The world’s oceans are home to an enormous range of species, with marine organisms playing a crucial role in almost all biogeochemical processes that sustain the biosphere. Yet one of the major consequences of the unsustainable use of the Earth’s resources is biodiversity loss. Increasing our understanding of large-scale, long-term changes in marine biodiversity was thus a key aim of establishing a European network of excellence (NoE) on marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (MarBEF).
Beginning with a new way of thinking, the project took a bottom-up approach by bringing together over 700 scientists from 95 separate institutes in 24 European countries to integrate their research. This bottom-up approach meant that the members were involved from the start and could propose and participate in joint integrative research activities, training exercises and workshops that supported the main aims of the network.
The skills and expertise of these scientists, who work in a wide variety of disciplines in the marine science sector, 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. This 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.
The project made many specific findings. For example, MarBEF scientists identified distinct, vulnerable marine populations that are now living on the edge of survival as a result of climate change. In addition, they found 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.
Furthermore, research into the evolutionary effects of fishing on fish biodiversity 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 thus fisheries.
Areas where further work is essential were also identified, for instance: the impacts of global climate change; coastal management; habitat diversity; and marine biotechnology.
MarBEF continues and 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.
For more information on MarBEF, please visit the project website.