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Research Fellows Directory

Thomas Webb

Dr Thomas Webb

Research Fellow


University of Sheffield

Research summary

I am trying to understand patterns of marine biodiversity: Why are there so many species? Why are they unevenly distributed in space? How do biological, environmental and human factors affect these patterns? Mostly, I approach these problems by analysing existing data on the distribution, abundance and biological characteristics of (at least) many hundreds of marine species. In a recent analysis, for example, I mapped the depth-distribution (i.e., the position in the water column) of around 19 million records of marine species. This showed that almost all of our knowledge of marine biodiversity comes from a small proportion of the marine environment: essentially, just the surface waters of the sea bed. The 'big blue bit in the middle' - the deep pelagic ocean - is virtually unexplored. Why is this important? Well, marine systems are vital to human well-being. For instance, despite our best efforts to deplete them, the fish stocks of the seas still provide us with an enormous quantity of protein; we use the seas for transport, and enjoy them for leisure; and they play a key role in regulating the Earth's climate. The biological component of marine systems plays an important role in all such marine ecosystem services, and so understanding the distribution of marine biodiversity, its variation in time and space, and its likely responses to continued human exploitation, will be vital if we are to manage our oceans in a sustainable manner.

Grants awarded

Explaining marine diversity: what we do, don't, and could know

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2013 - Sep 2017

Value: £281,326.05

The scale of diversity: abundance, occupancy and aggregation in marine systems

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2008 - Sep 2013

Value: £431,380.20

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