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A major field study to take place in the Philippines in May-July 2004.

Philippe Bouchet (National Museum of Natural History, Paris, France), in partnership with Danilo Largo (University San Carlos, Cebu, The Philippines).


Marine biologists have long ago recognized in the Pacific Ocean a biodiversity gradient, with a South-East Asia heart, gradually vanishing into an eastern Polynesia "cold spot" (Hawaii, Pitcairn, Easter I.). Recognition of this gradient, however, rests on a limited number of hard data, scattered between animal groups and geographical locations. Two major field projects deployed in New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands have demonstrated that the real magnitude of marine biodiversity in complex coral reef ecosystems is generally underestimated: sites in the range of 50 to 300 km² have more species than the whole Mediterranean or the whole of New Zealand. The purpose of the present project is to acquire new data on species richness in the Philippines, that occupy a key position at the heart of the Indo-Pacific richness gradient. The project is innovative by the way it addresses spatial scales of the study sites (mosaic of bottom types in a 50-300 km² area) and the taxa it targets (sessile invertebrates: molluscs, decapod crustaceans). The results will bear on two major biodiversity issues: the global magnitude of marine species diversity; the theoretical background of representativeness in the selection of marine protected areas.

Backgroud Information:

In terms of their biodiversity, coral reefs are often compared to tropical forests because they are the biologically richest ecosystems on our planet, in terms of both number of species and complexity of interactions between them. Of a total of 275,000 marine species (algae, animals) so far recorded, it is estimated that 195,000 live in coastal tropical seas, and 93,000 of these live in coral reefs. Every third marine species lives in coral reef environments. However, their composition and spatial organization remains poorly documented.

(a) In terms of composition, the inventory of marine biodiversity keeps adding species at the pace of 1,800 new species yearly, of which 43% are from the Indo-Pacific tropical province. The global inventory is thus far from complete, in particular for minute and rare species, as well as commensals, associates and parasites, which together represent the largest number of species in complex ecosystems. Despite this deficit, little field work is organised to collect biodiversity in poorly-known regions: new species discovery is often an accidental by-product of research initially conducted for other purposes. Most integrated studies on tropical marine biodiversity focuss on a few indicator taxa (fishes, corals) and neglect others, precisely because they have a reputation of being too diverse or too difficult for non-specialists.

(b) In terms of spatial organization, marine biogeographers have long ago recognized in the Pacific Ocean a biodiversity gradient, with a South-East Asia heart, gradually vanishing into an eastern Polynesia "cold spot" (Hawaii, Pitcairn, Easter I.). Recognition of this gradient, however, rests on a limited number of hard data, of uneven quality and scattered between animal groups and geographical locations. At the other end of the spectrum of spatial scales, the approach of quantitative ecologists renders possible comparisons of diversity indices, that however do not have a predictive power beyond very small areas, in the order of the square meter. Between these two extremes, landscape ecology approaches biodiversity at a spatial scale that is more relevant to management and conservation; but this this is not the level that is normally used by taxonomists that inventory species.

The Philippines project is in line with series of field studies that have already taken place:

  • 1992 New Caledonia (2 sites: Koumac and Touho)
  • 2000 Loyalty Islands (Lifou)
  • 2002 Rapa, southernmost French Polynesia.


The purpose of the present project is to address the issue of the magnitude of species richness in coral reefs through an innovative approach that superposes three difficulties:

(1) by selecting a study site in the heart of the Indo-Pacific biodiversity gradient, where species richness is highest;

(2) by investigating a site at the spatial scale of landscapes, with a very high internal heterogeneity;

(3) by targeting two highly diversified taxa of benthic invertebrates: molluscs and decapod crustaceans.

Expected scientific outcomes:

Once the Rapa and Philippines sites have been investigated, there will be results of comparable nature, obtained by the same research team using the same techniques, for 5 sites: Koumac (west coast of New Caledonia), Touho (east coast of New Caledonia), Lifou (Loyalty Islands), Rapa (Australes archipelago), and a site still to be selected in the Philippines. There will be within-site and between-sites results, that altogether come under three key words:

(1) Richness.
Earlier similar intensive studies of meso-scale sites, involving 400 day-persons in the field, have revealed 2,500-3,000 mollusc species in 50-300 sq. km of coral reef lagoon in New Caledonia: this is more species than in the whole Mediterranean or the whole of New Zealand. If the gradients observed for corals are extrapolated to molluscs, we should expect numbers of mollusc species in the order of 500 in Rapa, and 5-10,000 in the Philippines sites.

