The Red Sea is one of the most understudied areas in the world in terms of marine biodiversity, and yet the high level of endemism indicates that additional evolutionary partitions await discovery. Beginning in late 2012, we plan to operate a series of regional research cruises to complete a survey of reef fauna over the next three years. The underlying motivation is to demonstrate how coral reef biodiversity is produced and maintained; the conservation motivation is therefore compelling. A core team of experts will address particular fish and coral taxa on every cruise, while other taxa will be addressed by experts participating in at least one of the cruises. All participants will sample reefs near KAUST to create a common, central study location with comprehensive coverage. By using information on the geographic distribution of reef fauna, along with our inferred genetic relationships, we will provide a much stronger scientific foundation for establishing MPA networks that can maintain representative examples of biodiversity in each region and preserve source populations that may act to replenish coastal stocks.
Working with the IUCN, we intend to establish the conservation status of species from numerous families, many targeted by local fisheries, in order to determine levels of protection needed to preserve the biodiversity of the region. The connectivity data from the research proposed herein would therefore be especially valuable, as would the goal of identifying previously-unrecognized endemic species. Based on preliminary findings, we believe this project will result in a number of new species descriptions. Further, this research will be the first to address whether the Red Sea reef communities survived glacial salinity crises, or whether they are the product of recent and rapid speciation under diversifying ecological conditions. Are the Red Sea reef communities millions of years old, or thousands of years old? We hope that these expeditions can provide insight to this long-standing evolutionary enigma.
If you have taxonomic expertise with a particular group of coral reef organims and would like to discuss potential collaboration or participation in one of the sampling cruises, please contact Prof. Berumen.