MarBEF Network of Excellence

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The challenges and obstacles

MarBEF was the first NoE (network of excellence) to be installed. The dimension of the network however posed a challenge to the MarBEF management. The increasing number of members in the MarBEF NoE, and the corresponding increase in the managerial burden and amount of paperwork, together with the finite resources for the management of the consortium, were challenges to manage in a timely and proper fashion. Success was achieved only through the huge efforts and patience of the management team and the individual MarBEF members who, like all research institutions, were more interested in the science than in the project management and paperwork. The integration in the network created so many unique scientific challenges and new insights that the related managerial burden was sufficiently counterweighted[1].

Recipe for succes: a bottom-up approach

Despite the burden of deadlines for reportage, paperwork, and uncertainties in budget and planning, the members kept on supporting and focusing on the goals of the network. Although one may think this is normal, we believe that the way MarBEF was organised and managed significantly contributed to its success.

MarBEF had a strong, bottom-up approach involving the members from the start and allowing them to propose and participate in joint integrative research activities, training exercises and workshops that supported the main aims of the NoE. This increased the commitment of the members to the project, and thus the integration[1].

A glimpse at life within our oceans

The science

In Europe, we have world-class marine scientists with outstanding skills and expertise in their disciplines. MarBEF united these eminent marine scientists under one network, thereby bringing this dispersed scientific excellence together to create a virtual European centre of excellence in marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

One of the main reasons for the proposal of MarBEF in 2003 was the challenge of understanding large-scale and long-term changes in marine biodiversity in Europe. Although a number of studies on marine biodiversity existed, there was no programme that tried to establish the baseline from which trends in marine biodiversity change could be detected at the relevant spatial and temporal scales. Such a baseline would encompass an inventory of the marine species in Europe (now at about 32,000 plants and animals). One of the first objectives that were formulated within MarBEF was to bring together the numerous data on marine biodiversity species richness that existed in many research institutes but were never compared and synthesized to provide a picture for the entire continent. MarBEF has been extremely successful in this objective[1].

The legacy of MarBEF

When the MarBEF network of excellence started, biodiversity was hardly known by the general public and not considered an important feature, let alone a problem or an asset of marine ecosystems. MarBEF has changed what we know about the oceans, improved our understanding of how the oceans work and how we handle the problems of the oceans and its inhabitants. MarBEF has been something unique. It was the first network of excellence, a new instrument in EU Framework Programme 6 to support the development of the European Research Area. Over the five years of MarBEF, society became aware of the grave consequences of overfishing, of acidification, of physical disturbance and, above all, of the effects of climate change. There is now a community of European scientists who have the experience to work together and the expertise to help adapt human society to the coming changes. This is the most important legacy of MarBEF.

Some of the priorities that we need for the future are further efforts to map biodiversity, including the genetic and habitat components and especially the relationship between them and species richness; data integration and accessibility, and establishing a network for observation and early warning of biodiversity changes that covers most of Europe’s coast. After all, more than half of the EU is under water and this fraction is only likely to increase[1][.

The future

Because MarBEF members are of the opinion that multidisciplinary marine biodiversity research in Europe essentially needs long-term concentration and integration at large scale, MarBEF will continue after EC funding has ceased. MarBEF has reached the critical mass to promote, unite and represent marine biodiversity research at a global scale, with 95 institutes as members, all of which are active in marine biodiversity research. 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[1].