Marine biology is the scientific study of living 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 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. Shorelines are in part shaped and protected by marine life, and some marine organisms even help create new land.
Marine biology covers a great deal, from the microscopic, including most zooplankton and phytoplankton, where zooplankton can be as small as 0.02 micrometers or as big as 2 meters in the case of the sunfish to the huge cetaceans (whales) which reach up to a reported 48 meters (125 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 abyssal 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 amount of all life on Earth exists in the oceans. Exactly how large the proportion is still unknown. While the oceans comprise 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 the food fishes. It is also becoming understood that the well-being of marine organisms and other organisms are linked in very fundamental ways. Human understanding is growing of the relationship between life in the sea and important cycles such as that of matter (such as the carbon cycle) and of air (such as Earth's respiration, and movement of energy through ecosystems). Large areas beneath the ocean surface still remain effectively unexplored.
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.
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. Zoology and even the National Coast Guard are also in certain ways related to Marine Biology.
Microscopic life undersea is incredibly diverse and still poorly understood. For example, the role of viruses in marine ecosystems is barely being explored even in the beginning of the 21st century.
The role of phytoplankton is better understood due to their critical position as the most numerous primary producers on Earth. Phytoplankton are categorized into cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae/bacteria), various types of algae (red, green, brown, and yellow-green), diatoms, dinoflagellates, euglenoids, coccolithophorids, cryptomonads, chrysophytes, chlorophytes, prasinophytes, and silicoflagellates.
Zooplankton tend to be somewhat larger, and not all are microscopic. Many Protozoa are zooplankton, including dinoflagellates, zooflagellates, foraminiferans, and radiolarians. Some of these (such as dinoflaggelates) are also phytoplankton; the plant/animal distinction often breaks down in very small organisms. Other zooplankton include cnidarians, ctenophores, chaetognaths, molluscs, arthropods, urochordates, and annelids such as polychaetes. Many larger animals begin their life as zooplankton before they become large enough to take their familiar forms. Two examples are fish larvae and sea stars (also called starfish).
Plants and algae
Plant life is relatively rare undersea. Most of the niche occupied by sub plants on land is actually occupied by macroscopic algae in the ocean, such as Sargassum and kelp which are commonly known as seaweeds. The non algae plants that do survive in the sea are often found in shallow waters, such as the seagrasses (examples of which are eelgrass, Zostera, and turtle grass, Thalassia). These plants have adapted to the high salinity of the ocean environment. The intertidal zone is also a good place to find plant life in the sea, where mangroves or cordgrass or beach grass might grow. Sea kelp is very important to small sea creatures because the creatures can hide from predators. Eel grass is the most important. It is where hairing and other small fish live to escape from preditors.
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 the Phoronida; Mollusca including shellfish, squid, octopus; Crustacea; Porifera; Bryozoa; Echinodermata including starfish; and Urochordata - sea squirts or tunicates.
Fish have evolved very different biological functions from other large organisms. Fish anatomy includes a two-chambered heart, operculum, secretory cells that produce mucous, swim bladder, scales, fins, lips and eyes. Fish breathe by extracting oxygen from water through their gills. Fins propel and stabilize the fish in the water.
Reptiles which inhabit or frequent the sea include sea turtles, Marine Iguana, sea snakes, and Saltwater Crocodiles. All extant marine reptiles are oviparous and need to return to land to lay their eggs. Thus most species, excepting sea turtles, live on or near land rather than in the ocean. Some extinct marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs, evolved to be viviparous and had no requirement to return to land.
Seabirds are species of birds adapted to living in the marine environment, examples including 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.
There are five main types of marine mammals.
- Cetaceans include toothed whales (Suborder Odontoceti), such as the Sperm Whale, dolphins, and porpoises such as the Dall's porpoise. Cetaceans also include baleen whales (Suborder Mysticeti), such as the Gray Whale, Humpback Whale, and Blue Whale.
- Sirenians include manatees, the Dugong, and the extinct Steller's Sea Cow.
- Seals (Family Phocidae), sea lions (Family Otariidae - which also include the fur seals), and the Walrus (Family Odobenidae) are all considered pinnipeds.
- The Sea Otter is a member of the Family Mustelidae, which includes weasels and badgers.
- Finally, the Polar Bear (Family Ursidae) is sometimes considered a marine mammal because of its dependence on the sea.
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 a "once in a thousand years" bleaching event, in which vast expanses of reefs across the Earth died because sea surface temperatures rose well above normal. Some reefs are recovering, but scientists say that 58% of the world's coral reefs are now endangered and predict that global warming could exacerbate this trend.
Deep sea and trenches
The deepest recorded oceanic trenches measure to date is the Mariana Trench, near the Philippines, in the Pacific Ocean at 10924 m (35838 ft). At such depths, water pressure is extreme and there is no sunlight, but some life still exists. Small flounder (family Soleidae) fish and shrimp were seen by the American crew of the bathyscaphe Trieste when it dove to the bottom in 1960.
