a jellyfish were seen by the American crew of the bathyscaphe Trieste when it dove to the bottom in 1960.[11]

Other notable oceanic trenches include Monterey Canyon, in the eastern Pacific, the Tonga Trench in the southwest at 10,882 m (35,702 ft), the Philippine Trench, the Puerto Rico Trench at 8,605 m (28,232 ft), the Romanche Trench at 7,760 m (24,450 ft), Fram Basin in the Arctic Ocean at 4,665 m (15,305 ft), the Java Trench at 7450 m (24,442 ft), and the South Sandwich Trench at 7,235 m (23,737 ft).

In general, the deep sea is considered to start at the aphotic zone, the point where sunlight loses its power of transference through the water.[citation needed] Many life forms that live at these depths have the ability to create their own light known as bio-luminescence.

Marine life also flourishes around seamounts that rise from the depths, where fish and other sea life congregate to spawn and feed. Hydrothermal vents along the mid-ocean ridge spreading centers act as oases, as do their opposites, cold seeps. Such places support unique biomes and many new microbes and other lifeforms have been discovered at these locations .[citation needed]

Distribution factorsEdit

An active research topic in marine biology is to discover and map the life cycles of various species and where they spend their time. Marine biologists study how the ocean currents, tides and many other oceanic factors affect ocean lifeforms, including their growth, distribution and well-being. This has only recently become technically feasible with advances in GPS and newer underwater visual devices.[citation needed]

Most ocean life breeds in specific places, nests or not in others, spends time as juveniles in still others, and in maturity in yet others. Scientists know little about where many species spend different parts of their life cycles. For example, it is still largely unknown where sea turtles and some sharks travel. Tracking devices do not work for some life forms, and the ocean is not friendly to technology. This is important to scientists and fishermen because they are discovering that by restricting commercial fishing in one small area they can have a large impact in maintaining a healthy fish population in a much larger area far away.

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. , Karl E. Taylor, Steven J. Ghan (1991). Planktonic dimethylsulfide and cloud albedo: An estimate of the feedback response. Climatic Change 18 (1): 1.
  2. Sousa, Wayne P [1985] (1986). "7, Disturbance and Patch Dynamics on Rocky Intertidal Shores" The Ecology of Natural Disturbance and Patch Dynamics, eds. Steward T. A. Pickett & P. S. White, Academic Press.
  3. Stidworthy J. 1974. Snakes of the World. Grosset & Dunlap Inc. 160 pp. ISBN 0-448-11856-4.
  4. Sea snakes at Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed 7 August 2007.
  5. NOAA (1998) Record-breaking coral bleaching occurred in tropics this year. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Press release (October 23, 1998).
  6. ICRS (1998) Statement on Global Coral Bleaching in 1997-1998. International Coral Reef Society, October 15, 1998.
  7. Bryant, D., Burke, L., McManus, J., et al. (1998) "Reefs at risk: a map-based indicator of threats to the world's coral reefs". World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.
  8. Goreau, T. J. (1992) "Bleaching and Reef Commumity Change in Jamaica: 1951 - 1991". Amer. Zool. 32: 683-695.
  9. Sebens, K. P. (1994) "Biodiversity of Coral Reefs: What are We Losing and Why?" Amer Zool, 34: 115-133
  10. Wilkinson, C. R., and Buddemeier, R. W. (1994) "Global Climate Change and Coral Reefs:Implications for People and Reefs". Report of the UNEP-IOC-ASPEI-IUCN Global Task Team on the Implications of Climate Change on Coral Reefs. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  11. Seven Miles Down: The Story of The Bathyscaph Trieste., Rolex Deep Sea Special, January 2006.

External links Edit



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