Ctenophores are defined as one of the most difficult groups of pelagic animals to study; they are fragile, require special sampling and preservation, and are difficult to identify.Consequently, this important component of the pelagic community is often neglected in zooplankton surveys and research, leading to often grossly oversimplified and misunderstood understanding on their diversity and ecological role, as well as biased views of ecosystem functioning.
Today, we know ctenophores are often keystone predators in pelagic ecosystems, with the capacity to induce significant ecosystem changes through direct predation and competition for food as well as potential cascading effects and they share physiological attributes that allow them to better exploit the changing environmental conditions than many other zooplankton groups. In addition, recent evolutionary findings have brought a great deal of attention to these animals. At the same time, our knowledge of the diversity and distribution remains rudimentary at best.
The overarching motivation for this project is to fill this important gap in knowledge by describing and documenting the biodiversity of marine ctenophores in Norway, from North Sea all the way to the High Arctic. By combining documentation of live specimens with in situ photography (scuba diving, snorkeling and ROV), gentle sampling followed by a careful morphological examination and with molecular methods including barcoding and population genetics, we are able to establishing a baseline for future monitoring and ecological studies. Such data are fundamental both for understanding the role they play in the ecosystem and monitoring potential anthropogenic changes in gelatinous communities.