[Coral-List] Source for "coral occupy <1% of the seafloor but house more than 25% of species"

Rupert Ormond rupert.ormond.mci at gmail.com
Tue Dec 15 18:17:23 UTC 2020

Hi Hanny and all,

Yes, I also have it on good authority that the McAllister report was the 
origin of the 25% figure.

But it was approximately 25% of MARINE FISH SPECIES. Not of fish species 
(i.e. including freshwater), nor of marine biodiversity in general, let 
alone biodiversity period.

And it was LESS THAN 1% of the seabed - so I presume the 1% was hardly 
intended as an estimate.

More generally we should not over-exaggerate the biodiversity of reefs. 
They are stunning - but they do not have the highest biodiversity on the 
planet, as one quite often reads. Try looking at rain forest trees or 



*Prof. Rupert Ormond**
*Co-Director, Marine Conservation International
Hon. Professor, Centre for Marine Biodiversity & Biotechnology, 
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

On 14/12/2020 14:53, Hanny Rivera via Coral-List wrote:
> Hi Benjamin,
> I wasn't on a quest to discredit the claim. I was simply writing an article
> on the benefits of coral reefs and wanted to be able to cite things
> properly, hence my trying to track down a primary source for that number as
> opposed to a website or something.
> I agree with you that for public understanding, communicating that coral
> reefs have a small area but host lots of species is sufficient. I certainly
> don't think there needs to be some kind of crusade to remove those numbers
> from the public sphere. They serve a useful purpose and are accurate in
> overall meaning, even if they are more of a back-of-the-envelope type
> calculation. I just figured I would share the sources I did find, since it
> seemed that many folks also wanted to know of any more concrete sources for
> similar information.
> Best,
> Hanny
> On Mon, Dec 14, 2020 at 9:30 AM Benjamin Cowburn <
> benjamindcowburn at googlemail.com> wrote:
>> Hi Hanny et al.,
>> I have just always assumed this 25% of biodiversity claim is bogus. As you
>> are discovering, finding the original reference is challenging and even
>> when you get there it doesn't seem quite right. Also as other people have
>> pointed out in this thread, modern information and tools have updated the
>> distribution of coral reefs and understanding of biodiversity.
>> What I think is a more interesting question is -* what do we do with this
>> fact now?*
>> *Pure Scientist Opinion: *Knowing the actual number of species on reefs
>> is important and a further analysis should be done to reassess this fact.
>> *Practical Opinion:* This fact has been recycled and regurgitated by
>> numerous authors, journalists and governments. Casting doubt around its
>> validity may damage the reputation of coral reef science and make decision
>> makers less inclined to listen to us. More-over I don't imagine the public
>> is interested in the real number, and just getting the message 'many
>> species in a small area' is sufficient, whichever way this is communicated.
>> Out of curiosity, why are you on this quest?
>> Cheers,
>> Benjo
>> On Sat, 12 Dec 2020 at 17:53, Hanny Rivera via Coral-List <
>> coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:
>>> Hi all!
>>> A while back, I had written asking for help tracking down the source for
>>> this statement. Thank you to all who responded and helped! There were a
>>> number of folks who also asked me to let them know what I found. Sorry for
>>> the long delay! A recent twitter post reminded me I hadn't followed up.
>>> Anyways: The original reference (at least the most original that I could
>>> find) is McAllister 1991. I had to do a lot of digging to find the actual
>>> paper, though I finally came across it here:
>>> https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/ptid=uc1.31822009136755&view=1up&seq=22
>>> As you might see, it's not entirely clear where the numbers come from
>>> though.
>>> Dan Barshis
>>> had pointed me to Smith 1978 (https://www.nature.com/articles/273225a0)
>>> as
>>> a more viable source for the area estimation (though it's a bit outdated)
>>> and
>>> Fisher et al 2015 (
>>> https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982214016236) as a
>>> reference for species richness on reefs.
>>> A more recent area estimate is Spalding et al. 2001 (
>>> https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X17300635)
>>> which
>>> was pointed out to me by Dennis Allemand
>>> Dennis Allemand also has several other references for species #s that live
>>> on reefs in his paper (
>>> https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352485518305978?via%3Dihub
>>> )
>>> on page 2.
>>> Thanks again all! Hope this is helpful for folks going forward.
>>> Best, Hanny
>>> --
>>> Hanny E. Rivera, Ph.D.
>>> Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer
>>> Boston University, Biology Department
>>> Davies Marine Population Genomics Lab
>>> https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannyrivera
>>> http://sites.bu.edu/davieslab/members/
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