Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning
EU Network of Excellence

Main Menu

 Data Systems
 MarBEF Open Archive
 Network Description
 Photo Gallery
 Quality Assurance
 Register of Resources
 Research Projects
 Rules and Guidelines

[ 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 ]


MarBEF is funded within the sustainable development, global change and ecosystems RTD Programme of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme. More information is also available on CORDIS (Community Research & Development Information Service).

MarBEF has contract no. GOCE-CT-2003-505446.

The specific integration effort of MarBEF is focused into the following major activities:

  1. Creating a virtual centre for durable integration
  2. Creating and improving access to resources
  3. Providing specialist training
  4. Developing an integrated data and information management system
  5. The transformation of MarBEF's long-term, strategic approach into policy.

Creating a virtual centre for durable integration

Our intention is that the Steering Committee and Board of Governance will together be able to use the demonstrated benefits of MarBEF to promote the formal establishment of the European Centre for the Study of Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning (EMBEF) as a Europe-wide, virtual institution. The concept of a virtual centre of excellence is novel, and it will require a combined bottom-up and top-down approach. EMBEF is seen as a way of executing network activities and as an instrument for co-ordinated programming. It will provide a vehicle to embody the long term integration effects of the network.

Creating interdisciplinary links in marine biodiversity science 

Socio-economic research in the field of marine biodiversity is currently of a very fragmented nature, but it is rapidly developing. . The establishment of MarBEF will ensure that future research into the socio-economic importance of marine biodiversity is undertaken in a cohesive manner, and will put Europe at the forefront of this discipline. The theoretical base of socio-economic research in Europe is very strong and by linking research activity and developing a strong marine focus, Europe will become a world-leader in this emerging field.

Few natural marine scientists have collaborations with socio-economists, so few natural scientists are fully aware of the potential benefits of cross-disciplinary research. In many cases they simple do not know where to find socio-economists with whom to collaborate. A critical role of MarBEF will be to enable and facilitate two-way communication between these groups. The network will promote consideration of management and societal needs as a guide to the direction of all marine biodiversity research by increasing understanding and awareness of the socio-economic importance of marine biodiversity. MarBEF aims to bring about a fundamental shift in the overall mentality of social and natural scientists by improving mutual understanding and by becoming more inclusive. One target is to develop enduring collaborations and submit collaborative proposals for joint research between natural and socio-economic scientists. The training of PhD students at two or more institutes is particularly promising as a way of promoting a strong interdisciplinary outlook and the development of accompanying skills.

MarBEF will promote increased dialogue between natural scientists and marine ecosystem managers, fisheries managers and policy makers. This process can be facilitated and mediated by environmental socio-economists. MarBEF will explore mechanisms to achieve this and to ensure that the results of such dialogue are fed back into the development of research within MarBEF to maintain its relevance to the formulation of European policy and the development of marine ecosystem management.

Emerging Area Workshops

One of the main mechanisms to deliver enhanced communication between disciplines and to integrate around our core strategic research programme will be Emerging Area Workshops. These workshops will cover a broad number of themes and will take a wide variety of formats. The primary aim of each will be to immerse non-specialists in the latest thinking on marine biodiversity topics. Workshops will serve as vehicles for the exchange of information between participants, particularly in emerging fields. They will also encourage communication, focus future research, and promote deeper, multidisciplinary understanding.

We recognise that workshops will be a major vehicle for driving scientific integration. We expect that there will be a need for review or problem-solving workshops for each of the three main research programmes. Also, many workshops on different but relevant themes have been proposed as part of the work packages submitted to MarBEF. A list of these is given in the Appendix. Finally, we expect that yet other topics will emerge during the course of the project. We recognise that workshops will be a major vehicle for driving scientific integration. An early task for the Steering Committee will be to generate a system for evaluating and prioritising workshop proposals. A key criterion for the acceptance and funding of a workshop will be the output and deliverables such as reviews, protocols, and standardised methodologies.

We anticipate the need for workshops to identify common standards and methods, and on our joint approach to data management. These must be held during the start up phase and have been prioritised for organization within the first 18 months of MarBEF. The following workshops are planned: 

  • Workshops to initiate the three strategic research programmes. (Topics ripe for co-programming will emerge from these workshops.) 
  • The identification of deep-water and ocean pelagic ATBI/LTBR sites.
  • Data integration in MarBEF: principles and practice
  • Data quality assurance, standardisation, best professional practices and certification for marine environmental impact assessments.

Creating and improving access to resources 

Member institutions of MarBEF bring a rich mixture of resources appropriate to our goals. The strength and depth of these resources are equivalent to an ultra-Large Scale Facility and will be of major benefit to MarBEF science. These resources must be made available through agreements in the Consortium Agreement at reasonable costs to members of the network.

Resources currently available through MarBEF participants include:

  • Inshore and ocean-going research vessels Research vessels are expensive but indispensable platforms for marine biology and oceanography. International cross participation in nationally-funded cruises is already happening in Europe but we will further encourage the process at the policy level, and facilitate it practically by creating links to national websites showing future research vessel programmes.
  • Field stations The MARS network of marine stations and additional coastal facilities offer unrivalled access to European marine biota and habitats, including to the European network of Marine Biodiversity Research Sites. Facilities include:
    • Sampling and culturing equipment
    • Analytical equipment, electron and confocal microscopes, flow cytometers
    • Molecular sequencing facilities
    • Flow laboratories, mesocosms and specialist experimental facilities
    • Distributed computing facilities
    • Web-based analytical and taxonomic tools
  • We will create links and provide metadata on existing web-based tools, however, it is clear that new tools are required. In particular, on-line identification tools are currently inadequate for European waters and MarBEF will promote the development of such tools, giving priority to abundant taxa.
  • Databases A wide range of databases exists and these include databases with national, regional or global emphasis
  • Reference collections, including culture collections, museums etc. We will create links with existing EU Infrastructures, including that co-ordinated by the Natural History Museum in London that offer funding for access to 20 European biological reference collections and specialist libraries who are members of Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF). Follow this link for the SYNTHESYS online application form: Plus, with initiatives such as BIOCASE (Biological Collections Access System for Europe).
  • Specialist libraries Libraries are already well co-ordinated but we will list the links to electronic catalogues of libraries with major marine biological holdings, in collaboration with EURASLIC and IAMSLIC.

