MARINE LIFE OF URUGUAY: CRITICAL UPDATE AND PRIORITIES FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
The marine areas of Uruguay consist of the Río de la Plata estuary and the adjacent shelf and slope, part of the Subtropical Convergence Ecosystem. In this paper, the main advances in the knowledge of marine life in these areas (the known) are reviewed in order to discuss future lines of research (the unknown). Information has been separately analysed for the plankton, nekton, and benthos in each of 3 areas-the littoral, the shelfs and the "open ocean". Current knowledge of marine life is uneven among the groups and areas. In the case of the plankton, research has concentrated on the near-shore waters and focused on taxonomy and distribution. Little is known about the responses of organisms to environmental variability and about biological processes. The nekton of coastal and estuarine areas is better known, but, with shelf and slope assemblages, research has focused on exploited species. The main unknowns for the nekton are how trophodynamics, reproduction, and recruitment processes are linked to environmental variability and the effect of fisheries on community structure. Littoral benthos, in particular the macroinfauna of sandy beaches, is much better studied and spatial patterns of community distribution have been identified at different scales and in relation to environmental variables. Also, at the population level, there is information about distribution, responses to disturbances, dynamics, and the roles of biotic and abiotic factors in modulating population variability. Information is mainly lacking for the sub-tidal fringe and regarding the macro-ecology of population dynamics, the dispersive abilities of larval phases, and the effects of toxic blooms on suspension feeders. Knowledge of the benthos of estuaries and more so of the shelf and slope environments is rather scarce. For the latter two, faunal inventories are far from complete. Topics identified for future research include taxonomy, macro-scale community structure and its temporal variability in relation to environmental gradients, diverse aspects of population dynamics trophodynamics and the effects of human intervention on ecosystems. The incorporation of both experimental and modelling approaches is considered important for future investigations.