Filling gaps in marine biodiversity

Reef-building corals rely on photosynthetic symbionts to be able to build reefs. Soft corals, which don’t rely on these symbiotic algae, are able to grow in much deeper water. In the case of Primnoa pacifica, this means that are are able to live in cold, dark waters as much as 6 km below the ocean surface. Student editors in Randi Rotjan’s Marine Biology class took a short stub and converted it into a very substantial article about this keystone species in sea bottom ecosystems in the Gulf of Alaska.

Before students in this class started editing, the article about the genus Primnoa consisted of just a single sentence (along with an infobox): Primnoa is a genus of soft corals in the family Primnoidae. A reader who tried to look up information on this genus would have found almost no useful information and no link to Primnoa pacifica or mention of any of the other four species in the genus. Because Wikipedia ranks so high in search engine rankings, people trying to learn more about Primnoa might have ended up with less information than they would have had if they had clicked on another link. Fortunately, students in this class also expanded the Primnoa article into something that’s substantial, informative, and useful to readers.

All told, student editors in this marine biology class were able to make significant improvements to 50 Wikipedia articles including Phronima sedentaria (a species of amphipod), Elacatinus puncticulatus (a goby), Ulva australis (a species of sea lettuce), Canthigaster rostrata (a pufferfish) and Ophiocoma scolopendrina (a brittle star). Species articles on Wikipedia tend to have a fairly standard layout (which you can see in our Editing Wikipedia articles about species handout), and this makes it easy for students to understand where to slot various pieces of information into an article.

Species and genus articles remain areas with a lot of gaps on Wikipedia. By adding species articles to Wikipedia, students can help people to understand their importance in ecological contexts or to conservation. If Wikipedia has no article about a species or just has a short stub, it can be difficult for people to get a sense of the role or importance of the species. And because many people expect Wikipedia to be more or less complete, the fact that an article doesn’t exist about a topic is often interpreted to mean that the topic is unimportant. So when student editors work on species articles, they’re doing important work informing the public.

To learn more about assigning students to edit species articles, visit

Image credit: q.phia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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