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 8605 m (28232 ft), the Romanche Trench at 7760 m (24450 ft), Fram Basin in the Arctic Ocean at 4665 m (15305 ft), the Java Trench at 7450 m (24442 ft), and the South Sandwich Trench at 7235 m (23737 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. Many life forms that live at these depths have the ability to create their own light.
Much life centers on seamounts that rise from the deeps, 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.
The great expanse of open ocean habitat is huge, and many species can be found passing through it and living in it. The term "open ocean" usually is meant to refer to the vast stretches of water between points of land, or between undersea mounts. Contrary to popular notions the open ocean is often not the place where marine animals spend the majority of their lives. Most species simply pass through the open ocean on their ways to other places. Larger species are the main ongoing inhabitants.
Intertidal and shoreIntertidal 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.
How oceanic factors affect distribution of various organisms
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.
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 spent different parts of their life cycles. For example, it is still largely unknown where sea turtles travel. Tracking devices do not work for some life forms, and the ocean is not friendly to technology.
Famous marine biologists
- Ali Abdelghany (born 1944), Egyptian marine biologist
- Jakob Johan Adolf Appellöf (1857-1921), Swedish marine zoologist.
- Samuel Stillman Berry (1887-1984), U.S. marine zoologist.
- Henry Bryant Bigelow (1879–1967), U.S. marine biologist.
- Rachel Carson (1907-1964), American Marine Biologist and Author.
- Carl Chun (1852-1914), German marine biologist
- Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997), French marine biologist and explorer
- Charles Darwin (1809-1882), wrote Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs (1842) while aboard the HMS Beagle
- Anton Dohrn (1840-1909), German marine biologist
- Sylvia Earle (born 1935), American oceanographer
- Hans Hass (born 1919), Austrian marine biologist and diving pioneer
- Gotthilf Hempel (born 1929), German marine biologist
- Ilham Artüz (1924-1993), Turkish Marine Biologist and Oceanographer
- Johan Hjort (1869-1948), Norwegian marine zoologist and one of the founders of ICES
- Bruno Hofer (1861-1916), German fisheries scientist
- Emperor Showa of Japan (1901-1989), jellyfish taxonomist
- Uwe Kils (born 1951), German marine biologist
- August David Krohn (1803–1891), Russian/German zoologist
- William Elford Leach (1790-1836), English zoologist and marine biologist
- Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai (1846-1888), Russian marine biologist and anthropologist
- Sir John Murray (1841-1914), Scots-Canadian marine biologist
- Ed Ricketts (1897-1948), American marine biologist noted for a pioneering study of intertidal ecology
- Harald Rosenthal (born 1937), German hydrobiologist known for his work in fish farming and ecology
- Michael Sars (1809–1869), Norwegian theologian and biologist
- Georg Sars (1837-1927), Norwegian marine biologist
- Gunnar Thorson (1906-1971), Danish marine biologist
- Ruth Turner (1915-2000), marine biologist
- Charles Wyville Thompson (1832-1882), Scottish marine biologist
Source: List of biologists.
- Aliens of the Deep (documentary)
- Freshwater biology
- Important publications in marine biology
- Institute for Marine Mammal Studies
- The Marine Mammal Center
- Marine vertebrates
- Marine debris
- Public aquarium
- Wembury Marine Centre
- White Sea Biological Station
- ↑ Jonathan A. Foley; Karl E. Taylor, Steven J. Ghan (1991). "Planktonic dimethylsulfide and cloud albedo: An estimate of the feedback response" 18 (1): 1-15. doi:10.1007/BF00142502.
- ↑ Sousa, Wayne P . "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. ISBN 0125545215.
- Global Water Facts, from Environment Canada
- Marine Biologist Career Description
- Oceanography Image of the Day, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
- MarineBio: an evolving online tribute to Marine Biology and all Ocean life.
- Marine Conservation Society: UK charity for seas and wildlife.
- SeaTurtle.org: Tracking a sea turtle.
- Marinebiology.co.uk a marine biology resource.
- Marine Ecology Progress Series (MEPS).
- Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.
- Marine Life Information Network for Britain and Ireland - MarLIN.
- University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections – Freshwater and Marine Image Bank An ongoing digital collection of images related to freshwater and marine topics.
- "Creatures of the Deep," a photo gallery and Flash video of creatures from the deep ocean.
- Photo exhibit "Oceano: vida escondida" (Ocean: hidden life) revealing the aesthetics of marine lifeforms, from the Marine Biology Center (CEBIMar) of São Paulo University.
- PISCO - Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans
- The Marine Environmental Research Institute
- The National Ocean Service
- Get Marine Biology Jobs, Career portal dedicated exclusively to the field of Marine Biology
- Bioerosion website at The College of Wooster
Major subtopics of biology
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