Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning
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[ Overview ][ Objectives ][ Spreading Of Excellence ][ Partners ][ Associated Partners ][ Committees ][ Project Management ][ Data Management ][ Taxonomic Clearing System ][ Quality Assurance ][ Training ] [ Outreach ][ SMEs ][ Theme 1 Global Patterns ][ Theme 2 Ecosystem Functioning ][ Theme 3 Socio-economics ]

Theme 1: Global Patterns of Marine Biodiversity Across Ecosystems

Team leaders: Dr Doris Schiedek; Prof. Dr Friedrich Buchholz

Overview theme 1 RMPs

3.1MarFISHCauses and consequences of changing marine biodiversity - a fish and fisheries perspective
3.2ArctEcoBiodiversity and ecosystem function under changing climatic conditions - the Arctic as a model system
3.3DEEPSETSDeep-sea & Extreme Environments, Patterns of Species and Ecosystem Time Series
3.4MANUELAMeiobenthic and Nematode biodiversity: Unraveling Ecological and Latitudinal Aspects
3.5PROPE-taxonWeb Accessible Taxonomic Expertise in MARBEF: PROviding a e-Platform for the European Taxonomists
3.6LargeNetLarge scale and long term Networking on the observation of Global Change and its impact on Marine Biodiversity
3.7MarECOIntegration of different methods to study patterns and changes in the ocean along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
3.8MarPLANEuropean integration of marine microplankton research
Key Areas for Responsive Mode Actions

IDKey AreaResponsible person(s)
1.1Taxonomic basis of biodiversityGeoff Boxshall, NHM and DamiĂ  Jaume, UIB
1.2Genetic biodiversityJean-Pierre FĂ©ral, CNRS-Marseille
1.3Habitat diversityRicardo SerrĂŁo Santos, DOP/UAz
1.4Species Assembly RulesJohn Lambshead, NHM
1.5Large-scale long-term changeDavid Billet, SOC and Friedrich Buchholz, AWI
1.6Practicable methods to detect and monitor biodiversity changeDoris Schiedek, IOW
1.7Data archaeologyEdward Vanden Berghe, VLIZ
1.8Functional diversityFrode Olsgard, UO

