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MARBEF - Marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning

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Summary information

Funding:FP6 - Network of Excellence
Total cost:8707000
Ec contribution:8707000
Start date:2004-02-01
End date:2009-04-30
Duration:63 months
Coordinator:Heip Carlo (
Organisation:Netherlands Institute of Ecology - Netherlands
Themes:Biological impacts; socio-economic consequences
Keywords:Marine biodiversity, adaption to climate change, impact of changes including global changes, ecosystem functioning, socio-economic impact, European scale, Network of Excellence
Project name:MARBEF - Marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
Project summary:Abstract
Knowledge on marine biodiversity in Europe is fragmented within and between disciplines. The approach to understanding the effects of increased anthropogenic pressure on marine biodiversity has hitherto been addressed local. In particular, to understand how marine ecosystems will adapt to climate change, we especially need to address the long-term and large-scale changes in marine biodiversity. This requires an entirely new research framework.
The creation of the network of excellence, MarBEF (Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning) aims at integrating research efforts by forming a dedicated group of marine scientists and institutes and creating a virtual European institute with a long-term research programme and dedicated links with industry and the public at large. This involves besides coordination of research, training, exchange and outreach activities in several relevant fields of science, including marine ecology and biogeochemistry, fisheries biology, taxonomy and socio-economic sciences. Better integration of research is also required to support the legal obligations of the EU and its member states and associated states for the Convention for Biological Diversity, Theo SPAR and Barcelona conventions, as well as several EU directives (Birds Directive, Habitats Directive, Water Framework Directive). Society needs this information because a large and growing number of industries depend on the sustainable use and exploitation of marine biodiversity. This includes tourism, fisheries and aquaculture but also new industries that explore and commercialise marine genetic and chemical products.
Project outputs:Major achievements:
Biodiversity loss is one of the major consequences of the unsustainable use of the Earth’s resources. The aim in establishing a European network on marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (MarBEF) was to increase our understanding of large-scale, long-term changes in marine biodiversity. MarBEF has taken a bottom-up approach by bringing together over 700 scientists from around Europe to integrate their research. The skills and expertise of these scientists, from a variety of disciplines within marine science, were combined to address the scientific challenges of the most topical marine biodiversity questions and to provide new insights and answers at a scale of research never before attempted in this field in Europe. The core strategic research programme consisted of three research themes: (1) examining patterns of species diversity, (2) identifying what structures the species diversity, and (3) the socio-economic consequences of biodiversity change.

Data and databases
MarBEF has established a baseline from which trends in marine biodiversity change can be detected at the relevant spatial and temporal scales. This involved the integration of 251 datasets, provided by more than 100 scientists from 94 institutions in 17 countries. This baseline data is bringing new insights into ecosystem processes and distribution patterns of life in the oceans. MarBEF has published 415 scientific articles, 82% of which are “open access‟ since MarBEF joined the Open Archives Initiative. MarBEF has captured 5.2 million distribution records of 17,000 species.

Over the last three years, a total of 137 species new to science have been added to the European Register of Marine Species (ERMS) by MarBEF. The project’s scientists also found 333 nematode species never before recorded in Europe. Recent advances in molecular technologies allowed MarBEF scientists to identify the key microbes that participate in biogeochemical cycling in different areas in Europe, providing further crucial data for understanding the links between biodiversity (or at least the “identity” component of it) and ecosystem functioning. Cold-water marine caves were shown by MarBEF scientists to exhibit strong faunal and ecological parallels with the deep-sea and provide a refuge during episodes of warming. A study on deep-sea vents showed that the distribution of the assemblages on the surface of vents is related to the position of the fluid venting and the resulting temperature gradients. MarBEF scientists applied the most advanced genetic technologies to study marine biodiversity and phylogeographic structures. Their results will be used to help improve the way fisheries are managed. MarBEF scientists working in the field of chemical ecology discovered that bacteria communicate at the molecular level; that some diatom species produce chemicals that induce abortions and birth defects in the copepods that graze on them; and that dinoflagellates produce potent neurotoxins that can be transferred up the marine food chain. All of these discoveries give us a better understanding of the role of secondary metabolites in maintaining marine biodiversity and driving ecosystem functioning.

Climate change
MarBEF scientists have identified distinct, vulnerable marine populations that are now living on the edge of survival as a result of climate change. One of the remarkable scientific findings made by the network was that, contrary to expectations, a warming climate could be leading to higher biodiversity in the Arctic and simultaneous food shortages for the top predators there. Warming temperatures are contributing to an overall increase in fish species diversity in the North Sea and initiating changes in phytoplankton assemblages in Mediterranean waters. Shifts in different elements of the deep sea-bed communities at the Porcupine Abyssal Plain are attributed to the North Atlantic Oscillation, a climatic phenomenon. Today, the Brittany peninsula is a hotspot of accumulated diversity for any taxa, whereas northwest Iberia is quickly becoming a “trailing edge‟ as increased sea surface temperatures push the boundaries of species’ ranges northward. This type of retrospective-prospective analysis aids in understanding changes in biodiversity that will be unavoidable as the natural world responds to climate change.

Impacts and disturbances
In this era of advanced globalisation, environmental degradation is a major international concern. Human impacts propagate across the terrestrial and aquatic environments of the biosphere and throughout the atmosphere. Research into evolutionary effects of fishing on fish biodiversity have indicated that fish populations may be becoming more vulnerable (and less resilient) to perturbations including fishing, climate change and invasive alien species. Also, increased river inputs, due to climate change, may be altering food webs and fisheries. Many species are being reduced in abundance or driven to local extinction by human activities. Although there are clearly consequences of changing biodiversity for the functioning of ecosystems, the relative importance of different kinds of changes are not clear. MarBEF scientists have shown that: Alterations of key species abundances affect ecosystem functioning more than changes in species diversity. Only some types of human disturbances have strong effects on the stability of rocky shore assemblages.

MarBEF has examined impacts of disturbance at a truly European scale – collating, generating and comparing evidence from a wide range of disturbance types, habitats, taxa, places and times. Its researchers have worked to improve methodologies for data collection, archiving and analysis and have completed a substantial body of original research

Valuation and marine planning
MarBEF scientists defined specific ecosystem goods and services provided by marine biodiversity and suggested that they have the capacity to play a fundamental role in the ecosystem approach to environmental management. Marine biological valuations in the form of maps developed by MarBEF could be used as baselines for future spatial planning in the marine environment. MarBEF further developed a demonstration prototype of a decision support system (MarDSS) for identifying and selecting alternative solutions for the protection of marine biodiversity.

Future issues
MarBEF has focused on and elucidated many critical marine biodiversity issues, which are now much clearer than before. It has also identified areas where further research is essential and will require concentrated effort, namely: the impacts of global climate change; synergy of anthropogenic impacts additional to global warming; coastal management; phase shifts and alternate stable states; habitat diversity; ecosystem function; biodiversity; the role of species; biodiversity at a genetic level; microorganism diversity; marine biotechnology. MarBEF will continue after EC funding has ceased because the MarBEF members are of the opinion that multidisciplinary marine biodiversity research requires long-term commitment and integration on a large scale and that the integrative bottom-up approach within MarBEF is the proper mechanism to accomplish this. MarBEF has reached the critical mass to promote, unite and represent marine biodiversity research at a global scale, with 95 institutes as members. Therefore, it is beneficial to all if the network is kept alive and active. In preparation for such a lasting infrastructure, MarBEF is cooperating with MARS (the European Network of Marine Research Institutes and Stations) and Marine Genomics Europe to extend the network of institutes involved in marine biodiversity research in Europe and beyond.