Understanding Continental Margin Biodiversity: A New Imperative

Anton Bruun Memorial Lecture, 2011
By Lisa A. Levin, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Friday 24 June, 16:45 at UNESCO Headquarters, Room II


The deep continental margins (200- 4000 m) were perceived until recently as monotonous mud slopes of limited ecological or environmental concern. Technological advances now reveal unexpected heterogeneity, with a mosaic of habitats and ecosystems linked to geomorphological, geochemical and hydrographic features that contribute to high biotic diversity. This high regional biodiversity is fundamental to the production of valuable fisheries, energy and mineral resources, and performs critical ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration.  However, it is under growing threat from climate change and from varied human resource extraction activities. Serious actions are required to preserve the functions and services provided by the deep-sea settings we are just now getting to know.


Dr Lisa Levin teaching in Namibia

Lisa A. Levin is a marine ecologist who researches benthic communities in deep-sea and shallow-water environments. She received an undergraduate degree in Biology from Radcliffe College at Harvard University and her PhD from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, served for 9 years as a faculty member at North Carolina State University, and for the past 19 years has been a faculty member at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  On July 1 she will become a Distinguished Professor and Director of the Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation.

Together with her students Dr. Levin has worked with a broad range of taxa, from microbes and microalgae to invertebrates and fishes. Her recent research has emphasized 3 major themes:

  • The structure, function and vulnerability of continental margin ecosystems, particularly those subject to oxygen and sulfide stress;
  • Wetland biotic interactions as they mediate marsh function, invasion and restoration; and
  • Larval ecology of coastal marine populations with emphasis on connectivity and response to ocean acidification.

Her ongoing research examines the factors controlling benthic biodiversity and trophic structure, the time and space scales of variation in larval connectivity, and the effects of the ocean pH/carbonate system on early life stages. She has developed innovative tools to address these questions using manipulative experiments, stable isotopic methods and trace element geochemistry.

The deep ocean covers over half of the planet but most of it is less well known than the surface of the moon. Dr. Levin’s research has been conducted over the past 3 decades on the margins of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans using ships, submersibles and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to sample and conduct experiments. She has participated in over 30 oceanographic expeditions around the world and served as Chief Scientist on 12 of these. She has perceived over the years a growing threat to deep margin settings and has turned her attention to conservation issues.

Dr. Levin has participated in international working groups through SCOPE, SCOR, and the ChESS and COMARGE programs of the Census of Marine Life. She currently holds a POGO Visiting Professorship for capacity building in Namibia.

Anton Bruun Memorial Lecture Series

Dr Anton Frederick Bruun

The Anton Bruun Memorial lecture Series is dedicated to the memory of the noted Danish oceanographer and first chairman of the Commission, Dr Anton Frederick Bruun. The “Anton Bruun Memorial Lectures” were established in accordance with Resolution 19 of the Sixth Session of the IOC Assembly in 1970, in which the Commission proposed that important intersession developments be summarized by speakers in the fields of solid earth studies, physical and chemical oceanography and meteorology, and marine biology.

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