We will create a web-based register of the resources available through MarBEF, together with a list of the contact persons at each institution and the access details.

Short term sabbatical scheme

While we will improve electronic communication between MarBEF members and will hold a series of workshops and training courses, we recognise that direct personal debate and discussion is vital for the progress of science, as well as for the communication of research results to the user communities. In order to support this we will establish and fund a system of short-term sabbaticals ranging in duration from two weeks to three months. We will use this system to promote the exchange of between European institutions of senior scientists engaged in collaborative MarBEF-related research or training activities, and to provide seed-money for proposal writing. For long term visits we will make use of existing EU systems, such as the Marie Curie fellowships and the Syn-The-Sys integrating action, spearheaded by CETAF (Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities).

Taxonomic Clearing System

We recognise the need for a Taxonomic Clearing System scheme to address the taxonomic/identification bottleneck and to streamline the process of identification of specimens and the description of new species. The emphasis of the research components of this network on field sampling and ecological analysis will naturally result in the processing of large volumes of material, and in the discovery of new, rare, or newly introduced species. The steering committee of MarBEF will create and fund a pilot system for the prioritisation of identification/description requests and for directly funding the necessary work. This will be an important focal point for the interactions between the taxonomic and ecological researchers within MarBEF.

Providing specialist training

A key product of MarBEF will be a new generation of professional marine ecosystem scientists for Europe. MarBEF's research programme has identified a set of high priority topics as requiring support at the postgraduate level, being:

  • Postdoctoral fellowships We will create five postdoctoral fellowships which will last for the full duration of MarBEF. One will be allocated to integration activities within each of the scientific research themes, and two will work in the overall integrated activities programme (one of these being dedicated to data and information management).
  • Doctoral studentships In the second phase of MarBEF a series of responsive work package proposals will be considered and prioritised for their scientific excellence and relevance to the MarBEF programme. We envisage that the main resources provided by MarBEF towards the successful projects will be the expertise and facilities of the network plus PhD studentships. The work of all doctoral students will be supervised by an international panel, and each student will carry out research at a minimum of two different MarBEF institutions based in different countries. The total number of PhD studentships will be determined by the quality and requirements of the successful responsive proposals.
  • Training of technicians There is an urgent and increasing need for cross training of technicians in novel methods, in standardised sampling procedures and in experimental protocols. This is especially important for MarBEF given the large scale coverage of our proposed research. We will hold standardisation workshops for technicians and researchers as part of the Strategic Research Programmes.

We will also assess the demand for further training courses and we will issue a call for proposals for other highly specialist training, in order to assess supply. These proposals will be considered by the Steering Committee and a management group responsible for training under our Spreading of Excellence programme.

Developing an integrated data and information management system 

Information on the existence of data is a prerequisite to data sharing. MarBEF will inventory all aspects of marine science relevant to marine biodiversity; in this collaboration will be sought with existing initiatives such as MEDI and EDMED. A database will be created storing information on planned, ongoing and finalised research. Lists of institutions, scientists and their expertise and publications will be maintained. A database of research facilities, oceanographic vessels and cruises will allow efficient sharing of resources. The most important type of information will consist of an inventory of existing biodiversity databases. These will be documented, giving details on taxonomic scope, information content, access constraints and quality, and where possible a direct link provided to an internet entry to the data.

A second step covers the need to create massive data sets on species and biogeography. MarBEF will establish a public European warehouse of biological databases together with intelligent tools for data mining. Development will be undertaken so that marine biological data sets will be accessed at their host institutes by the central MarBEF portal to build maps showing distribution of species and biotopes. The inventory of biodiversity data sets will be instrumental in identifying candidate data sets for integration. The work will be undertaken with and take advantage of development already undertaken by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS) so that a facility will be developed known as EurOBIS.

To facilitate exchange of research results, data formats and standards will be proposed; in this, efforts of other groups will be re-utilised. Links will be established with TDWG, ICES/MDM, IODE/GE-TADE, IODE/GE-BCDMEP and others for data standards for biological data. The taxonomic backbone to all the data activities will be the European Register of Marine Species. Mechanisms will be developed to keep the ERMS up-to-date, and synchronous with major data contributors such as ETI's World Biodiversity database, FishBase, Algaebase, CLEMAM and many others. ERMS will be available as a fully searchable database though two or more web sites. The use of a central register of taxonomic names will improve the quality of integration of data from several sources. MarBEF will represent its members in international activities on data management, such as IOC, OBIS and GBIF; based on its accumulated data and tools, it will be able to play a leading role in such initiatives.

Quick links


Erasmus Mundus Master of Science in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (EMBC)

Responsive Mode Programme (RMP) - Marie Nordstrom, copyright Aspden Rebecca

part of WoRMS logo

ERMS 2.0
Epinephelus marginatus Picture: JG Harmelin


Geographic System



Web site hosted and maintained by Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) - Contact