MarBEF Partners involved in Theme 1

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  • Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), more
  • Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science; Burnham Laboratory (CEFAS), more
  • Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science; Lowesoft Laboratory (CEFAS), more
  • Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; Institut National de Science de l'Univers; Centre d'OcĂ©anologie de Marseille; Station Marine d'Endoume (CNRS), more
  • Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; Laboratoire d'OcĂ©anographie de Villefranche (CNRS-LOV), more
  • Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR), more
  • Hellenic Centre for Marine Research; Institute of Marine Biology and Genetics; Biodiversity & Ecosystem Management Department (HCMR), more
  • Hellenic Centre for Marine Research; Institute of Marine Biology and Genetics; Genetics and Molecular Biotechnology Group (HCMR), more
  • Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer; Centre de Brest (IFREMER), more
  • Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research, WarnemĂĽnde (IOW), more
  • Marine Biological Station (Universitetets Marinbiologiske stasjon i Drøbak); University of Oslo; Biological Institute (UiO), more
  • Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology (MPIMM), more
  • MusĂ©um National d'Histoire Naturelle; DĂ©partement Milieux et Peuplements Aquatiques; Biology of marine organisms and ecosystems (MNHN-BOME), more
  • National Institute of Biology; Marine Biological Station Piran (NIB-MBS), more
  • National Natural History Museum Paris; Biologie des Organismes et Ecosystèmes Aquatiques (MNHN-BOREA), more
  • Natural History Museum; Department of Zoology (NHM), more
  • Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis; National Museum of Natural History - Naturalis (Naturalis), more
  • Netherlands Institute for Fisheries Research (RIVO), more
  • Observatoire OcĂ©anologique de Banyuls-Sur-Mer; Laboratoire d'OcĂ©anographie Biologique (LOBB), more
  • Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), more
  • Polar Environmental Centre; Akvaplan-niva, more
  • Senckenberg am Meer; German Centre for Marine Biodiversity Research (DZMB), more
  • Senckenberg Nature Research Society; Naturmuseum und Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg; Deutsches Zentrum fur Marine Biodiversitätsforschung; Sektion Planktologie und Systemökologie (DZMB), more
  • Stazione Zoologica 'Anton Dohrn' di Napoli; Benthic Ecology Laboratory (SZN), more
  • Stazione Zoologica 'Anton Dohrn' di Napoli; Biological Oceanography Laboratory (SZN), more
  • Stazione Zoologica 'Anton Dohrn' di Napoli; Marine Botany Laboratory (SZN), more
  • Stazione Zoologica 'Anton Dohrn' of Naples (SZN), more
  • Technical University of Denmark; Danish Institute for Fisheries Research (DTU-DIFRES), more
  • Technical University of Denmark; National Institute of Aquatic Resources; Department of Inland Fisheries (DTU), more
  • Technical University of Denmark; National Institute of Aquatic Resources; Department of Marine Ecology and Aquaculture (DTU-DFU), more
  • The Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science; The Laboratory (SAHFOS), more
  • UniversitĂ  di Pisa; Dipartimento di Scienze dell 'Uomo e dell 'Ambiente, more
  • Universitat de les Illes Balears; Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA), more
  • Ghent University; Faculty of Sciences; Biology Department; Marine Biology Section (UGent-MARBIOL), more
  • University of Algarve; Faculty of Marine and Environmental Sciences; Centre of Marine Sciences (UALG-CCMAR), more
  • University of Gdansk; Institute of Oceanography; Department of Marine Biology and Ecology; Marine Invertebrates Ecophysiology Laboratory (UG), more
  • University of Gdansk; Institute of Oceanography; Department of Marine Biology and Ecology; Marine Plant Ecology Laboratory (UG), more
  • University of Gdansk; Institute of Oceanography; Department of Marine Ecosystem Functioning; Laboratory of Estuarine Ecology (UG), more
  • Rijksuniversiteit Groningen; Marine Biology research group (RUG), more
  • University of Porto; Interdisciplinary Centre for Marine and Environmental Research (Porto) (CIIMAR), more
  • University of Salento; Dipartimento di Scienze e Tecnologie Biologiche e Ambientali; National Interuniversity Consortium For Marine Sciences; Laboratory of Zoology and Marine Biology (UNILE-LZMB), more
  • University of Southampton; National Oceanography Centre, Southampton; Ocean Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems (SOTON-OBE), more
  • University of Southampton; National Oceanography Centre, Southampton; School of Ocean & Earth Science (SOTON-SOES), more
  • University of the Azores; Department of Oceanography and Fisheries (UAC-DOP), more
  • Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), more

Find people involved in:

Theme 1: Global Patterns of Marine Biodiversity Across Ecosystems

Overall objective The overall objective is to understand how marine biodiversity varies across spatial and temporal scales, and between levels of biological organisation, in order to develop methods to detect significant change.

Inventories of species and especially communities are needed for adequate assessment of the changes in biodiversity naturally occurring, due to human impact or following different scenarios of global change (changes in surface currents, surface and deep-water temperature, productivity etc.). There are at present no adequate assessments comparable to those for terrestrial environments by Sala et al. (2000). Paradigms concerning the patterns of marine biodiversity on various scales, the mechanisms that determine them and the consequences of biodiversity loss cannot be adopted from the terrestrial realm. There are fundamental differences that influence the structural and functional attributes of associated biota. Given the longer evolutionary history of marine biota, the diversity at higher taxonomic levels is much greater, including 14 endemic metazoan phyla compared to only one on land, and is coupled to a higher diversity of genetic resources and life-history strategies.

