Extensive gaps and biases in our knowledge of a well-known fauna: implications for integrating biological traits into macroecology

Elizabeth H. M. Tyler, Paul J. Somerfield, Edward Vanden Berghe, Julie Bremner, Emma Jackson, Olivia Langmead, Maria Lourdes D. Palomares, Thomas J. Webb

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89 Citations (Scopus)


Aim Ecologists seeking to describe patterns at ever larger scales require compilations of data on the global abundance and distribution of species. Comparable compilations of biological data are needed to elucidate the mechanisms behind these patterns, but have received far less attention. We assess the availability of biological data across an entire assemblage: the well-documented demersal marine fauna of the United Kingdom. We also test whether data availability for a species depends on its taxonomic group, maximum body size, the number of times it has been recorded in a global biogeographic database, or its commercial and conservation importance. 

Location Seas of the United Kingdom. 

Methods We defined a demersal marine fauna of 973 species from 15 phyla and 40 classes using five extensive surveys around the British Isles. We then quantified the availability of data on eight key biological traits (termed biological knowledge) for each species from online databases. Relationships between biological knowledge and our predictors were tested with generalized linear models. 

Results Full data on eight fundamental biological traits exist for only 9% (n= 88) of the UK demersal marine fauna, and 20% of species completely lack data. Clear trends in our knowledge exist: fish (median biological knowledge score = six traits) are much better known than invertebrates (one trait). Biological knowledge increases with biogeographic knowledge and (to a lesser extent) with body size, and is greater in species that are commercially exploited or of conservation concern. 

Main conclusions Our analysis reveals deep ignorance of the basic biology of a well-studied fauna, highlighting the need for far greater efforts to compile biological trait data. Clear biases in our knowledge, relating to how well sampled or important species are suggests that caution is required in extrapolating small subsets of biologically well-known species to ecosystem-level studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)922-934
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012


  • Benthic invertebrates
  • biological traits analysis
  • demersal fishes
  • ecosystem function
  • functional traits
  • marine biodiversity
  • marine macroecology
  • missing data
  • United Kingdom

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