Biodiversity Science

Monitoring and understanding changes in species that inhabit our waters is an important part of DFO’s work for fisheries, aquaculture, and oceans conservation.  Biodiversity science is a program of monitoring and understanding changes in species diversity and distribution.   Within ecosystem-based management frameworks, productivity, biodiversity, and habitat serve as three components of research that require indicators and objectives upon which to advise management on the impacts of human activities.  There is also a growing need to monitor aquatic invasive species (species that are not native to our region) and understand their influence on native species distribution and habitats.  Global changes in our climate will also affect the marine ecosystem with the potential for large scale changes in species distribution, composition, and productivity.  The waters of the Passamaquoddy Bay and the surrounding Bay of Fundy support a variety of commercial activities and unique species, the interactions of which need to be monitored for the sustainable management and conservation of this natural and highly valued region of Canada.

Dr. J. Andrew Cooper leads a research program in biodiversity science.  Its objectives are: 

  • To develop programs and methods to monitor changes in marine biodiversity. 
  • To understand how to identify changes in distribution and species composition, those that occur naturally and those resulting from human activities. 
  • To establish a suite of indicators and associated reference points to assess changes in biodiversity in support of the management of human activities. 

Three fields of biodiversity science research are:


The identification of native and exotic species must be accurate whether they are commercially important or an integral part of the natural ocean ecosystem.  Taxonomic accuracy is vital to the biological sampling and research programs conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.  The large distribution and time scale of this monitoring require up-to-date and efficient means of species identification.  The program in marine taxonomy works in collaboration with the Atlantic Reference Centre (ARC) and aims to provide expertise, training, and materials to ensure that taxonomic information that has been acquired through a variety of sources, research based or commercial, remains relevant over time.  Taxonomy products include improved field identification keys, taxonomic reviews and revisions, new species identification and new species distributions.

Biodiversity Monitoring:

Detecting changes in the distribution and diversity of marine life over a wide range of habitats and locations is a large task.  The Department’s monitoring approaches are formed from a network of surveys, fishery data, and environmental sampling.  These are valuable tools upon which to build a comprehensive biodiversity monitoring program.  In addition, academic initiatives such as the Gulf of Maine Biodiversity Discovery Corridor offer new sources of information upon which to enhance our biodiversity monitoring.  Current research in biodiversity monitoring is evaluating the coverage of existing networks with respect to distribution, time, and species diversity.  New methods and technologies are being explored as a means to improve this network to meet the growing need for biodiversity information and advice. 

Marine Biogeography:

Understanding historical change in species distributions, whether over millennia or decades, is an important component to detecting changes caused by human activities.  Research in marine biogeography uses basic tools of evolutionary biology that include distribution records, hypothesis of species interrelationships, fossil records, and geological change.  These tools help understand past processes and the potential for future events such as changes in distribution, regime shifts, and extinctions.  In this context Dr. Cooper has resolved the species relationships within flatfish and is currently using these to examine historical marine dispersal and links to global climate change.