The identification of existing distribution patterns is dependent upon the analysis of "what occurs where" data. In a global context, marine ecosystems in European waters are relatively well known but the basic information on species composition is far from complete and we know little about the large-scale distribution patterns of many species. The European Register of Marine Species ( provides a simple inventory of the biological components (species) of marine ecosystems in Europe, but does not describe the distributions, or give any information about the possible roles of the species within ecosystems. The biotic inventories are less complete for lower phyla than for higher phyla, but there are gaps even in higher phyla, and we are far from completing this basic inventory of marine species. And even where good inventories are available, the synthesis of such inventories is still lacking as is the link with environmental data needed to describe biogeographical patterns and their change on the European scale.

Core strategic research programme. Spatial and Temporal Patterns in European Marine Biodiversity

Objectives This strategic programme is designed to integrate research and data from the network members on large-scale, long-term patterns in marine biodiversity. The network will build on results of previous EU projects in the field, e.g. ERMS and BIOMARE. The objectives are: 1. to identify and improve our understanding of how marine biodiversity varies across spatial and temporal scales, and 2. to improve our understanding of the nature and relative importance of the processes (natural and anthropogenic) determining that variation.


  1. Identify European centres/repositories of data and mobilize available expertise to assist research scientists in compiling available data.
  2. Identify deep-sea and ocean pelagic sites equivalent to LTBR coastal sites proposed by BIOMARE.
  3. In consultation with strategic research programme 2 (ecosystem functioning), identify additional sites that have served as focal points for experimental and manipulative studies.
  4. Consult with and establish links with corresponding centres of excellence and international initiatives outside Europe, including OBIS, GBIF etc..
  5. Together with data integration group within MarBEF, establish data policy, create database and provide access to web-based analytical tools.
  6. Standardise sampling methods and analytical methods.
  7. Create effective and efficient system to formulate criteria, and to evaluate and prioritise proposals for workshops held to meet emerging needs during lifetime of workpackage.
  8. Create effective and efficient system to evaluate and prioritise proposals for responsive research proposals relevant to wider goals of workpackage.
  9. Analyse data - carried out at two levels: a) over large biogeographical areas across Europe, species inventories and schemes of phylogenetic relatedness, and information on environmental and biological variables will be analysed in order to derive relationships between species diversity patterns and associated environmental variables. This type of analysis will involve only large scale biodiversity patterns; b) species (i.e. abundance or biomass) and environmental/biological variables information from selected sites (including the LTBR (long term biodiversity research) sites proposed by BIOMARE, equivalent deep-sea and ocean pelagic sites, and priority experimental sites), and alterations induced by anthropogenic and climatic changes will be analysed as proposed above. This kind of analysis will involve both large scale and long-term patterns. Results of research into patterns of marine biodiversity in time and in space will be presented in a series of publications in peer-reviewed journals.
  10. Select and support responsive (bottom-up) projects to ensure balance across scientific disciplines and to fill any significant gaps in overall programme.
  11. Make data available via MarBEF portal.
  12. Provide appropriate tools and support the development of methods to detect significant change (which is a prerequisite for the conservation and sustainable management of marine biodiversity).
  13. Train young research scientists and end users.
  14. Provide expert feedback into further development of EU environmental policy for the protection of marine biodiversity.
  15. Create a forum for discussion of large-scale, long-term patterns of marine biodiversity.


The theme 1 kickoff workshop took place in Oslo, Norway on 28-30 June 2004.
A theme 1 â?" Workshop on deep-sea and open ocean reference sites followed on the kickoff workshop on 30 Jun-1 Jul 2004. More information on these events can still be seen on the past event page.

Currently no workshops planned.

Deliverables, Milestones and Tasks

On the PDF the responsible people volunteered, or were asked, to be responsible for the delivery and achievement of deliverables, milestones and tasks. Please go to tables [PDF - 23KB]

Key Areas for responsive mode actions

These are areas in which we hope to promote scientific integration. Responsive-mode actions will address some or all of the tasks, but we are keen to promote work which integrates across tasks.

