The Indo-Pacific is the place to be if you're interested in coral reef critters. Sure, coral reefs exist all over the world within tropical latitudes, but the epicenter for biodiversity is the Coral Triangle, an area that spans roughly between the Philippines, Indonesia, and east towards Papua New Guinea. Understanding how the Coral Triangle formed, or why it is so diverse requires a broader approach that looks across both the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Quantifying evolutionary dynamics in the Indo-Pacific, however, is extremely challenging. This is foremost because the scale of the two ocean basins. Together, the portions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans that are considered to be part of the Indo-Pacific span roughly 180º longitudinally (aka half the planet)! To study the distribution, population dynamics, and history of species across this massive expanse takes time, dedication, and a big team of people.
Over the past two decades, independent labs have published a variety of population-level genetic studies across the Info-Pacific. These studies have focused on fishes, corals, or marine invertebrates, but were all largely independent of one another. In an effort to gain a more wholistic understanding of what's going on, several forward thinking scientists decided to pool all of their data and invite others to do so as well. Enter stage right: Diversity of the Indo-Pacific Network, or simply, DIPnet. While I could come up with my own way of describing it, the DIPnet mission statement puts it best: "DIPnet was created to advance genetic diversity research in the Indo-Pacific Oceans by aggregating (published) population genetic data into a searchable database so that original datasets can be utilized to address questions concerning conservation of marine biodiversity." This network and team of scientists finally allows us to look for more general patterns that are shared across life in the oceans.
I am proud to be a part of this network, and extremely happy that the first publication from this massive effort has just been published in Global Ecology and Biogeography. Led by the talented Eric Crandall, this study aims to see if there is a correlation between processes acting within species, and between them throughout this region. To do this we looked for shared genetic breaks between regions, and then compared those to previous biogeographic schemes that have been hypothesized over the years. The previous hypotheses were based on species distributions, and therefore reflect processes acting on deeper evolutionary time scales, so by comparing population-level genetic data to these species-level biogeographic breaks we could see if there are ongoing processes that generate diversity over a variety of time scales. The short answer is that while some large-scale patterns hold true, there really isn't a strong connection between population and species-level processes in the 56 species included in this study. If you want to know why, please go check out the paper. It's open access, so anyone can read it! Huge thanks goes out to Eric, all of the co-authors, and all of the people who contributed their data to DIPnet, as this paper wouldn't have been possible without them. Hopefully this is the start of many publications and fruitful collaborations that together will help us understand the diversity of the Indo-Pacific, and coral reefs in general.