(2) Rarity
A characteristic shared by complex tropical ecosystems (forests, reefs) is that most of their species are small and rare. In Koumac, as many as 20% of the species are represented by single specimens, despite a sampling effort resulting in a total of 127,000 specimens. With semi-quantitative results obtained at 5 sites, it will be possible to evaluate the extent of different forms of rarity: species represented by low number of specimens, but with extensive ecological and geographical distributions (rarity s.s.); species locally abundant but with restricted geographical ranges (endemics); species with narrow ecological niche, vast geographical distribution, and indifferent number of specimens (stenoecious species).

(3) Singularity
The issue of representativity is central to strategic planning for management of conservation areas. In New Caledonia, two sites only 200 km apart have 40% or less of their biodiversity in common (i.e. 60% of the species are present on a single site). In view of the expected magnitude of species richness (cf. 1 above), we can expect still lower levels of overlap with Rapa and the Philippines. Such results would re-inforce an approach involving multiple networks of protected areas at the local scale, whereas the opposite results would support strategies resting on regional or global approaches (i.e. a carefully selected site would be representative of a very large territory).

The site selected for the field study is Panglao, SW of Bohol in the central Philippines. Since the late 1980s, Panglao and nearby Balicasag Island have been a source of precious deep-water specimens, collected with tangle nets by small-scale fishermen for the international shell trade. The site thus offers a unique opportunity to combine academic approaches on molluscan biodiversity and the social dynamics of the shell trade and its impact on the household economy.


Professor Philippe Bouchet
French, born 1953
National Museum of Natural History, Paris, France.
55 rue Buffon
75005 Paris, France

Tel.: (+33) 140793103 / 0140793104
Fax: (+33) 140793089
E-mail: pbouchet@mnhn.fr

Dr Danilo Largo
Filipino, born 1964
University San Carlos, Cebu City, The Philippines.
Talamban, Cebu City 6000.

Tel.: (+63) 32 346 1128
Fax: (+63) 32 344 6715
e-mail: largodb@yahoo.com


(1) French National Museum of Natural History and other French participants. A group of ca. 15 French academics, technicians, volunteers and diving instructors, coordinated by Dr Philippe Bouchet.

(2) University San Carlos, Cebu. A group of 13 Filipino academics from the Marine Biology, Economics and Socio-Anthropology departments, coordinated by Dr Danilo Largo.

(3) Participants from other Filipino (Marine Science Institute, UP Diliman; Ateneo de Manila) and French (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, New Caledonia) institutions.

(4) Other participants from institutions in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, the USA, and Viet Nam. The total party will consist of ca. 80 participants. At any given time there will be up to 50 persons working on the site.


2002 June. Visit by P. Bouchet to the Philippines. Introducing the project to Filipino colleagues and funding bodies. Panglao, Bohol selected for conducting the field work.

2002 October. Visit by P. Bouchet to the Philippines. Apply for permits.

2003 February. Visit by P. Bouchet to the Philippines to finalize preparations for field work. Sign MOA with University San Carlos.

2003 September. Advance mapping of bottom types by University of San Carlos team.

2003 October-November. PANGLAO PHASE 1. Socio-economic survey. Test equipment, recover and redeploy deep nets.

2004 26 May- 10 July. PANGLAO PHASE 2. Field work with party of scientists, technicians, students and volunteers, with support from locally hired personnel.

2004 June. Interim results presented at international Coral Reef meeting in Okinawa.
2004 October. Follow-up visit by Philippe. Bouchet.

2004 September – 2005 May. Work up results on richness, rarity, and singularity based on selected families.

Total costs of field phase of project 220,000 euros. The Total Foundation, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ARCBC support the project.

10 February 2004.

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