1.1 Taxonomic basis of biodiversity

Taxonomy is essential in biodiversity studies and species inventories are basic tools in applied areas such as fisheries, nature conservation and environmental impact studies. Accurate identification and recognition of species remains a fundamental underpinning of biodiversity research, both basic and applied. For the small-sized taxa new efforts are required. For the larger-sized taxa (meiofauna to megafauna), the taxonomic keys and identification literature are mostly old. They must be improved, updated and made more accessible, and biogeographical information must be included. On the basis of these data sets, atlases should be established and all data should be entered in electronic databases for future updates and for a better co-ordination of the national efforts in surveying and monitoring the marine environment. Functionally relevant information is also required.


  1. Explore the marine biodiversity of different habitats in Europe, by focusing on poorly known habitats such as the deep sea, the Eastern Mediterranean and poorly known groups, using a variety of appropriate methods.
  2. Document and process the newly discovered biota (in particular, new species) of European marine ecosystems, prioritising taxa from selected BIOMARE ATBI, deep-sea, pelagic and experimental sites, and those from poorly known extreme habitats such as caves and seeps. Describe and inventory marine biota, to meet EU obligations as signatory of CBD.
  3. Investigate whether the species pools in different biogeographic regions are structured in fundamentally different ways in terms of their phylogenetic or taxonomic composition. Determine whether species-rich regions contain more closely-related species.

1.2 Genetic biodiversity

MarBEF will contribute significant joint projects towards the testing of possible links between genetic diversity and ecosystem function. Because genetic screening of all species in a community is as yet impossible, this approach must be applied to carefully-selected species, which will be those with a keystone role in the ecosystem, which are, at the same time, those likely to contribute more to the idiosyncratic component of the effect of marine biodiversity on ecosystem function.

The numerous protistan phyla remain poorly known almost everywhere, including in Europe. A complete inventory of microbes and viruses using molecular techniques does not seem to be within reach in the next five years because of the enormous number of species or phylotypes present. The genetic information of new microbial species and phylotypes are, however, being added to the existing gene banks at a rapidly growing rate.

  1. Select key species for genetic profiling.
  2. Focus on genetic interchange between natural populations: the connectivity between different fish stocks are important factors in population decline or recovery in particular areas.

1.3 Habitat diversity

The term marine biodiversity conveys, to managers and politicians, the notion of habitat diversity, and it is at this level that many management activities are focused. Entities such as seagrass meadows, algal fields, reefs, muddy and sandy bottoms from intertidal flats to the deep sea, contain characteristic assemblages of species. They are often linked to particular landscape-building species (ecosystem engineers), such as seagrasses or corals, or to particularly physical features (e.g. intertidal flats The functional role of landscape seascape biodiversity is yet poorly known in the marine context. Biotope functions such as provision of shelter for juveniles, spawning and nursery grounds, or essential habitat for species during all or part of their life-cycles, or the links between diversity of biotopes and biogeochemical cycling still need to be investigated. The biotope approach may be also applicable to studies of pelagic processes where biotopes are understood as water masses with characteristic pelagic communities, or as vertical niches within the water column.


  1. Determine links between species diversity and biotope diversity.
  2. Determine whether similar biotopes in different regions represent similar species or genetic diversities.
  3. Assess the importance of habitat diversity through evaluation of the ecosystem functions provided by uniform habitats compared with mosaic landscapes containing multiple sub-habitats.

1.4 Species Assembly Rules

As detailed below, we aim to compare species assembly rules at different spatial scales ranging from global to regional, local and molecular, and temporal scales ranging from long-term to short-term, whilst considering how spatial distributions may be affected by organism size, by species interactions, by abiotic factors (e.g. salinity, oxygen availability) and ultimately by environmental changes.


  1. Focusing on the selected sites, including BIOMARE sites, determine the extent to which the structure of communities, under relatively unimpacted conditions throughout European waters, is comparable. Establish whether community structure under such conditions reflects random assembly from the regional species pool.
  2. Use geographical patterns in combination with temporal changes along glacial-interglacial transitions to determine the possibility of forecasting the responses of marine biodiversity to climate change.
  3. Investigate relationships between the spatio-temporal distributions of ecologically interdependent species. Determine spatio-temporal interrelations between assemblages of producers (including bacteria), consumers and predators.
  4. Examine relationships between species diversity and genetic diversity within target taxa and investigate the molecular basis of reduced taxonomic distinctness in degraded locations. Resolve the genetic and taxonomic relationships within selected species, and the effects of disturbance on genetic diversity within populations.

