By John Spicer

During this steadfast and but witty advisor, biologist John Spicer examines biodiversity, giving the reader an perception into the myriad of organisms that encompass us.

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However, just because these species are awarded joint tenth place may not necessarily tell you anything apart from the fact that most of these groups are not very species rich. And taking a different measure of biodiversity may well have yielded a different ranking order. Certainly, some of the most noticeable, and noteworthy, animals on Wembury beach have not made it into the top nine. For example, the underside of many of the rocks are carpeted with the white outer shells of many hundreds of filterfeeding worms and sea mats living in colonies of hundreds of individuals.

New species We are still a long way off having a complete catalogue of all the living beings with which we share this planet. Species continue to be described but not in any systematic way. The groups that receive attention do so as a result of individual scientists and amateur enthusiasts choosing to work on their favourite groups. So most new descriptions are of insects and spiders, groups which command a wide interest from professional and amateur alike. The main exception to this is when a group of organisms are of medical or economic interest.

Two-thirds of our planet’s surface is covered with water, salty water. Furthermore, three-quarters of the sea bed is abyssal – that is, it occurs at a depth of between 5 km and 11 km, it is in total darkness and is as cold as the inside of your refrigerator. As well as the large surface area of the sea bottom, there is also all that overlying water which is potentially living space for life. This said, it is perhaps surprising that about 98% of all marine animals and plants are bottom-living, with only 2% living in the water mass, and even then restricted mainly to the upper, sunlit layers.

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