MarBEF Partnerships

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Synergy: two plus two makes five!

The MarBEF programme began with 56 partner institutes, but by the time of its completion five years later the number had increased to 95 institutes. With this large community of scientists it was only to be expected that the products of MarBEF would be extensive. But has this association produced value beyond the simple amalgamation of these groups? Synergy occurs where the addition of two or more values results in products greater than the sum of their parts –where two plus two really can equal five!

In research terms, this often happens when scientists experienced in a particular discipline interact with colleagues with different experience to approach a problem in a new way. This multi-disciplinary approach provides many new and often unpredicted results which would not be possible without this new combination of skills. One of the greatest achievements of MarBEF has been to provide a platform on which these new synergies can take place.

Many of the highlights described in the MarBEF booklet are the results of new cooperative effort, and they demonstrate the success of MarBEF in expanding our knowledge of marine biodiversity issues. One example is the collaboration between biodiversity experimentalists and molecular scientists: this is now providing information on the biodiversity of assemblages and systems which was, until recently, beyond our experience. Scientists working on specialist habitats such as seagrass beds, deep-sea sediments and the water column can ask molecular biologists about the diversity of the bacterial assemblages or even search for important functional attributes of the communities, such as nitrogen fixing capability or stress proteins. Metabolic pathways can then be linked with system dynamics, resilience and even the response to external stressors such as climate change.

Thus, the synergistic relationships within MarBEF’s large, integrative scientific programmes have provided added value for the community at large[1].

Marine ecosystems are regulated by a fundamental pathway (the microbial pathway), which recycles the organic matter deriving from the death and excrement of all living beings to produce new living matter.

Working together

Communication and sharing of data and ideas between research institutes on such a large scale poses many logistical difficulties. Of great importance to MarBEF has been cooperation and sharing, built on an early formal agreement between all participants. This deals with data sharing and provenances, the real currency of science. Thus, a clear basis for integration between scientists has been promoted from the start.

There are many examples across MarBEF, but one perhaps stands out. The integration of social, economic and natural science research under MarBEF Theme 3 (The Socio-economic Importance of Marine Biodiversity) was critical to the wider impact of the project. Experts were encouraged to work in an interdisciplinary manner and the majority had never met or worked with each other before. The first eighteen months of their time was spent initiating activities to discover common ground and common language – which is not a trivial matter between the disciplines – and developing the research potential of this heterogeneous group of people. The amalgamation of this varied experience was used to develop new methodologies that could be applied in the marine environment and to marine biodiversity issues. Since then, progress has been impressive and Theme 3 has provided one of the strongest examples of synergism within the MarBEF project.

Further initiatives within MarBEF, such as workshops, training programmes, conference presentations and research projects, have also been designed to contribute to developing cooperative effort.

Cooperation at even higher levels, between MarBEF and other European networks of excellence, has resulted in successful lobbying to the European Parliament to contribute towards developing the EU science programme and policy[1].