1.5 Long term and large scale changes

A particular problem associated with the management of the marine environment is the question of scale. Areas of sea which may be subject to management, tend to be large. This follows from the 'ecosystem approach' to managing the environment, currently being promoted in Europe (e.g. OSPAR). Measurement of marine biodiversity tends to be possible only on limited spatial and/or temporal scales, far smaller than those required for such management. To bridge this vital gap we need to understand the large-scale and long-term patterns of biodiversity in European waters, and what it is that small-scale, short-term measurements tell us about larger scale patterns.


  1. Examine processes operating at intermediate scales which limit the taxonomic and functional composition of regional pools from which assemblages at particular localities are drawn.
  2. Integrate field observations and model outputs to determine the extent to which local community structure can be predicted through combined analyses of existing data, gradients in environmental parameters, anthropogenic disturbance, hydrodynamic modeling and ecosystem modeling
  3. Examine the relationship between distribution in space and the sizes of organisms. Determine if spatial patterns of distribution in marine organisms have fractal properties, and if biodiversity across a range of spatial scales is predictable using fractal geometry
  4. Collate and analyse historical and phenological information to determine long-term (>50 years) variability in marine biodiversity.

1.6 Practicable methods to detect and monitor biodiversity change

In parallel with developing our ability to gather and manage marine biodiversity data we need to develop our abilities to detect ongoing and future changes in marine biodiversity. Current methods are sufficient for some purposes, but the appropriate sampling needs to be put in place and maintained in order for us to be able to monitor and track changes at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales. Developments in our understanding of biodiversity, and changes in the way we gather and view data, require us to update our analytical techniques on a continuous basis. Although many research goals require sophisticated data-gathering and statistical methods, we also need to be aware of, and supply, the needs of managers who do not have inexhaustible resources but are required to map and manage marine biodiversity. These people require appropriate advice and methods in order to achieve their goals.


  1. Build on identified monitoring strategies to track changes in biodiversity using standardised methodologies and appropriate indicator species.
  2. Develop and test innovative statistical approaches, including novel similarity measures and routines for the spatial analysis of multivariate assemblage data, and surrogate measures which are required as alternatives to the estimation of total species-richness.
  3. Produce rapid assessment tools for practical biodiversity estimation, mapping and monitoring programmes.

1.7 Data archaeology

Data are often collected in the framework of short-term projects; biogeographic data is no exception to this rule. Once collected, they serve to produce scientific papers or theses. Analysis and conclusions from the information is made available through the scientific literature, but the underlying data, the species distribution records, often remain hidden in obscure archives such as drawers of desks and forgotten corners of server hard disks. Yet, these data have great potential, in extending the time span for data available in new analyses, especially those investigating long-term trends such as global warming and its influence on biodiversity. One of the activities undertaken in the framework of data management for the project will be to identify relevant data sets, integrate them in the MarBEF databases, and make them available for further analysis through EurOBIS.


  1. Identify suitable biogeographic data sets, and document them in a metadatabase
  2. Investigate, with the present owner of the data, the work involved in integrating and uploading data; investigate copyright issues
  3. Update the taxonomy used in the dataset where necessary, integrate with other data, and make data available through EurOBIS

1.8 Functional diversity

It is what organisms do in the environment, rather than their simple presence or absence, which tends to influence ecosystem functioning. We lack tools which encapsulate functional information about assemblages, which are necessary to map and manage functional aspects of marine biodiversity.


  1. Select groups of organisms for which functional information may be available, and compile such information into the Marbef database structure
  2. Develop a suite of functional indices and determine their properties
  3. Examine how anthropogenic and natural drivers influence functional properties of assemblages, as measured using functional indices
  4. Identify major gaps in our knowledge of the functional roles of marine organisms, and ways of determining those roles, and prioritise research required to fill gaps


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