Tara Oceans: Eco-Systems Biology at Planetary Scale
Abstract: The ocean is the largest ecosystem on Earth and yet we know very little about it. This is particularly true for the plankton that drift within, even though they form the base of marine food webs and are key players in Earth’s biogeochemical cycles. Ocean plankton are at least as important for the Earth system as the forests on land, but most of them are invisible to the naked eye and thus are largely uncharacterized. To increase our understanding of this underexplored world, a multidisciplinary consortium, TaraOceans, was formed around the 110-ft research schooner Tara,which sampled plankton at more than 210 sites and multiple depthlayers in all the major oceanic regions during expeditions from 2009-2013 (Karsenti et al. Plos Biol., 2011). This talk will summarize the first foundational resources from the project (see Science special issue May 22, 2015 and Nature 28 April, 2016) and their initial analyses, illustrating several aspects of the Tara Oceans’ eco-systems biology approach to address microbial contributions to macro-ecological processes. The project provides unique resources for several scientific disciplines that are foundational for mapping ocean biodiversity of a wide range of organisms that are rarely studied together, exploring their interactions, and integrating biology into our physico-chemical understanding of the ocean. These resources, and the scientific innovations emerging to understand them, are critical towards developing baseline ecological context and predictive power needed to track the impact of climate change on the oceans.