Working Group 2: Global Biodiversity & Biogeography

WG Leads: Tim O'Hara, Museum Victoria, Australia. Email: and Derek Tittensor, Dalhousie University, Canada. Email:

Please contact Tim and Derek if you wish to be an ACTIVE participant of this INDEEP WG.


Workshops on megfauna and macrofauna identification from images and videos in collaboration with the International Seabed Authority

Three workshops have taken place in conjunction with the ISA and mining contractors in an attempt to standardise mega, macro and meiofauna taxonomy of benthic organisms visible on images or video footage and in samples taken from across the CCFZ.  The aim is to be able to compare data gained by contractors of licences for nodule exploration, to document the distribution of species across the zone and to decipher the environmental factors shaping these abyssal communities.  The megafauna workshop took place in June 2013, the macrofauna one in November 2014 and the meiofana one in December 2015.  The first workshop was co-sponsored by the International Seabed Authority and INDEEP.


The results of these workshops underlined that the abyssal megafauna of the abyssal NE Pacific is critically undersampled. Without basic knowledge on species and specimens, identification from images proved to be excessively difficult. Morphotypes have however been identified. An Atlas of these morphotypes is available via the ISA website, including a description of the main morphological characters and in situ images. This Atlas will serve as a basis for standard identification of morphotypes across studies. It will be used also to target sampling on specimens. This web-based version of the Atlas will make it a live reference that will evolve as more morphotypes are recorded, more specimens collected and more species identified.



Recommendations to the International Seabed Authority will be drawn from the workshops in order to improve our understanding of the taxonomy, biogeography and ecology of megafaunal and macrofaunal assemblages in the nodule province of the north east Pacific.




Biogeography mapping project

Tim O'Hara was awarded a COSMOS Prize for a project to map biogeographic assemblages for two major taxonomic groups: ophiuroids and galatheids.   These maps will constitute important testing and updating of the biogeographic hypotheses posed by the GOODS report (UNESCO, 2009).

The project is organised around 3 tasks:

1) Synthesising available datasets (museums, literature, other databases).

2) Filling geographic gaps. This requires an intensive period of museum visits and cataloguing of priority collections.

3) Biogeographic analysis. At least 2 methods will be used a) modelling species distributions using the software MaxEnt (Phillips et al. 2006) and then mapping the results of multivariate statistical analyses (as in O’Hara et al. 2011), and b) identifying groups of species with similar environmental profiles and modelling their distribution (Dunstan et al. 2011).

Results to date: Tasks 1 & 2 have proceeded concurrently and are now complete. The ophiuroid dataset was closed for validation at the end of September 2013.  The final dataset has almost 165,000 records.  All environmental datasets have been produced and preliminary maps have been generated. The Galatheid dataset is now complete and includes ~28,000 records.  In September 2013, we hosted a 5 day workshop in Melbourne funded by INDEEP to validate the assembled data and identify erroneous records. The expert taxonomists invited to this meeting visually inspected the distributions of over 1000 species.  A global map of deep-sea biodiversity for ophiuroids is now published (see below) and provides significant insight into the forces structuring biodiversity in this, and possibly other, taxa. It provides a useful resource for upcoming policy processes, such as the proposed forthcoming United Nations policy instrument on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.


Woolley S, Tittensor D, Dunstan P, Guillera-Arroita G, Lahoz-Monfort J, Wintle B, Worm B & O'Hara T (2016). Deep-sea diversity patterns are shaped by  energy availability.  Nature 553: 393-396

Expedition to survey abyssal biodiversity off Australia

A proposal was submitted to the Australian National Marine Facility for ship time to survey the abyssal biodiversity off Australia’s east coast in 2015-6. The proposal for 32 days surveying from Brisbane to Hobart at 2500 and 4000 m was put together by INDEEP scientists such as Tim O’Hara (Chief investigator and lead of INDEEP WG2) and Adrian Glover (lead of WG1), Ashley Rowden, and Thomas Schlacher. The proposal was successful although the trip will has been postponed until the end of 2017 due to delays in delivering the ship.

****NEW****  INDEEP-Affiliated Research Cruise Training Opportunity!!! 

Are you a post-doc or post-graduate student that has an interest in studying a particular group of deep-sea fauna and their biogeography?  If so, you may be interested to hear of this opportunity to join an INDEEP-affiliated research cruise to the Australian abyss on the RV ‘Investigator’ – Australia’s new research vessel.  The expedition, from Tasmania to Queensland, 15 May to 16 June 2017, will survey depths of 2500 to 4000 m using trawls, epibenthic sleds and towed video.  The goal is to examine spatial changes in genetic and community composition, describe abyssal communities from the Australian EEZ for the first time, and to communicate these discoveries to the general public.  There will be 25-30 scientists and students onboard. This is an excellent training opportunity for understanding the process of sampling the seafloor, preserving the animals collected, and managing the resulting data.

An "INDEEP Biogeography Award" will cover airfare and costs in Australia for one individual but please be aware that the chosen participant would be required to cover costs of visas. 

In addition, INDEEP has applied for funding to enable participation for a second scientist (restricted to applicants from developing nations only).  These funds would cover all costs for airfare and costs in Australia and would also include costs of visas.  Time is short so please go ahead and submit applications for this second berth but keep in mind that this space is not currently guaranteed until we have heard the outcome of our proposal. 

To apply, please email Tim O’Hara – (Museum Australia and Cruise Scientific Lead) and Maria Baker – (INDEEP PI) with a short CV and a clear statement (do not exceed 200 words) explaining why you would benefit from this training opportunity and what you would hope to achieve in terms of developing your scientific career.  Be aware that you will be expected to actively participate in the voyage operations, which consist of 12 hour shifts for the 32 days of the expedition. You would be responsible for obtaining the necessary travel documents and visas to visit Australia.  There is no requirement for sea-going certification.



Biogeography Session at 13th DSBS, Wellington

This session of the 13th DSBS included special plenary lectures on the history and oceanography of the oceans as well as several lectures by attendees of the first workshop on mapping the ocean held in Aberdeen in September 2011.

Workshop: Mapping The Oceans - How do we do it?

This workshop was held in Wellington (NZ) in conjunction with the 13th DSBS. It gahtered biodiversity scientists, modellers and statisticians that summarised and evaluated the performance and applicability of existing quantitative methods for deep-sea biogeographical research. The results are being prepared in a scientific review publication.

OBIS Deep-Sea Node

INDEEP WG2 are working with OBIS to try to establish a global thematic deep-sea node for OBIS and to that end co-funded and co-organised a data training workshop in October 2016 at the OBIS secretariat.  Link here to report.